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40 Years after the Unlawful Annexation of East Jerusalem: Consolidation of the Illegal Situation Continues Through the Construction of the Jerusalem Light Rail

Tuesday, 12 October 2010 12:46
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REF.: 21.2007E

28 June 2007


On 28 June 1967, Israel implemented legislation that established de facto the illegal annexation of East Jerusalem to the State of Israel. Al-Haq takes the opportunity of the 40th anniversary of this unlawful action to remind international community that, despite the claims of successive Israeli governments, Palestinian East Jerusalem remains occupied territory under international law. Accordingly, any measures, legislative or otherwise, aimed at altering the status of the city and depriving the Palestinian civilian population of the protections afforded by international humanitarian law, have no validity.

The illegal annexation of East Jerusalem was first brought about by an amendment to the Law and Administrative Ordinance 1948, passed on 27 June 1967, which held that the law, jurisdiction and administration of the state shall extend to any area of Eretz [Land] Israel designated order of the government. On 28 June 1967, the Israeli authorities used this amendment to place 30,000 dunums of the West Bank part of Jerusalem, including its Old City, under Israeli judicial and administrative control. On the same day, and using another amended law, the Israeli Municipality of West Jerusalem extended its borders over those same 30,000 dunums, bringing the Palestinians of East Jerusalem within its jurisdiction. The East Jerusalem Municipality was ordered to cease operations the next day, and Israel completed its annexation under the banner of integration of services. On 30 July 1980, the Israeli Knesset passed the Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel declaring that “Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel.”

These unilateral acts notwithstanding, the status of East Jerusalem under international law is clear. Along with the Gaza Strip and the rest of the West Bank, East Jerusalem was occupied by Israel by force, and remains occupied territory to this day. This position is legally indisputable and has been universally and repeatedly affirmed by the United Nations, the High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions, the International Court of Justice and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The principle of the illegality and inadmissibility of acquisition of territory by military conquest has long been a pillar of public international law. A litany of UN Resolutions, such as, to name but one, binding Security Council Resolution 269, have, on the basis of this principle, reaffirmed that “all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel which purport to alter the status of Jerusalem…are invalid and cannot change that status.” Israel’s continued efforts since 1967 to legitimise a “united” Jerusalem as the capital of Israel have been similarly rejected by the international community: Security Council Resolution 478 declares the aforementioned Basic Law on Jerusalem to be “null and void,” while not a single State currently houses its diplomatic mission to Israel in Jerusalem.

Over the last 40 years, however, Israel has acted in continued and unchecked defiance of the clear provisions of international law, and has to this day persisted in policies aimed not only at illegally securing a demographic superiority of the Jewish population in occupied East Jerusalem, but also at isolating East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank with which it is territorially, politically, socially and historically contiguous. Approximately a third of the land illegally annexed in 1967 was expropriated to build 12 settlements, now home to some 200,000 Israeli settlers. The majority of the remaining land was re-zoned so as to prevent Palestinian use, and in effect serves as a land reserve for further settlement construction and expansion. While Palestinians constitute over 50 percent of the population of East Jerusalem, only 7.3 percent of the land therein is available for Palestinian construction, most of which is already built-up.

The consolidation of Israeli control over Palestinian East Jerusalem has intensified in recent years through the continued expansion of settlements, and the construction of the Annexation Wall, which encloses and dissects Palestinian communities, while incorporating illegal Israeli settlements on its western side; thereby serving as the final component in the severing of East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank.

In addition to the aggressive imposition of physical measures to cement control of the illegally annexed area, Israel has actively sought to reduce the number of Palestinians living in East Jerusalem. This has been pursued through a variety of measures, including making construction licenses virtually inaccessible to Palestinians and subsequently demolishing houses built without such licenses, and revoking the right of Palestinians to reside within their city on a number of bureaucratic pretexts. Indeed, 2006 saw Israel cancel an unprecedented number of permanent residence permits of Palestinian Jerusalemites: 1,363 in total, compared to 222 during 2005. This included the revocation of the residency status of four elected members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, who, in a blatant attack on Palestinian democracy by the Israeli authorities, were issued with an ultimatum to either resign from the parliament or face expulsion from occupied East Jerusalem. After refusing to resign, these government officials had their East Jerusalem residency permits revoked on 30 June 2006.

A typical pretext for the revocation of the permanent residence status of Palestinian Jerusalemites is the holding of a foreign passport. This policy of identifying and targeting those Palestinians who, although living and having their centre of life in Jerusalem, also possess foreign passports and therefore have the capacity to emigrate, amounts to a concerted attempt on the part of the Israeli authorities to forcibly transfer certain Palestinians out of occupied East Jerusalem, in contravention of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

The same article also prohibits the transfer of parts of the civilian population of the Occupying Power into the territory it occupies. This provision has been persistently violated by Israel’s unabated settlement construction in East Jerusalem. Earlier this year, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, Professor John Dugard, described Israel’s settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as a "form of colonialism of the kind declared to be a denial of fundamental human rights and contrary to the Charter of the United Nations as recalled in the General Assembly's Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples." Even since then, however, the Jerusalem Municipality has approved a plan to build three more major settlement blocs in East Jerusalem. The disregard for the basic tenets of international law and the established status of East Jerusalem as occupied Palestinian territory was manifest in the statement of the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem, Yehoshua Pollak, when announcing the plans for these new settlements, that "there is no Green Line in the city."

The latest measure adopted by the Israeli authorities in consolidating its unlawful annexation of, and control over, occupied East Jerusalem comes in the form of the Jerusalem Light Rail. In 1902, Theodor Herzl, the founding father of the Zionist movement aimed at Jewish colonisation of the land of Palestine, elucidated his vision of a Jerusalem of “modern neighbourhoods with electric lines, tree-lined boulevards… a metropolis of the 20th century.” More than a century on, and that vision is now becoming reality, with construction ongoing to lay the electric lines which will connect illegal settlements in occupied territory with West Jerusalem.

An international tender was issued in 2000 for preliminary qualification for the construction and operation of the first line of the Light Rail Transportation system. As early as 2001, land belonging to Palestinians in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Shu’fat was confiscated by the Jerusalem Municipality for the future light rail. Utilities work was completed in 2005, and on 17 July 2005, two French companies signed an agreement with the Israeli government: Alstom SA will provide train cars and engines, while Connex (a subsidiary of Veolia Environnement SA) will be responsible for the operation and maintenance of the light rail for the coming 30 years. Construction of the first line of the system is now well underway; it is scheduled to begin operating between the illegal settlement of Pisgat Ze’ev in East Jerusalem and Mount Herzl in West Jerusalem, via the walls of the Old City and French Hill, in early 2009. This is but the first instalment of a masterplan for the broader Light Rail Transportation system, with seven lines slated for completion by 2020 to provide access from various illegal Israeli settlements in occupied East Jerusalem to the western part of the city.

On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the unlawful and invalid annexation of East Jerusalem, Al-Haq raises its profound concern over the continuing creation of facts on the ground which serve to prejudice the realisation of the incontrovertible right of self-determination of the Palestinian population in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), including East Jerusalem. That the Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem are illegal under international humanitarian law is indisputable. Such transfer by the Occupying Power of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies is defined as a war crime by Article 8(2)(b)(viii) of the Statute of the International Criminal Court. The confiscation and requisition of property in occupied territory is also illegal under Article 52 of the Hague Regulations, unless justified by military necessity. Thus any actors involved in an enterprise which recognises, assists and consolidates illegal settlements, as well as confiscates the land of the protected occupied population in the process, are complicit in the illegal actions.

Veolia Environnement SA and branches of the Alstom conglomerate are participants in the UN Global Compact, an international initiative bringing private companies together with UN agencies, labour and civil society to support universal human rights, environmental and social principles. This initiative has ten baseline principles at its core, the first two of which stipulate that participating businesses are to “support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights within their sphere of influence,” and “make sure they are not complicit in human rights abuses.” By knowingly and actively participating in a measure aimed at altering the status of the city of Jerusalem which consolidates the Israeli settlements to the detriment of the Palestinian right to self-determination, the two French companies concerned are acting in clear breach of these stipulations.

One of the pillars on which the law of belligerent occupation rests is the principle that an occupying power has only a temporary authority, and that its aim is to simply preserve the status quo and minimise disruption of the occupied population until the occupation ends. In the wake of 40 years of legislative and administrative measures taken by Israel with regard to East Jerusalem, the danger arises that the purported annexation, however invalid under international law, has become so entrenched that it now constitutes the status quo itself. Should these measures be allowed to perpetuate, without action being taken to uphold the standing of East Jerusalem as occupied territory, the isolation of East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank and the obstacles to the realisation of the legitimate Palestinian self-determination in the OPT may be irreversible.

It is against this backdrop, therefore, that Al-Haq urgently calls on:

  • Israel to respect its obligations under international humanitarian law as the Occupying Power in the OPT to refrain from taking any further illegal measures aimed at permanently altering the status of East Jerusalem and isolating it from the rest of the occupied West Bank.
  • The High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention to fulfil their legal obligations under Article 1 thereof to “ensure respect” of the Convention, most notably Article 49(6) in relation to illegal Israeli settlements.
  • The United Nations to end its apathy with regard to the illegitimate annexation of Jerusalem by taking necessary measures to enforce binding Security Council resolutions to compel Israel to rescind previous measures and avoid future measures aimed at permanently altering the status of Jerusalem.
  • Third states to fulfil their duty under customary international law not to recognise and not to assist an illegal situation, such as the unlawful acquisition of territory by force, the denial of the right to self-determination, the construction of illegal settlements, or the illegal requisition of Palestinian land.

· Alstom SA and Connex/Veolia Environnement SA to respect the explicit principles of the UN Global Compact and to end their complicity in an illegal situation by discontinuing their involvement in the Jerusalem Light Rail Transportation enterprise.

  • France to fulfil its responsibilities under the Fourth Geneva Convention and international human rights law to prevent violations thereof by non-state actors within its jurisdiction.

– Ends -

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