GENEVA Israel's plan to demolish some 20 Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem is illegal and reflects its systematic bid to drive Palestinians out of the holy city, a U.N. human rights expert charged on Tuesday.
Richard Falk, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967, said its separate intent to forcibly transfer four Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem to the West Bank could constitute a war crime.
In addition to the planned demolitions in the Silwan area of East Jerusalem, Israel is considering revoking the residency permits of four Palestinians, all current or former members of the Palestinian Legislative Council and long-time residents of the city, he said.
"These actions, if carried out, would violate international law, with certain actions potentially amounting to war crimes under international humanitarian law," Falk said in a statement.
A local planning commission has approved the plan to destroy the homes, as part of the King's Garden project, but it will need additional ratification which could take months, Israeli officials have said.
City spokesman Stephan Miller has said the project was intended "to improve the quality of life" in Silwan and that a park and public complex slated to be built in the area would be used by Arabs and Jews alike.
"International law does not allow Israel to bulldoze Palestinians homes to make space for the Mayor's project to build a garden, or anything else," said Falk.
Israel drew U.S. anger in March, when it announced during a visit by Vice President Joe Biden a plan to build 1,600 homes for Jews in an area of the occupied West Bank it considers part of Jerusalem. Israel assured Washington building at the Ramat Shlomo settlement site would not begin for at least two years.
The four Palestinians are members of Hamas, a group seen by Israel and the West as a terrorist organisation which calls for Israel's destruction.
"Forcibly transferring these individuals would constitute serious violations of Israel's legal obligations. At the same time, the current threats should be viewed as part of a larger, extremely worrying pattern of Israeli efforts to drive Palestinians out of East Jerusalem -- all of which are illegal under international law," Falk said.
On Sept. 6, the Israeli High Court of Justice is scheduled to consider their case, according to Falk.
He named them as Muhammad Abu-Teir, Ahmad Attoun, Muhammad Totah and Khaled Abu Arafeh. Araheh is a former Hamas cabinet minister and the other three were lawmakers elected in 2006.
"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," he said.
Israel has sought to drive Palestinians out of East Jerusalem, Falk said. Means included denying them permission to construct homes, declaring their homes illegal, forcibly removing families and then destroying their homes -- "all to make way for Israeli settlements".
Falk, who is Jewish, was detained and turned back from Israel while trying to carry out an official U.N. mission to Gaza, West Bank and East Jerusalem in Dec. 2008. The deportation was denounced by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
He has served in the independent post since May 2008, reporting to the U.N. Human Rights Council. Critics say that the 47-member state forum unfairly singles out Israeli violations.
(Additional reporting by Allyn Fisher-Ilan in Jerusalem; Editing by Matthew Jones)