In a unique and momentous event last night the Middle East Monitor (MEMO) organised a live video link to take place between British parliamentarians in the House of Commons and members of the Palestinian Legislature in Jerusalem. This was the first opportunity of its kind to allow the two groups of parliamentarians to speak directly and face to face in this way. This initiative was a great success and provided an opportunity for direct dialogue on an important range of issues.
The primary focus of the meeting was the recent Israeli decree that three Palestinian parliamentarians and one former minister must leave their homes in Jerusalem, give up their jobs, families and move outside of their home city. They have been given the deadline of July 2nd after which, if they refuse to leave, they face arrest and prosecution for remaining in their homes as "infiltrators" without the correct Israeli granted ID and residency permission. This is an extremely worrying development. For any nation to suddenly demand the forced expulsion of native residents – particularly legally and democratically elected government officials – is both illegal under international law and worrying in that it could also be seen as a first step towards opening the floodgates for the forced expulsion of tens of thousands of other native residents of Jerusalem.
The Arab MPs in question who were present in Jerusalem to take part in the evening's proceedings were Muhammad Tutah, Khalid Abu Arafa and Ahmed Atoun. Their legal representative and several other attendees were also present. From London the event was hosted in the House of Commons by Lord Nazir Ahmed and chaired by Baroness Jenny Tonge. Lord Hylton was also present as were new MPs Yasmin Qureshi, Anas Sarwar and several members of the press and other interested parties.
The Jerusalem MPs began by outlining their case. Since the elections in 2006, which were nationally and internationally monitored and declared to be free and fair, the Israelis have been on what essentially amounts to a campaign of harassment against the MPs. Almost immediately following the election results, which were democratic but obviously not to the Israeli's liking, a "significant number" of newly elected MPs were arrested. In total, 64 representatives including ministers, legislative council members and the head of the municipality were all detained. They were put before a military court – not a civil one – and were each sentenced to between 2 – 4 years for simply being members of the Palestinian Legislative Council. The three Jerusalem law-makers who were taking part in the live video link were amongst those who had been imprisoned by the Israelis. Having only just been recently released, the Israeli authorities, approximately one month ago, issued warrants for their re-arrest, confiscated all of their possessions and gave them one month notice to leave the city.
Israel is acting illegally
As the MPs pointed out, this outrageous Israeli demand contravenes several basic principles of International Humanitarian Law. To give just one example, Jerusalem falls under the category of territory under occupation. This therefore brings it under the auspices of, for instance, the Fourth Geneva Convention (FGC) which states that it is illegal to expel its original inhabitants; and original inhabitants are exactly what they are. The MPs were all born in Jerusalem and have lived there all their lives, their families go back generations and they all still reside there. It is a blatant contravention of the FGC therefore for Israel to try to expel them, under any condition. It is illegal to forcefully expel people to another land and to separate families in the way that Israel is trying to do.
Israel's edict also contravenes the basic principle of double jeopardy whereby no one should be punished twice for the same (alleged) crime. But this is exactly what Israel is doing here, trumping up false charges, jailing them for years, declaring their sentences to have been served and then punishing them again for the same alleged offence.
The impact on their families
The MPs outlined the effect that this state of affairs is having on their families. In addition to the MPs themselves rarely leaving their homes for fear of arrest, they say that the impact is hardest on their wives and children. They explained that in addition to their families having had to endure them being unjustly convicted and jailed for years on end, as soon as they were released this new threat now looms on the immediate horizon. With the 30 day deadline to leave the city now down to only 2 days, their children are going through immeasurable difficulties and are suffering from signs of mental and physical anguish waking up at night screaming through nightmares of their homes being forcibly raided and their fathers and families being detained and separated against their will.
The MP's families are well aware that this Israeli edict affects them all. If the MPs, who are fathers, husbands etc.. , leave Jerusalem and their families remain behind in their homes and continue with their lives, their families will have been wrenched apart forever. If however they decide to all leave together, each member of the family who leaves loses their rights to ever return again. This form of collective punishment on entire families just further demonstrates that this Israeli policy is just one more tactic to force Palestinians from their land.
The MPs also discussed some of the wider issues caused by Israel's policies which racially discriminate against Palestinians including policies relating to schooling and education, forced expulsions, house demolitions, confiscation of land, the desecration of cemeteries, restrictions on access to Holy sites and so on, all in an attempt to Judaize Jerusalem. They referred to the continued detention of 10 other parliamentarians as well as around 10,000 Palestinian detainees in total (including children).They pointed out that having only recently been released from jail and now having this threat of deportation hanging over them they have limited resources and really need the international community to mobilise to help them in this desperate time.
They asked the British MPs to exert pressure on Israel to withdraw its illegal threat to expel them from their homeland. They also asked them to persuade Israel to go back on the conditions it is attaching to residency rights in Jerusalem when they say that you can only remain if you pledge your allegiance to Israel, pointing out how unfair it is to demand that people pledge their allegiance to their occupier.
Baroness Jenny Tongue outlined the work that she and her colleagues have been tirelessly undertaking to make the situation of the Palestinian people known including their visits to the region, the raising of questions in Parliament, their participation in parliamentary debates and so on. She also outlined their efforts to try to persuade the EU to suspend the EU Trade Association Agreement with Israel until and unless it complies with the Human Rights provisions set forth therein.
Having had this opportunity to discuss matters face to face the Jerusalem MPs succeeded in making their case very clear and it is evident that something extremely untoward is taking place in Jerusalem right now. It is up to the international community now to ensure that such treatment of native Jerusalemites is halted and that they are left un-harassed by the Israeli authorities to live their lives in peace and security.
In light of recent events Dr Daud Abdullah, the Director of the Middle East Monitor used this unique opportunity to announce the launch of the most recent MEMO initiative which is to send a delegation of British parliamentarians to Jerusalem on a fact-finding mission so that they can gather information of the circumstances on the ground and bring that information back to Parliament.