Enforcing Housing Rights: The Case of Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem

Friday 10 June 2011

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Garden Court housing barristers John Beckley, Liz Davies and Marina Sergides, have reported back from a fact-finding mission to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, on behalf of the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers and Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF). Their findings from the Sheikh Jarrah area of occupied East Jerusalem make uncomfortable reading, with recommendations for the UK government to use its influence to alleviate the situation.

Tensions have flared in Sheikh Jarrah, a Palestinian area located to the north of the Old City in occupied East Jerusalem. Over the last three years, more than 60 Palestinians have been forcibly evicted in this area and at least another 500 are at risk of dispossession and displacement, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA).

Since the start of the Israeli occupation and annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967, which continues until today, the Palestinian refugee families in Sheikh Jarrah have been the target of eviction proceedings brought by the Committees and their successor, the Nahalat Shimon Company (to whom all rights and obligations were transferred in 2008-2009), before Israeli courts, resulting in the eviction of four refugee families to date (60 people) - the Mohammad Al-Kurd, Al-Ghawi, Hanoun and Rifqa Al-Kurd families - all of whom had already been forcibly displaced at least once before.

Following a request from local lawyers and NGOs received by Avocats Sans Frontières, an international legal expert mission visited Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) from 19 to 23 December 2010. The delegation - organised by the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers - consisted of four English barristers, all specialising in housing rights John Beckley, Liz Davies Marina Sergides and John Hobson as well as English barrister and human rights lawyer Hannah Rought-Brooks and Bill Bowring, also a barrister practising at the European Court of Human Rights, and Professor of Law at Birkbeck College, University of London. The delegation was accompanied by ASF project coordinator Stijn Denayer and human rights lawyer Valentina Azarov.

Their report Enforcing Housing Rights: The Case of Sheikh Jarrah examines the Palestinian housing rights crisis in East Jerusalem, Israel's breaches of international law as an occupying power, the inequalities faced by Palestinians before the Israeli Courts, law enforcement failures and breaches of international law in carrying out evictions. It contains recommendations to Israel, the UN and international community, the European Union and the UK government.

Recommendations to the UK government are:

  • To declare publicly that it will use its influence and all available mechanisms within the EU to ensure that the EU acts upon the recommendations made to it in the report.
  • To ensure that senior UK officials observe court hearings concerning Sheikh Jarrah, and visit Sheikh Jarrah, and join high-level groups from the EU.
  • To continue and if possible intensify the present policy of providing all possible support to the Sheikh Jarrah families.
  • To give urgent and public consideration to the question of how it can best comply with the obligations laid upon it (and all other states) by the International Court of Justice in 2004:
  • "All States are under an obligation not to recognize the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall and not to render aid or assistance in maintaining the situation created by such construction; all States parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 August 1949 have in addition the obligation, while respecting the United Nations Charter and international law, to ensure compliance by Israel with international humanitarian law as embodied in that Convention."
  • In particular, to take steps to implement the recommendation by Amnesty International in 2009 that the UK government should "suspend all military exports to Israel until there is no longer a substantial risk that such equipment will be used for serious violations of human rights."

Download the full report Enforcing Housing Rights: The Case of Sheikh Jarrah here.

You can also read news articles on the report from Avocats Sans Frontières and from The Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers.

John Beckley, Liz Davies and Marina Sergides are members of the Garden Court Housing Team and of the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers.

The views contained in the report and the recommendations are those of the delegation. Please contact lizdavies@riseup.net for further information or for speaker requests.

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