'Population transfer may be war crime'

Falk asks Israel to prevent violations of int'l law in east Jerusalem.

richard falk 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
richard falk 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
NEW YORK – An independent United Nations expert issued a warning to Israel Tuesday that population transfers in or from occupied territory would constitute war crimes under international law.
Richard Falk, the special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights, strongly encouraged Israel to prevent violations of international law in east Jerusalem. Falk specifically referenced Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat’s development plan to demolish 22 buildings in Silwan, as well as the situation of four Palestinians whose residency permits in east Jerusalem may be revoked.
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A municipal plan involving 22 house demolitions in the El-Bustan (King’s Garden) section of the Silwan neighborhood passed an initial Local Planning and Construction Committee hearing on June 21.
“These actions, if carried out, would violate international law, with certain actions potentially amounting to war crimes under international humanitarian law,” said Falk, who reports to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
“It is disturbing that Israel is considering revoking the residency permits of Muhammad Abu-Tir, Ahmad Attoun, Muhammad Totah, and Khaled Abu Arafeh, all current or former members of the Palestinian Legislative Council and longtime residents of east Jerusalem,” Falk said, noting that the High Court of Justice was scheduled to consider the case on September 6.
“What is particularly shocking is that Israel appears ready to forcibly transfer these individuals based on their supposed lack of loyalty to the State of Israel,” he stated. “Israel, as an occupying power, is prohibited from transferring civilian persons from east Jerusalem, and is prohibited from forcing Palestinians to swear allegiance or otherwise affirm their loyalty to the State of Israel.”
Falk’s statements were issued not to any particular body, but were made in his capacity as special rapporteur as “an expression of concern” in relation to both the recent announcement of the Silwan building demolitions and the proposed expulsion of the four Palestinians said to be associated with Hamas.
“It was more, I suppose, an expression of concern and a sense that this was not a helpful development from a number of different perspectives,” Falk told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday. “And part of my role is supposedly to comment on things that occur in between the times I make formal reports.”
The special rapporteur’s report on the region is due in early August and will be released to the public in early September, after Israel and the Palestinian Authority have the opportunity to make comments on the text.
Last week, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern about the planned Silwan construction.
“The secretary-general reminds the Israeli government of its responsibility to ensure provocative steps are not taken which would heighten tensions in the city,” a representative from Ban’s office said last Thursday. “The current moves are unhelpful, coming at a time when the goal must be to build trust to support political negotiations.”
Falk, saying that east Jerusalem was occupied territory under international law, urged the Israeli government to halt construction.
“International law does not allow Israel to bulldoze Palestinian homes to make space for the mayor’s project to build a garden, or anything else,” he said.
Falk, an American Jew, is an emeritus professor of international law at Princeton University.
  UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer recently told The Jerusalem Post that Falk was so pro-Hamas that even the Palestinian Authority had asked him to quit.
Outside of his comments against Israel, he has advocated a number of outlandish theories about world events.
“He is one of the leading promoters in the US of the conspiracy theory that the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the US were an inside job, perpetrated by the US government,” said Neuer.
Meanwhile, EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton called the planned demolitions in east Jerusalem an “obstacle to peace,” AFP reported Wednesday.
Ashton called the demolitions illegal under international law and said they would make a two-state solution impossible.
“If there is to be genuine peace, a way must be found throughnegotiations to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capitalof two states,” she said.
The US has come out against the demolitions as well. The StateDepartment said last week that the US was “worried” about Jerusalem’sSilwan building project.
“This is expressly the kind of step that we think undermines trust thatis fundamental in making progress to the proximity talks and ultimatelyin direct negotiations,” said State Department spokesman Philip Crowley.
A spokesman for Barkat told the Post on Sunday thatthe projects were designed to improve the quality of life of Silwan’sArab residents and that they would not “surprise” the internationalcommunity.
Abe Selig, Tovah Lazaroff and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.