It might have taken a couple of days to get the statement vetted, cleared, and approved, but UNRWA today issued a statement calling on Israeli authorities “to refrain” from any further house evictions in East Jerusalem.
The statement, issued by UNRWA spokesperson Christopher Gunness, informs us that “UNRWA remains concerned about the other refugee families in the area and the possibility of more evictions which will cause further unacceptable humanitarian suffering. We will continue monitor this situation closely The families, evicted in the early hours of Sunday from the homes where they have lived for more than half a century, continue to suffer distress and shock. The children are particularly traumatised. The lasting humanitarian impact on the 53 people directly affected including 20 minors cannot be over-estimated. Seeing settlers being escorted into the houses in which some family members were born, was particularly distressing for these refugees.
Not only were they surrounded by Israeli police and security personnel at dawn, their homes broken into and their families thrown onto the streets, they have had to endure the indignity and humiliation of their personal effects being loaded onto trucks and dumped in scrub land at the edge of Jerusalem’s Route One. UNRWA has assisted the families in recovering their belongings and will store them until the issue is resolved. ”
The UNRWA statement added that “We are raising these cases with the Israeli authorities as a matter of urgency. The evictions violate the rights of the refugees and international law. We call on the Israeli authorities to refrain from taking any further measures to evict other members of the Palestine refugee community in Sheikh Jarrah and to reinstate the evicted families as the United Nations Special Co-ordinator has demanded”.
The homes that the Hanoun and Ghawi families were removed from by force on Sunday were built for them by UNRWA in the 1950s, on land authorized by the Jordanian Government which was then administering East Jerusalem and the West Bank in the aftermath of the war surrounding the creation of the State of Israel in May 1948. Jordan was expelled from East Jerusalem and the West Bank by conquering Israeli forces in the June 1967 war.
Decades later, Jewish settler organizations filed claim to a number of properties in East Jerusalem (and probably elsewhere) on the grounds that they had been owned by Jews from the late 1850s, under purchases purportedly authorized by the Ottoman Empire, but who fled either in intercommunal conflicts in Palestine during the British Mandate period between the First and Second World Wars, or in the 1948 war. The Turkish government has recently — following Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza — assisted lawyers for a number of East Jerusaleem Palestinian families to search the Ottoman archives for records of Jewish ownership, and a report document was submitted to the Israeli Supreme Court saying that no such ownership records could be found in the Ottoman archives. However, the Israeli Supreme Court refused to accept this report. Earlier, a Palestinian filed claims that he owned the land on which some of the houses were built, but the Israeli Court has rejected his claim as well. The Jordanian Government has not been very forthcoming, according to Palestinian sources, in explaining the process and the legal basis for its designation of those lands to UNRWA for the construction of housing for Palestinian refugees who lost their own original homes in the 1948 war.
U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton, meanwhile, has strengthened her initial weary oh-there-they-go-again response of Monday (the first working day in Washington after the evictions of the Hanoun and Ghawi families in the Sheikh Jarrah area of East Jerusalem during the early hours of Sunday), and has since said that these evictions are both “provocative” and “unacceptable”.
The Israeli Ambassador to Washington was reportedly called into the State Department to hear the Secretary’s complaint.
UPDATE: As reported earlier here, Maher Hanoun said again today that his furniture had been dumped in a lot which belonged to his Aunt, and which was located near the British Consulate in Sheikh Jarrah. The Israelis demanded legal proof that his aunt owned the land, and written confirmation of her willingness to have the furniture put there. But, he said, his furniture was not important. According to Maher Hanoun, it was the furniture of the Ghawi family that was dumped on the road near UNRWA, [After all, the family are UNRWA-registered refugees!] The UNRWA statement saying that the family possessions were “dumped in scrub land at the edge of Jerusalem’s Route One. UNRWA has assisted the families in recovering their belongings and will store them until the issue is resolved”.
UPDATE TWO. The Hanoun family was seated on the sidewalk today, in the shade of an olive tree, across the street from the police barricades that stood in front of their former home, which is now occupied by Jewish settlers. The mattresses they sleep on were piled up on the side of the sidewalk. A plastic bag hung from the tree, with plastic cups and other utensils inside that they use for eating and drinking. Two boys were playing a board game. They have been living that way for the past six days, since last Sunday morning. Their household possessions are still in an otherwise-empty lot near the British Consulate. Maher Hanoun said. The Ghawi family are sleeping outside their former home, too, he said, across the street and down the hill.