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Israeli forces raid Silwan amid mounting threats to demolish Palestinian homes

Sept. 3, 2016 9:29 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 4, 2016 1:13 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- Jerusalem municipality workers raided the al-Bustan area of Silwan in occupied East Jerusalem on Saturday, where they closed one of the town’s streets with cement blocks for the purpose of “repairs and infrastructure lines," amid mounting threats to demolish Palestinian homes in al-Bustan in a decades-long legal battle between residents and the city.

Fakhri Abu Diyab, a member of a Silwan-based committee formed to fight home demolitions, told Ma’an that Israeli municipality workers entered Silwan and took pictures of the streets, homes, and businesses.

Head of the Wadi Hilweh Information Center, Jawad Siyam, said that Israeli authorities had also closed the Wadi Hilweh Street with cement blocks on Friday during a similar raid, though locals removed the blocks shortly thereafter in order to use the street, which connects Silwan and all neighboring areas to the city center of Jerusalem.

According to a spokesperson for the municipality, the closing of the road "was due to emergency repairs to a sewage mainline serving the neighborhood."

Separately, the spokesperson told Ma'an, "the Municipality carried out routine zoning inspections, posting notices on illegally constructed buildings," in the neighborhood. 

"In cases where Municipal teams could not ascertain the identity of the persons responsible for the construction, notices calling them to meet with Municipal teams were posted.The Municipality will continue to enforce the law equally, in all parts of the city, preserving public areas and ensuring accessibility for the benefit of local communities."

Abu Diyab added that Israeli forces have been raiding Silwan every Friday and Saturday for the past several months, entering homes and stores to deliver demolition notices, warnings, and summons for residents to meet with Israel’s Jerusalem municipality, claiming their houses or businesses were built without proper Israeli-issued permits.

Abu Diyab said the incursions and indictments came amid a decades-long battle between the Jerusalem municipality and residents of al-Bustan that began in the 1970’s, sparked by the city's “Master Plan No. 9,” which that defined al-Bustan Valley as an open space where construction was prohibited.

Due to the designation, residents have long faced great difficulties contending with demolition orders issued against their homes, due to the fact that they cannot lay down proper infrastructures, build public facilities, or build additions to their homes or new homes on the lands that they had owned long before the annexation of occupied east Jerusalem in 1967.

‘Garden of the King’

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.

After the residents’ appeals were rejected, the Jerusalem Municipality proposed that they voluntarily relocate to another Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Hanina, in northern occupied East Jerusalem, but the residents refused.

In early 2010, the municipality filed a new plan which included a tourist park called “King’s Valley” or “King’s Garden” in al-Bustan, that called for the demolition of structures in the neighborhood’s western part -- at least 22 -- while structures in the eastern part of al-Bustan-- about 66 -- would receive retroactive approval along with increased building rights.

"The plan fails to specify how this is to be implemented in practice... The municipal plan was approved by the local committee in June 2010 and awaits approval from the district committee," Israeli NGO B’Tselem said in a 2014 report.

Years on, threat of demolitions continue

Despite the freeze on plans since 2010, Israeli forces regularly have regularly raided the al-Bustan neighborhood and issued demolition orders to residents.

In April Israeli forces issued five demolition orders and threatened indictments against their Palestinian homeowners, who built the homes over 30 years ago.

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

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 at the time that 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."

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