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Israeli forces raid Silwan, threaten indictments against homeowners

April 23, 2016 4:43 P.M. (Updated: April 23, 2016 9:48 P.M.)
Palestinian civilians and Israeli police bump into one another in Silwan on April 15, 2011. (AFP/Ahmed Gharabli, File)
Jerusalem (Ma'an) -- Israeli forces on Friday raided the Silwan neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem, issuing five demolition orders and threatening indictments against their Palestinian homeowners, amid a surge of demolitions in the area.

Fakhri Abu Diyab, a member of a Silwan-based committee formed to fight such demolitions in Silwan, told Ma’an that the Israeli authorities delivered demolition orders for five homes belonging to the Abu Rajab and Awwad families in the al-Bustan area, which were constructed over 30 years ago.

The Jerusalem municipality’s local affairs court previously asked the homeowners to provide testimony at a hearing, but the homeowners did not attend, according to the Wadi Hilweh Information Center.

The notices delivered Friday were issued as final warnings to the homeowners, threatening that if they did not appear in court, indictments would be filed against them under Article 212.

Abu Diyab added that while Israeli forces raid Silwan every Friday and Saturday and deliver demolition orders, the notices issued this week threatening indictment were a new development.

“It is threatening to use article 212,” Abu Diyab told Ma’an, because the article allows the public prosecution to demolish houses without providing clear reasons, and to punish homeowners with fines or prison time.

Article 212 is invariably used when the state fails to provide enough evidence to convict the building owner for construction without a license, or in cases where it is not able to order a fine or a demolition order under article 205.

Daniel Sidelman from the Jerusalem Terrestrial organization said that the “aggressive” move by the Israeli authorities threatening indictments under article 212 is not unprecedented “but far from routine.”

Abu Diyab highlighted that the increase of notices suggests that the municipality is planning to move forward with controversial development plans in the neighborhood, which have been frozen for years following international pressure.

Sidelman agreed that targeting the al-Bustan area was a “particularly troubling and ominous indication” that the municipality is planning to go forward with plan.

“The communities (in Silwan) are at risk in ways other communities are not at risk. They are constantly targeted by (Israeli) settlers and authorities, and the distinction between settlers and the Israeli authorities has been completely blurred,” Sidelman told Ma’an.

The municipality began issuing demolition orders and indictments to homes in al-Bustan in 2005 as part of the Israeli authorities plan to establish the Jewish site “King David’s Garden” in Silwan and around the "Holy Basin," which includes many Christian and Muslim holy sites.

In 2009 the municipality announced its intention to demolish 88 homes in al-Bustan, to displace some 1,500 people. Article 212 was cited as the legal justification for many of these demolitions.

Elsewhere in Silwan on Friday, Israeli forces raided the al-Abbasiya, Bir Ayyub, and Wadi Hilweh neighborhoods while municipality workers photographed structures. Authorities also hung a demolition order on a six-story building belonging to the al-Zir family, which is home to 30 people, according to the Wadi Hilweh Information Center.

Silwan is one of many Palestinian neighborhoods in occupied East Jerusalem that is seeing an influx of Israeli settlers at the cost of home demolitions and the eviction of Palestinian families.The area has also recently come under heightened presence of Israeli military forces.

Earlier this month, two Palestinian-owned buildings in Silwan were issued demolition orders, and it is estimated at least 18 Palestinian families are currently at risk of displacement due to recent demolition orders, Abu Diyab told Ma’an at the time.

Silwan residents -- like most Palestinians in Jerusalem -- have long engaged in efforts to prevent their displacement by the Israeli government, which has aimed to establish a Jewish majority since Israel first illegally occupied East Jerusalem in 1967.

Palestinians' ability to build homes or expand existing structures legally is severely limited by the Jerusalem municipality, and more than 3,000 Palestinian structures have been demolished since 1967, according the PLO Negotiations Affairs Department.

The Wadi Hilweh Information Center in February said the Israeli authorities were escalating demolitions in Silwan in particular, and the Israeli National Council for Planning and Building recently approved a massive building project planned by Israeli settlement organization Elad in Silwan.

PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi said the approval was a clear sign that Israel was "deliberately isolating Jerusalem from its Palestinian environs and indigenous people and transforming it into an exclusively Jewish city."

Lily Leach contributed reporting from Bethlehem.
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