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Thousands face uncertainty over Jerusalem demolition threat

Nov. 6, 2013 7:41 P.M. (Updated: April 28, 2015 8:23 P.M.)
By: Charlie Hoyle

BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Palestinians northeast of the separation wall near Jerusalem face an uncertain future after Israeli authorities issued demolition orders last week which could displace thousands of people, a rights group said Wednesday.

A local Palestinian official said last Thursday that officers from Jerusalem's municipality issued demolition orders for Palestinian homes in the neighborhoods of Ras Khamis and Ras Shahada.

Jamil Sanduqa, who chairs a local committee to develop the Ras Khamis neighborhood, said that over 15,000 Palestinians live in the buildings slated for demolition.

Ronit Sela, East Jerusalem project director from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, told Ma'an Wednesday that representatives from Jerusalem's municipality had toured Ras Khamis in July and noted the coordinates for properties they claimed were built without permits.

The officials could not determine who lived in the properties and approached a local court to ask for permission to demolish the homes.

The Jerusalem Local Affairs Court stated that homeowners would have 30 days to file an appeal from the date the orders were finally issued on Oct. 31, or the court would accept the municipality's request to demolish the buildings.

Residents must now decide whether to remain anonymous or challenge the orders in an Israeli court, Sela says, which still risks the possibility that Israeli authorities could issue heavy fines or demolish the homes.

"The displacement of so many families is devastating. We are surprised that it is of this magnitude," Sela said, adding that residents were confused and anxious about how to proceed.

Jerusalem's municipality has said that 11 buildings are officially slated for demolition, but Sela says the number of people facing displacement could be in the "thousands."

Ras Khamis official Jamil Sanduqa said last week that the demolitions orders were issued a week after Nir Barkat was re-elected as Jerusalem's mayor.

An NGO worker also told Ma'an that the demolition orders may have faced a three-month delay from the municipality's initial request in July to wait until Jerusalem municipal elections had taken place in late October.

'No man's land'

In 2006, the construction of Israel's separation wall in northeast Jerusalem separated the Ras Khamis and Ras Shahada neighborhoods from the rest of the city.

Tens of thousands of residents, who carry Israeli identification cards, must cross through a single checkpoint serving Shufat refugee camp, Ras Khamis, Ras Shuhada and the town of Anata to access the city.

Sela says residents in Ras Khamis and Ras Shuhada constructed large residential buildings in the area as they assumed Israeli authorities had no interest in entering the neighborhoods.

"They are all in an area on the West Bank side of the Jerusalem barrier and the assumption was that with such a complete neglect of this area since the wall was built that Israeli authorities would not touch you."

Israeli police almost never enter the area and Sela says the neighborhoods have become "lawless," have problems with drugs, and are effectively a "no man's land."

Sari Kronish, an architect from Bimkom – Planners for Planning Rights, said in a statement Tuesday that residents of Ras Khamis and Ras Shahada "are trapped in a planning deadlock – on one hand, the lack of suitable planning is one of the major reasons why building permits are refused, and on the other hand, people live under the constant threat of home demolitions and constant neglect."

In response to a petition to Israel's High Court against the route of the barrier, Israel promised that normal life would be maintained in Palestinian communities living beyond the separation wall, ACRI says.

Yet Sela says that Israeli authorities have done nothing for the residents of the area.

"Roads are in terrible shape, sewage and garbage collection is neglected, and water connections are terrible. There is severe neglect of tens of thousands of people."

Israel has destroyed more than 500 Palestinian properties in the West Bank and mostly East Jerusalem since the beginning of this year, displacing 862 people, according to UNOCHA.
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