A UN organisation has highlighted the plight of small Palestinian farming communities in the hills to the east of Jerusalem which are at risk of forced displacement due to a "relocation" plan advanced by the Israeli authorities. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Occupied Palestinian Territory (UNOCHA) said that the Israelis try to justify their plan on the grounds that the residents do not "possess title over the land". Around 80 per cent of the people affected are refugees who were forced from their original lands in the south of the country in the early 1950s.
"A combination of measures adopted by the Israeli authorities has created a coercive environment for the communities," said OCHA. They have restricted access to grazing land and markets to sell their produce. "These acts have undermined their livelihoods and increased their dependency on humanitarian assistance."
In addition to demolition and the threat of demolition of homes, schools and animal shelters, as well as corresponding restrictions on obtaining building permits, the authorities have also failed to protect the communities from intimidation and attacks by Israeli settlers, alleges OCHA. "The communities have been told that they have 'no choice' but to leave."
The UN organisation stated that the Israeli authorities have allocated public (state) land in two sites designated for the relocation, and prepared planning schemes, which are at final stages of approval. It added that this step raises cultural concerns as it threatens the traditional way of life for these people.
Israel's plan includes the construction of thousands of housing units for illegal settlers in the E1 area, which creates a continuous built-up area between the Ma'ale Adumim settlement and Jerusalem. OCHA said that this plan has been frozen since the late 1990s, but the Israel government has recently reactivated it.
"The affected area is also planned to be surrounded by the Barrier [West Bank Separation Wall]," said OCHA. "If implemented, these plans will undermine Palestinian presence in the area, further disconnect East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank, and disrupt the territorial contiguity of the occupied territory."
According to the OCHA report, "The UN Secretary General has stated that the implementation of the proposed 'relocation' would amount to individual and mass forcible transfers and forced evictions, prohibited under international humanitarian law and human rights law."
The Secretary General based his statements on the following grounds:
- As an occupying power, Israel has an obligation to protect the Palestinian civilian population and to administer the territory for the benefit of that population.
- The destruction or confiscation of private property, including homes, as well as the transfer of settlers into occupied territory, is also prohibited.
OCHA pointed out that these residents are "calling for the international community to protect them and assist them in their current location and to afford adequate planning and permits for their homes and livelihood-related properties."