More than 80 INGOs call on Israel to halt actions to forcibly transfer Palestinian family

Published: 22nd February 2019

Oxfam joins more than 80 other agencies of the Association of International Development Agencies (AIDA) to express their grave concern over the imminent risk of the forcible transfer of a Palestinian family in Sheikh Jarrah, occupied East Jerusalem. AIDA calls on Israel to immediately halt this and other eviction efforts in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). All parties must act to ensure adherence to international law.

The Sabbagh family are Palestinian refugees originally from Jaffa, who resettled in Sheikh Jarrah with the support of the United Nations and the Jordanian government after fleeing their home in 1948. The family has lived in their Sheikh Jarrah home for more than 60 years. While Jewish Israelis are allowed to reclaim their property, the Sabbagh family has no reciprocal right to reclaim the property they lost in Jaffa during the 1948 war.

The Sabbagh family is one of at least 180 Palestinian families in East Jerusalem threatened with eviction by Israeli authorities. On 17 February, Israeli forces and police evicted the Abu Assab family from their home in the Old City of Jerusalem, where they had lived since 1952. This followed an Israel Supreme Court ruling that the home was built on land allegedly belonging to Israeli settlers.

Efforts to displace the Sabbagh family come in the context of Israel’s unlawful annexation of occupied East Jerusalem and internationally condemned practices that include the forcible transfer of Palestinian families and settlement expansion throughout the oPt. Israel’s unilateral annexation and related efforts to alter the character and status of occupied East Jerusalem, including by population transfer, have profound implications for the future status of the city and have been deemed null and void by the UN Security Council. These practices and policies by successive Israeli governments amount to flagrant violations of international law including international humanitarian law (IHL), as noted in United Nations Security Council resolutions 478 (1980) and 2334 (2016).

Forcibly transferring members of an occupied population is recognized as a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention, potentially giving rise to individual criminal responsibility. Transfer by an occupying power of its own citizens into an occupied territory also violates the Fourth Geneva Convention. These transfers and related policies and practices violate numerous fundamental human rights, including the rights to family life, adequate housing and effective remedies.

Under international law, Israel is obliged to immediately cease unlawful conduct, take positive action to prevent future violations and ensure that reparations in full are provided for harms incurred through past unlawful conduct. Assertions of compliance with domestic legislation or administrative procedures imposed illegally by Israel cannot justify breaches of international obligations. Moreover, as occupying power, Israel is required under IHL to ensure public order and civic life, amounting to a standard of good governance for residents of the territory under its occupation. Finally, all states party to the Geneva Conventions are obliged to ensure respect for the Conventions, in particular grave breaches, the most serious category of IHL violations.

AIDA, therefore, urges the international community, including the EU and its member states, the United States of America, and all other states and international organizations to:

• Demand that Israel, as occupying power, comply in full with its obligations under international law, including prohibitions against annexation of occupied territory and forcible transfer of residents of an occupied territory;• Publicly reiterate that East Jerusalem remains under Israeli military occupation and that any actions by the occupying power to alter Jerusalem’s character, status or demographic composition are not only illegal, but null and void;
• Reiterate the illegality of settlement policies, actions and related practices, including forcible transfers of oPt residents, whether in East Jerusalem, Area C or elsewhere, and promote accountability for violations of international law utilizing the full array of available countermeasures;
• Materially enhance the protection afforded to Palestinians residing in East Jerusalem and throughout the oPt consistent with IHL requirements for situations of military occupation and ensure continued provision of humanitarian relief and development assistance to the most vulnerable oPt residents.

Notes to editors

  • In 1956, UNRWA and the Government of Jordan resettled 28 Palestinian refugee families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem. In 1967, Israel seized East Jerusalem by military force and unilaterally annexed the area into its own territory in contravention of international law. East Jerusalem remains occupied Palestinian territory under international law.
  • In 1970, Israel passed the Legal and Administrative Matters Law, which provided for Jews who lost property in East Jerusalem in the 1948 War to reclaim it. Notably, Israel passed no parallel law for Palestinians, including those residing in East Jerusalem. To the contrary, the Absentee Property Law passed by Israel in 1950 specifically prohibits Palestinians from recovering their pre-1948 property.
  • Israel formalized the annexation of East Jerusalem with the passing of a law in 1980 which, among other things, declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel. The UN Security Council affirmed in Resolution 478 (1980) that this law “constitutes a violation of international law” and stated that “all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, the Occupying Power, which have altered or purport to alter the character of the status of the Holy City of Jerusalem are null and void.”
  • In 2008 Nahalat Shimon Company Ltd., a private company reportedly registered Delaware, U.S.A., led an eviction lawsuit against the Sabbagh family, questioning its land ownership.
  • In February 2012, the Magistrate Court issued a decision in favor of Nahalat Shimon ordering the eviction of Sabbagh family.
  • In January 2013, the Sabbagh family initiated legal proceedings to challenge Nahalat ownership claims.
  • On 15 November 2018, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected the Sabbagh family’s final appeal on the grounds
  • that the statute of limitations over ownership claims of the property in question had expired.
  • On 3 January 2019, the Israeli Law Enforcement and Collection System Authority visited the Sabbagh family and issued a written warning requiring for the family to vacate the property within 20 days.
  • At least 180 Palestinian households in East Jerusalem have eviction cases filed against them (OCHA, Nov 2016). Most of these cases were initiated by Israeli settler organizations.
  • The Association for International Development Agencies (AIDA) is a coalition consisting of more than 80 international organizations working in the occupied Palestinian territory. For more info about AIDA, see: