Israeli, Palestinian and foreign activists carry placards during a protest against evictions of Palestinian families from their homes, in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Shaikh Jarrah in occupied east Jerusalem on August 4. Image Credit: AFP

New York: Israel is pushing occupied Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents to leave their homes through a policy of systematic transfer that violates international law, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Tuesday.

“Israel claims to treat Jerusalem as a unified city, but the reality is effectively one set of rules for Jews and another for Palestinians,” Sarah Leah Whitson, the rights group’s Middle East director, said in a report.

HRW, the New York-based group, said the frequent revocation of Palestinians’ residency permits — in addition to home demolitions and restrictions on Palestinian construction in the city — had served to increase the number of illegally-built Jewish colonies in occupied East Jerusalem.

“Israel is restricting growth of the occupied Palestinian population,” the report states.

“This reality reflects the Israeli government’s goal of maintaining a solid Jewish majority in the city.”

It adds: “The [Israeli] residency system [in Jerusalem] imposes onerous requirements on Palestinians to maintain their status, with significant consequences for those who don’t.”

Israel occupied East Jerusalem during the 1967 War in a move never recognised by the international community.

The more than 300,000 Palestinians living there have permanent residency status but are not Israeli nationals.

While East Jerusalem residents are allowed to apply for citizenship, most do not as they view it as recognition of Israeli sovereignty.

The report goes on to assert that, based on figures provided by Israel’s Interior Ministry, “between the start of Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967 and the end of 2016, Israel revoked the status of at least 14,595 Palestinians from East Jerusalem.”

Whitson, the Middle East director, is quoted in the report as saying “Entrenched discrimination against Palestinians in Jerusalem, including residency policies that imperil their legal status, feeds the alienation of the city’s residents.”

According to Whitson, efforts by the Israeli authorities to ensure a Jewish demographic majority in Jerusalem mean the city’s Palestinian residents are often forced to live like foreigners in their own homes.

“The status of Palestinians only remains secure so long as they do not exercise their right to travel abroad to study or work, move to the wrong neighbourhood, or obtain status in another country,” she is quoted as saying.

Israel first occupied the Palestinian West Bank, including East Jerusalem, during the 1967 Middle East War. It annexed the entire city in 1980, claiming it as the capital of the Jewish state — a move never recognised by the international community.

International law continues to view the West Bank and East Jerusalem as “occupied territories” and considers all Jewish colony-building activity on the land as illegal.

Palestinians have long accused Israel of waging a campaign to “Judaise” the historic city with the aim of effacing its historical Arab and Islamic identity and ultimately driving out its Palestinian inhabitants.