Demolition of Palestinians' Jerusalem homes surges

Israeli authorities have picked up the pace of destroying Palestinian homes in Jerusalem, which Palestinians blame in part on US officials' statements.

al-monitor Israeli forces prepare to demolish Palestinian homes in the village of Sur Baher, which sits on either side of the Israeli barrier in East Jerusalem, and the Israeli-occupied West Bank, July 22, 2019. Photo by REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma.
Ahmad Melhem

Ahmad Melhem


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Dec 2, 2019

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Fatima Abbasi left her Jerusalem home Nov. 19 to go to work. She was caught off-guard, she told Al-Monitor, when a relative called to tell her municipal workers, escorted by Israeli police, were preparing to demolish the house. By the end of the day, the structure was gone, and she and her four children were homeless.

Abbasi, a school teacher, said she had received no prior demolition notice or warning from the municipality that her 130-square-meter (1,400-square-foot) house would be destroyed. She and her family had to move into her father's home in Jerusalem while she looks for a house to rent.

Hers was not the only residence razed that day. Municipal workers and police forces stormed the home where Jerusalemite Magdi Aloun lived with his wife and four children, aged six months to 13 years. All the workers left was rubble.

Israel claimed both houses were built without permits.

Aloun, who has been unemployed since 2013 due to a car accident that left him permanently disabled, told Al-Monitor his 120-square-meter (1,291-square-foot) house was built in 2011. At that time, the Jerusalem Municipal Court fined him 40,000 shekels ($11,500) for not having a building permit and told him to get one or his house would be demolished. He's been trying to remedy that situation for years, to no avail. 

Aloun now lives with his family in his little brother's house, which is less than 80 square meters. Just like Abbasi, he is searching for a house to rent.

His lawyer, Sami Irshid, told Al-Monitor, “In recent years, Aloun and his family have been seeking a house permit. We have been asking the Municipal Court to extend the [demolition] deadline, to continue the procedures required for the permit. Most recently, we submitted to the Jerusalem municipality Nov. 9 a request to freeze the demolition order," he said. “The municipality instead sent bulldozers.”

Irshid added, “Shortly before the demolition, we obtained a decision from the Municipal Court to freeze the demolition order for a week, during which the municipality was supposed to respond to our request, in return for a deposit of 25,000 shekels [$7,200]. But on our way to pay the deposit, the Israeli forces leveled the house, disregarding the decision expected by the court.”

In 2019, the pace of demolitions in East Jerusalem surged compared with previous years. According to an updated report by B'Tselem - The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights published Nov. 14, 269 Palestinians have lost their homes this year, including 149 minors.

B'Tselem spokesman Kareem Jubran told Al-Monitor the center has been documenting demolitions since 2004. The 2019 demolitions are almost equivalent to total demolitions in recent years. “Israel has demolished 155 homes since the beginning of 2019 until the end of October 2019, including 37 houses whose owners were forced to demolish them with their own hands to avoid paying the costs of the demolition, ranging from 100,000 to 150,000 shekels [$29,000 to $43,300]. The annual average of demolitions in Jerusalem between 2004 and 2018 stood at 54.”

Jubran stressed that the demolitions in Jerusalem aim to repel Palestinians and entrench demographic superiority in favor of Israeli settlements. “The surge in demolitions in 2019 stems in one way or another from the positions of the US administration toward Jerusalem, and its recognition as the capital of Israel,” he said.

B'Tselem's projections indicate that demolitions in Jerusalem will increase over the coming months and years, according to Jubran.

“This is especially true after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's statements Nov. 18 that Israel’s settlements do not violate international law,” he said. “The demolitions create bad humanitarian conditions for the Jerusalemite families, who use all their financial savings to build a house. These families see their houses brought to the ground in moments, and they end up homeless.”

Jubran pointed out that Israel uses the lack of building permits as a pretext to demolish houses, even as it pursues a discriminatory policy against Palestinian Jerusalemites by refusing to grant them permits. “This forces Jerusalemites to build houses without a permit because of their urgent need for housing,” he said.

Meanwhile, Jerusalem Gov. Adnan Ghaith described Israeli demolitions as a massacre of homes.

“These orders are a means of repression and aim to change the demographic reality in favor of the settlers,” he told Al-Monitor. “Israel has indulged in issuing demolition orders in Jerusalem, taking advantage of the US green light, which began with [US President Donald] Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Pompeo's statement that settlements do not violate international law made things worse.”

Ghaith explained that razing houses in Jerusalem creates a difficult social and humanitarian situation. “Hundreds of families become homeless," he said. "Around 20,000 homes in Jerusalem face demolition orders that may be executed at any moment. Meanwhile, Palestinians in Jerusalem need about 25,000 new housing units.”

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