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Israel demolishes homes in East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Silwan, Sur Bahir

Aug. 30, 2016 6:23 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 31, 2016 4:10 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma’an) -- Israeli authorities tore down three houses -- two of which were under construction -- and two fences in occupied East Jerusalem on Tuesday morning, leaving at least five Palestinians homeless.

Bulldozers heavily escorted by Israeli troops and police officers stormed the neighborhood of Sur Bahir and demolished a house which housed a family of five, evacuating the family and only removing some of the furniture from the home, tearing down the house while much of the family’s belongings remained inside.

The owner of the home, Wasim Atiyeh, told Ma’an that the 120-square-meter house was demolished because it was built without a license issued by the Jerusalem municipality.

“A court hearing was scheduled for the end of October at the Jerusalem municipality court to discuss the license issue,” Atiyeh said. “But bulldozers demolished the house this morning without a prior notice.”

Atiyeh added that he and his family had moved to the house about a year ago.

The Israeli municipality of Jerusalem confirmed in a statement on Tuesday that the Israeli Jerusalem Zoning Authority “enforced a court order” and demolished an “illegal structure” in Sur Bahir, claiming that it was built without a hard-to-obtain Israeli construction permit, and that the owners “violated a cease and desist order issued when construction began, and a commitment they made in court to demolish the structure.”

Meanwhile, in the neighborhood of Silwan, bulldozers escorted by Israeli troops demolished two houses under construction belonging to Iyad Nairoukh, who said the demolition was performed without prior notice, adding that he had only started the construction 20 days earlier.

Israeli forces also demolished two fences in Silwan surrounding the homes of Aziz Burqan and Abed Shweiki. The owners said they were told the demolitions took place because they did not have Israeli-issued licenses.

The Jerusalem municipality noted that “several fences and concrete walls erected illegally on public land in Wadi Yasul,” a section of Silwan, were demolished by the Israeli Ministry of Finance enforcement unit. The statement did not mention the demolition of the two homes under construction.

While the municipality vowed in its statement to “continue to enforce the law equally, in all parts of the city, preserving public areas and ensuring accessibility for the benefit of local communities," in practice Israel very rarely grants Palestinians permits to build in the occupied Palestinian territory, forcing most Palestinians to build illegally.

Meanwhile, the more than 500,000 Jewish settlers residing in illegal Israeli settlements scattered across occupied Palestinian territory are more easily given building permits and allowed to expand their homes and properties.

However, the municipality challenged these claims, telling Ma'an that they receive a disproportionately low number of permit applications from Palestinian communities, adding that "over the past five years, only 15 percent of building permit applications (1,864 of the 12,620) were filed by residents of predominantly Arab neighborhoods, less than half of their share in the city's population."

The municipality also claimed that when applications were submitted for building in Palestinian neighborhoods, they had a high rate of approval -- at 87 percent.

However, according to the Applied Research Institute - Jerusalem (ARIJ), land prices are extremely high in Palestinian neighborhoods close to the Old City of East Jerusalem, while also being a prime locations for Israeli settlements and the larger goal of "Judaizing" the area around the Old City.

Testimonies collected by ARIJ from Palestinians in the neighborhoods of Silwan and Sur Bahir found that the procedures to apply for Israeli-issued building permits were lengthy, sometimes lasting for several years, while the application costs could reach up to 300,000 shekels ($79,180).

As a result, Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem tend to build without permits in order to accommodate the needs of their families, and only 7 percent of Jerusalem building permits go to Palestinian neighborhoods, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

According to Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the high price of the building permits are seen as one of several strategies the Israeli government uses to forcibly displace their communities for the benefit of Israeli settlers.

Haaretz reported in June that according to data collected in 2014, 82 percent of Palestinians in East Jerusalem live under the poverty line, making applying for costly building permits nearly impossible.

Only 14 percent of East Jerusalem land is zoned for Palestinian residential construction, while one-third of Palestinian land has been confiscated since 1967 to build illegal Jewish-only settlements, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) says.

Although Palestinians in East Jerusalem live within territory Israel has unilaterally annexed, they lack citizenship rights and are instead classified only as "residents" whose permits can be revoked if they move away from the city for more than a few years.

More than 14,000 Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem have had their permits revoked since 1967, denying them the ability to ever return to their homes.

More than 3,000 Palestinian structures have been demolished in East Jerusalem 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.

The summer has seen a large-scale demolition campaign targeting Palestinian communities across Jerusalem on an unprecedented scale. In less than 24 hours in late July, 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.

A July report by B’Tselem revealed that Israeli authorities demolished more Palestinian homes in the occupied West Bank in the first six months of 2016 as they did in all of 2015, in what rights groups argue is a worrying indicator that Israel intends to annex the entirety of Area C.

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