Demolitions in East “Jerusalem”: How the Occupation Has Taken Its Crime a Step Further

Demolitions in East “Jerusalem”: How the Occupation Has Taken Its Crime a Step Further

“Israel’s” policy of denying Jerusalemites’ right to obtain building permits, and then deciding to demolish their property is a major violation of international law which needs to be stopped.

Demolition of houses is one of several faces of “Israel’s” policy of aggression against “Jerusalemites” – the indigenous peoples of Al-Quds – which seeks to drive them out of their land and city. Remarkably, and following decades of destroying houses and blowing them up, “Israel” has taken its crime a step further by forcing “Jerusalemites” to demolish their own houses. Even worse, “Israel” has upheld the demolition policy even amid the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

Demolition of “Jerusalem” houses: a policy predating the 1948 occupation

Prior to the declaration of the establishment of “Israel” in 1948, Zionist gangs committed horrendous crimes in Palestine to create “a land without people”. Among these crimes was the large scale demolition of villages and houses leading to either the killing of the Palestinian owners trapped under the rubble or to their expulsion. Soon, Jewish settlers would take over Palestinian land and remaining houses until the western part of “Jerusalem” was almost void of Palestinians after the ethnic cleansing carried out against them.

Since the occupation of the eastern side of Al-Quds in 1967, “Israel” has sought to deplete Arab presence in this part of the city as well, and consecrate Jewish presence there. Among these premediated steps was the devastation of the Moroccan Neighborhood (Harat al-Maghareba), on June 10, turning all its 135 houses into piles of rubble and expelling its 650 Palestinian dwellers.

In 1973, the Inter-Ministerial Committee for Checking Development Rates in “Jerusalem” (the Gafni Committee) recommended maintaining the population at the ratio which existed at the time (73.5% of Jews to 25.5% of Arabs) while, in 2007, the Jerusalem Master Plan 2000 has reset the target to a 60-40 ratio.

As it was not possible for “Israel” to pursue ethnic cleansing in the eastern side of “Jerusalem” the way it did in the western side, and since it could not limit natural growth among the Arab population, it sought to control the demographic balance and diminish Arab presence through other means, including putting pressure on the inhabitants and forcing them to leave through by limiting their ability to build in the city.

Denying Jerusalemites building permits

“Israel’s” keenness on preventing Jerusalemites from building houses or residential units was demonstrated in its policy of making the process of obtaining building permits almost impossible, which has left Jerusalemites with the only solution to build without permits; otherwise they will have to abandon their land and move to other areas outside the occupation municipal borders. This would ultimately make it easier for the Israeli authorities to confiscate their land and even to strip them of their residency status, given that they do not live in Al-Quds according to the laws tailored by “Israel”. These measures were taken in order to diminish Arab presence in “Jerusalem” and maintain a Jewish majority in the city.

Available figures show a stark discrepancy between the number of building permits given to Jerusalemites and that given to settlers. From 1991 to 2018, 16.5% of building permits in both sides of “Jerusalem” were for building in Palestinian neighborhoods, compared to 37.8% for settlers to build in settlements in the eastern side of the city.

Specialists in “Jerusalem” estimate the number of unlicensed units to approximately 20,000 homes with a total of 100,000 Palestinians, assuming that each family consists of 5 persons only.

Self-demolitions: From the frying pan into the fire

According to figures by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), self-demolitions counted for 46.9% of total demolitions in the eastern side of “Jerusalem” in 2020 compared to 26.1% in 2019 and 16.3% in 2016. This stark rise in self-demolitions is the result of the application of an amendment introduced by the Israeli Planning and Building Law. The Knesset approved the law in 2017 which was followed by related regulations that entered into force in December 2018. The 116 amendment or the Kaminitz Law, applied to both occupied territories in 1948 and to the eastern side of “Jerusalem”, stipulated that planning and building offenses were administrative rather than criminal. This would give the occupation municipal authorities further powers to impose a penalty reaching up to NIS 300,000 (around $ 92,000). The amendment also stipulated that extra fines may be imposed on owners of “illegal” structures for each additional day the structure is used. In addition, the owner will have to pay the cost of the demolition if carried out by the occupation municipality.

To put more pressure on owners, Amendment 116 curtailed the discretion of courts regarding fines and expenses imposed by the municipality as well as regarding the postponement of the demolition in terms of reasons accepted and time allowed.

Thus, and with strict restrictions on resort to courts in order to freeze demolition decisions, more Jerusalemites have been forced to destroy their houses with their own hands in order to avoid the heavy financial sums to pay if the municipality executed the demolition.

Demolition in the time of corona

Despite the conditions imposed by the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, the occupation authorities continued applying the policy of house demolitions, although the pandemic made the population all across the world more vulnerable.

“Israel” proceeded with the policy of destruction of Jerusalem houses even when it imposed a comprehensive lockdown, including the eastern side of Jerusalem, and forced Jerusalemites to close down their shops and businesses under the pretext of facing the pandemic.

In September 2020, UN Humanitarian Coordinator Jamie McGoldrick issued a statement which criticized “Israel’s” unstoppable demolitions during the pandemic, although Israeli authorities have indicated that they would restrain their longstanding policy of demolishing inhabited Palestinian homes.

McGoldrick said that the global pandemic has increased the needs and vulnerabilities of Palestinians, who were already trapped in the abnormality of prolonged military occupation, adding that illegal demolitions exacerbate these vulnerabilities and must stop immediately.

Yet, despite these calls, “Israel” continued with the demolition policy and by the end of 2020, UN figures showed that 184 structures were demolished in eastern Jerusalem. In the first half of 2021, “Israel” destroyed 79 structures in east “Jerusalem”, 42 of which were self-demolished, according to figures issued by Wadi Hilweh Information Center in Silwan.

What needs to be done?

“Israel’s” policy of denying Jerusalemites’ right to obtain building permits, and then deciding to demolish their property is a major violation of international law which needs to be stopped.

While statements and condemnations are important to cast light on this violation, they are not enough alone to force “Israel” to abide by the rules of international law. Rather, further pressure should be put on “Israel” and steps on the ground should be taken to urge it to stop its violations.

Countries maintaining relations with “Israel”, especially the European Union, have a major role in this respect. While such relations encourage “Israel” to proceed with its crimes, severing them, or threatening to do so, can force the occupation authorities to stop the demolition massacres.

Importantly, different governments must provide a safety network for Jerusalemites to support their resilience and a fund should be established to help with the legal proceedings and with providing temporary residence for those whose houses are demolished until they can rebuild them.