For the 40% of the population of Jerusalem who are Palestinians, this is the moment of truth. The situation in East Jerusalem (and now the wider region) is grave.
The systematic eviction of Palestinians from the district of Sheikh Jarrah and the demolition of Palestinian homes in the district of Silwan looks like the start of what they have always feared: the forced transfer of Palestinians out of their own capital city, East Jerusalem.
Now their legitimate protests against these unlawful actions have been repressed with brutal force by the Israeli army, even inside the Al Aqsa mosque in the Old City, the third holiest shrine in the Muslim world.
What is the UK doing about this?
The UK signed a statement by five European powers calling for an end to the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah and calling on “both sides” to refrain from unilateral action – “both” despite the fact that only Israel has been demolishing homes and building settlements.
The UK Consul-General in Jerusalem issued a video which at least grapples with the realities of the situation.
He explains that Palestinians are not allowed to reclaim houses they owned in West Jerusalem, but Israelis are allowed to evict Palestinians from houses in East Jerusalem that were built on land that was owned by Jewish families more than 70 years ago. Individual Israelis are allowed to seek the eviction of Palestinians under this law which applies only to East Jerusalem.
UK position on East Jerusalem
“The UK position on this is clear. East Jerusalem is occupied and it has been illegally annexed. The restitution and planning laws and their implementation are unfair and they breach Israel’s obligations as an occupying power,” says the consul, Philip Hall.
He has visited the homes of famiies threatened with eviction, including members of the British Consulate’s own locally-employed staff.
But when the time comes for the Consul-General to say what the UK will do to uphold the law and to protect the Palestinians from mass eviction, the Foreign Secretary has left his Consul-General with nothing to offer except “hope”.
“It’s not too late to hope that justice will prevail and I’m here to make it clear that we very much hope it will.”
What can the UK do for Palestinians in Jerusalem?
There is, however, a great deal more the UK Foreign Secretary can do. He can make it clear that, as the annexation of East Jerusalem was illegal, laws passed by the Israeli Knesset do not apply in East Jerusalem. But international laws do apply. That makes what is happening in Jerusalem doubly illegal. First, because the settlement of Israel civilians in occupied territory is illegal. And, secondly, because any attempted forced transfer or expulsion of occupied populations is also illegal.
Over 80 MPs and Lords signed a letter to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab saying the evictions “would amount to the forcible mass eviction and dispossession of hundreds of Palestinian families. As you are well aware, the forcible transfer of an occupied population is a grave violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, as is the transfer of an occupier’s population into occupied territory, which includes East Jerusalem.”
“All measures should be considered including reducing diplomatic engagement and banning trade in settlement products in full conformity with international law obligations in order to challenge the settler economy that profits from the occupation.
“Settlements are illegal so such a step is not a sanction but a measure designed to ensure that the UK does everything in its power to ensure it does not assist in such serious breaches of international law.”