By Ann Flower Seyse
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
JERUSALEM, Israel – Despite calls from the United Nations for demolitions of Palestinian homes in east Jerusalem to cease, the city continues to demolish what it calls “illegally developed” homes. The deputy mayor, Naomi Tsur, says that all residents of Jerusalem are being treated equally. Tsur insists that all homes built without permit are being destroyed, regardless of their being in east or west Jerusalem.
The Israeli police pounded on the doors and entered homes as if they were executing a raid. One resident was told that she had five minutes to don her scarf, collect her valuables, and get out of the house. One thousand illegally built homes in Jerusalem have been marked for demolition so far this year. Israeli based NGO B’Tselem estimates that that number could double in the next few months.
Amidst the rubble of her home a Palestinian girl gets food from her fridge. Her home in east Jerusalem was demolished on April 22. Image Courtesy of Tara Todraswhitehill/AP
Many Palestinians whose homes have been demolished admit that they built their home without a permit. Permits are difficult to get, because there is only a limited percentage of land that Palestinians are allowed to build on, and most of this land is already being used. Out of the seventy square kilometers that constitute the west bank and east Jerusalem that were annexed by Israel, only thirteen percent is zoned for Palestinian construction.
Even changes to existing homes, like additions, are subject to Jerusalem’s strict building permit regulations. In Jerusalem’s Old City, a resident has been ordered to demolish a room of his house and to pay a 6,000 shekel fine (1,500 USD). The resident was given 45 days to comply, or he faces a three month jail term. He had already paid an 8,000 shekel fine in 2004 for building the room onto his house.
Jerusalem is allegedly stingy in their granting of building permits. Many Palestinians are denied permits if they submit applications, which discourages many other citizens from even attempting to get the proper permits. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) alleges that the building permit process and the current demolition practices are all part of a plan to remove the Palestinians from Jerusalem.
Mayor Nir Barkat’s administration denies the allegations of the ACRI, and recently announced that 13,500 additional housing units would be allowed in east Jerusalem. These additional units are not an immediate solution, only part of a city plan for the year 2030. The city has a large development plan that will allow a developer to create a large tourist complex near the Old City, and supports a group that buys Palestinian land in east Jerusalem, and relocates the Palestinians to more Arab neighborhoods.
The demolitions and restrictions on Palestinian development in Jerusalem add to the difficulties of the peace process and the proposed two state solution. With mounting pressure from the United States and world wide for peace, Israel will be under more scrutiny for its city planning measures that appear to be discriminatory in effect.
For more information, please see:
BBC News – Demolitions build Jerusalem tension – 25 May 2009
Ma’an News Agency – Jerusalem Court orders Palestinian to demolish room of his home – 24 May 2009
BBC News – Jerusalem Mayor ‘stepping up demolitions’ – 19 May 2009
Christian Science Monitor – In Jerusalem, an uptick in demolition orders of Arab homes – 19 May 2009
United Nations Radio – End Palestinian demolitions in Jerusalem, UN tells Israel – 1 May 2009