GENEVA (15 April 2014) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territories occupied since 1967, Richard Falk, today urged Israel to prevent settlers from taking over Al-Rajabi House, in Hebron, after a protracted legal battle.
Al-Rajabi House, a four-story building capable of housing 40 families, is located strategically between the illegal settlement of Kiryat Arba and the Ibrahami Mosque, also known as Cave of Patriarchs, in the old city of Hebron.
“Three settler families have already moved into the building. This will likely mean more movement restrictions for Palestinians in the area, more road closures, and more harassment of Palestinian residents and human rights defenders by settlers,” he warned.
“This is the first time a new settlement in the heart of Hebron is created since the 1980s – and would add to the ordeal of the Palestinian community,” Mr. Falk stressed. “There could be nothing worse to stoke renewed violence than the creation of a new settlement in the heart of old Hebron.”
Settlers illegally occupied the four-story house being built by Palestinian families in March 2007, and remained there until December 2008 when an Israeli Supreme Court decision evicted the settlers pending a thorough judicial review of ownership claims.
During that time, the UN and non-governmental human rights organisations witnessed a sharp rise in settler violence and harassment against Palestinian residents living in the close vicinity. The Al-Rajabi House was ordered to remain vacant after the Supreme Court ruling.
On 11 March 2014, the Israeli Supreme Court issued its final decision rejecting an appeal submitted by Palestinians, and ruled in favour of settler ownership of the house. These settlers moved into Al-Rajabi house on Sunday after the Israeli Minister for Defense gave the green light.
“Hebron embodies all the worst features of apartheid, colonialism and oppression that are to be found throughout Occupied Palestine,” the expert noted, as he described a divided town of checkpoints, walls, barbed wires and apartheid roads where settlers and Palestinians are kept apart despite living within metres of each other.
The Special Rapporteur noted that the residents of the largest nearby settlement, Kiryat Arba, were among the most extreme and ideologically motivated settlers in the West Bank, and has given rise to numerous incidents of violence over the years.
Besides Kiryat Arba, Mr. Falk recalled, there are already several small Israeli settlements in or near the old city of Hebron that have created severe restrictions and an atmosphere of continuous tension that adversely affects all Palestinians. “This unacceptable situation is aggravated by a lack of law enforcement by Israeli security forces,” he said. “What once was a vibrant market in the heart of Hebron is now a ghost town.”
“The establishment of settlements in the West Bank is a clear violation of international law and contravenes article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention,” the UN expert stated. He recalled that the International Court of Justice had come to the same conclusion ten years ago in its 2004 Advisory Opinion.
“Israel must take steps to comply with international law and ensure that tensions – already high in Hebron – do not get out of control,” the Special Rapporteur urged.
Mr. Falk added that the establishment of this settlement at Al-Rajabi House was a move toward connecting the illegal settlement of Kiryat Arba with the other outposts in the old City of Hebron and the Ibrahami Mosque (or Cave of Patriarchs) – site of the 1994 massacre of Palestinians during prayer time by a settler from Kiryat Arba.
In 2008, the UN Human Rights Council designated Richard Falk (United States of America) as the fifth Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967. The mandate was originally established in 1993 by the UN Commission on Human Rights. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/CountriesMandates/PS/Pages/SRPalestine.aspx
Check the Special Rapporteur’s last report to the UN Human Rights Council: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session25/Pages/ListReports.aspx
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