By DAOUD KUTTAB
AMMAN: Israel may be guilty of war crimes under international law by revoking Palestinians’ rights to live in Jerusalem and forcing them to move, a leading human rights organization said on Tuesday.
Revoking residency status is used by Israel to punish Palestinians accused of attacking Israelis, and as collective punishment against the families of suspected attackers. Nearly 15,000 Palestinians had their residency revoked between the start of the Israeli occupation in 1967 and the end of last year.
Revoking residency means Palestinians have to leave Jerusalem, which is also illegal. Deportation or forced transfer from an occupied territory may be a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, Human Rights Watch said.
The prohibition extends beyond cases in which a military force directly moves a population under its control, to cases in which the military force makes life so difficult that people are essentially forced to leave.
For its report, published on Tuesday, the New York-based group investigated eight cases in which Palestinians had their right to live in Jerusalem revoked. They interviewed the families and their lawyers and reviewed letters revoking their status, court rulings and other official documents.
One man who had his residency revoked had to scale Israel’s separation barrier to attend a family wedding in another part of the West Bank. Another said Israeli authorities refused to issue birth certificates to his five children, all born in Jerusalem. Other Jerusalem residents without residency status described being unable to legally work, obtain social welfare benefits, attend weddings and funerals or visit gravely ill relatives abroad for fear Israeli authorities would refuse to allow them to return home, the report says.
It is the first time the issue of the rights of Palestinians in East Jerusalem has been subject to wide-ranging international legal analysis. The report also examines the wider issue of Israel’s takeover of all of Jerusalem.
It says: “Residency revocations, alongside decades of unlawful settlement expansion, home demolitions and restrictions on building in the city, have increased unlawful settlement by Israeli Jewish citizens in occupied East Jerusalem while restricting growth of the occupied Palestinian population.
“This reality reflects the Israeli government’s goal of ‘maintaining a solid Jewish majority in the city,’ as stated in the Jerusalem municipality’s master plan, and limiting the number of Palestinian residents.”
Planners originally set a target of 70 percent Jews and 30 percent Arab, but later acknowledged that this was not attainable and adjusted it to 60-40. Palestinians constituted 37 percent of Jerusalem’s population in 2015, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics.
“As part of its quest to solidify a Jewish majority in Jerusalem, Israeli authorities force Palestinians to live as foreigners in their own homes,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the rights group’s Middle East director.
“The status of Palestinians only remains secure so long as they do not exercise their right to travel abroad to study or work, move to the wrong neighborhood or obtain status in another country.”
Sani Khoury, a Palestinian lawyer who specializes in Jerusalem citizenship issues, told Arab News that the issue of revoking residency had been going on since 1967, and often reflected the politics of the day or the ideologies of the Israeli government and judiciary.
“Israel’s right-wing Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked appointed four new justices last February. One of the recent judges appointed to the Israeli high court is a settler,” Khoury said.
To avoid being deported, some Palestinians have resorted to applying for Israeli citizenship. A path to citizenship exists, but the vast majority choose not to pursue it as it involves pledging allegiance to Israel, the occupying power. And not all of those who apply are granted citizenship. Since 2003, only about 15,000 of Jerusalem’s 330,000 Palestinians have applied; Israeli authorities have approved fewer than 6,000, the report says.
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