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Israel demolishes commercial structures in East Jerusalem neighborhood

Aug. 2, 2016 7:07 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 3, 2016 10:27 A.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma’an) -- Israeli bulldozers demolished a car dealer’s office and two shipping containers in the occupied East Jerusalem village of Sur Bahir during the predawn hours of Tuesday morning, while a Palestinian man in Silwan demolished his own home following an Israeli order, amid a large-scale demolition campaign targeting Palestinian communities across the city.

Local sources in Sur Bahir said that the Jerusalem municipality ordered the structures to be demolished on the grounds that they were built on land owned by the Israel Land Authority (ILA).

Jerusalem municipality crews escorted by Israeli forces demolished the structures without summoning the owners, after which they proceeded to level the land, the sources said.

The car dealership owner, Mohammad Elayyan, said that the demolished structure was a wooden trailer he used as an office, and that he had previously applied to the municipality for building permits for the structures.

He added that Israeli forces had also confiscated commercial air conditioning equipment worth tens of thousands of dollars and a car from the dealership exhibition.

Elayyan said he rented the land from its owner and started his business two years ago.

The two containers demolished were owned by al-Atrash family. After they were destroyed, Israeli forces hung a banner on the rubble that read: “No entrance allowed. Land owned by Israel Land Authority.”

However, in a response to request for comment, a spokesperson for the Jerusalem municipality told Ma’an the municipality and its employees were not involved in the demolition.

A representative for ILA could not immediately be reached for comment.

The majority of Sur Bahir is located within the Jerusalem municipality, as the Israeli government expropriated it as state land in 1970. However, a small portion of the towns’ area is located in the Bethlehem district of the occupied West Bank, and further portion of the village lies beyond the Israeli segregation wall.

Map of Sur Bahir (Photo: ARIJ)

According to ARIJ, “the problems associated with land and building licenses is considered to be one of the most difficult problems in Sur Bahir.”

High land prices, due to Sur Bahir’s proximity to the Old City and Al-Aqsa Mosque, make the area an “important target for Judaization and colonization, in addition to restrictions related to building licenses imposed by (the Israeli army).”

Testimonies in Sur Bahir collected by ARIJ showed that the Jerusalem municipality's licensing procedure for Palestinians is lengthy -- sometimes lasting years -- and can cost between 150,000 and 300,000 shekels (approximately $40,000 to 80,000).

Meanwhile, as of 2012, ILA had confiscated 1,697 dunams from Sur Bahir and the neighboring village Umm Tuba -- amounting to 20 percent of the towns’ total area -- to establish the illegal Israeli settlements East Talpiot to the north and Har Homa to the southwest.

Separately on Tuesday, in the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, resident Waleed al-Shweiki was forced to demolish his own house, following an order of the Israeli municipality.

Al-Shweiki told Ma’an that he was forced to demolish his house to avoid the expensive demolition fines imposed by the municipality when its employees carry out the demolition themselves.

Al-Shweiki had been living in the two-bedroom home since 2014 with his family of three.

Al-Shweiki demolishes his own house, where he has lived with his family for two years.

In response to a request for comment, the Jerusalem municipality spokesperson said: "Self demolitions occur when house owners heed legal notices and remove building code violations independently. Specific instances of residents heeding these notices are not verified in real time, therefore we cannot comment on them."

The incidents came amid a large-scale demolition campaign targeting Palestinian communities across Jerusalem on an unprecedented scale. In less than 24 hours hours, 30 Palestinian families were left homeless after Israel destroyed homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Issawiya and Ras al-Amoud, and in the village of Qalandiya in the West Bank district of Jerusalem in late July.

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 Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Nearly 579 homes have been destroyed in the city over the last twelve years, leaving 2,218 Palestinians homeless in total, Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem reported.
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