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Israeli forces demolish 2 Palestinian homes in Jerusalem's Old City

May 17, 2016 3:44 P.M. (Updated: May 18, 2016 9:45 A.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma’an) -- Israeli forces demolished two homes on Tuesday morning in the al-Suwwana neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem near the eastern wall of the Old City, leaving 23 Palestinians homeless.

The houses, belonging to the Tutanji and Ghanim families, were demolished despite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly suspending the demolition order last month, Arif Tutanji, the owner of one of the homes, said.

In a video-recorded interview in front of his demolished home, Tutanji told Ma’an that excavators, escorted by a group of Israeli soldiers, stormed the area in the morning and demolished the houses.

The only prior notice the family was given before the demolition was in the form of masked Israeli soldiers breaking into their homes and hurriedly evacuating the families, without giving them enough time to put on clothes, Tutanji said.

According to Tutanji, 16 people, including five children, had been residing in his family’s house for the past 18 years. Meanwhile, seven members of the Ghanim family had been living in the other now demolished house for two years.

Meanwhile, Karima Ghanim told Ma'an that she first heard "very violent" knocking on the door.

"I was sure it was Israeli soldiers. In a few seconds they were all around our bed. I was only in a nightgown and they did not allow us to get dressed, so I quickly wrapped a shawl around me," she said.

Ghanim, her husband and children rushed to their car parked outside, as the soldiers insisted they leave the area. "Even down the valley, they didn't allow us to park the car, so we drove until we reached al-Hilal [hospital], where I was able to put on my [Islamic] dress."

Israeli authorities have rejected blueprints submitted by the Tutanji and Ghneim families for plans to turn their land into privately-run parking lots. Meanwhile, Tutanji told Ma’an that “different institutions of the occupation” have continuously tried to designate their lands as Israeli national parks and for public utilities.

The area where the Tutanji and Ghanim families were residing, a tract of 27,000 square meters of land, is part of several areas around the Old City that Israeli authorities have allocated for national park development since the 1970s.

According to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, the Jerusalem 2000 Master Plan -- an Israeli-conceived comprehensive development plan for the “whole” of Jerusalem both east and west -- defines most of the area around al-Suwwana, which borders the Mount of Olives, as designated public space or zoned for public facilities and institutions.

Jerusalem expert and director of the Israeli nonprofit Jerusalem Terrestrial Daniel Seidemann told Ma’an that Israeli development plans around the Old City were focused on restructuring the area into biblical parks and public areas that can imprint Israeli settler ownership, both literally and historically, while systematically “neutralizing the Palestinian presence.”

However, Seidemann said he could not confirm the specifics of the demolition case in al-Suwwana and told Ma'an he would look into the case.

East Jerusalem was seized by Israel along with the West Bank in 1967 during the Six-Day War, and since then, the Israeli government has undertaken a policy of "Judaization" across the city, constructing Jewish settlements and demolishing Palestinian homes.

There are an upwards of 500,000 Israeli settlers living in illegal settlements across the West Bank and East Jerusalem, in contravention to international law.

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