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Palestinian families forced to raze their homes amid spike in Israeli-enforced demolitions

Sept. 28, 2016 8:13 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 29, 2016 4:16 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma’an) -- Two Palestinian families in the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina were forced to demolish their own homes for being built without licenses on Wednesday, in order to avoid the expensive demolition fines imposed by the Jerusalem municipality when its employees carry out the demolition themselves.

Between the two families, 15 Palestinians were displaced as a result of the demolitions.

Owner of one of the homes Imad Jaber told Ma’an he was forced to rent a bulldozer to demolish his house, after receiving an order from the municipality.

“I built this house 10 years ago with my own hands, brick by brick,” Jaber told Ma’an. “I had no other choice but to demolish it myself, to avoid paying a fee of over 70,000 shekels ($18,000).”

He said there was no way he could afford the fee, especially after he has paid 67,000 shekels ($17,885) in fines to the municipality over the last few years.

He said he lived with his wife and four children in the house, for which he has continuously tried to obtain a building license, but the municipality has continued to reject his application.

Meanwhile, the owner of another Beit Hanina home, Rami Allon, was also forced to demolish his house in recent days following an Israeli court order.

He told Ma’an that he was injured during the demolition, when one of the house’s support columns collapsed on him, causing three different fractures in one of his legs.

Allon said that he has been living in the two-story, 340-square-meter house with his wife and seven children since 2013.

He added that the municipality ordered him to pay a 117,000 shekel ($31,098) fine when he first built the house in 2013.

He told Ma’an that he paid the fees in hopes that the municipality would not demolish the house, and also filed multiple appeals to the Israeli central and supreme courts against the demolition, but they rejected each appeal and ordered the demolition to be carried out anyway.

Allon noted that he owns three other houses in Beit Hanina for which he is trying to obtain building licences, and each of the houses have been incurring fines from the municipality.

In response to a request for comment, a spokesperson for the Jerusalem municipality told Ma’an they could not confirm the case of the Jaber home due to lack of sufficient details.

However, in confirming the Allon family’s case, the spokesperson said: “Self demolitions occur when house owners heed legal notices and court rulings 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."

Story continues below.

The self demolitions came amid a surge in Israeli-enforced demolitions against Palestinian homes and livelihood structures in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank.

According to UNOCHA, 33 structures were demolished in the past three days in multiple incidents, which left 35 people -- a third of them children -- homeless, and 100 people otherwise affected.

Two houses in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of al-Tur were destroyed overnight Monday, while a restaurant in the neighborhood of Beit Safafa was also demolished.

Israeli authorities demolished a classroom Tuesday morning in a school in the Bedouin community of Abu Nuwwar -- part of the contentious "E1 corridor" located just east of Jerusalem municipal boundaries.

Three rooms, including the kitchen, of a home in the village of Beit Jala in the southern occupied West Bank district of Bethlehem were also destroyed on Tuesday, as four water wells were demolished in the southern West Bank district of Hebron.

The same day, a punitive demolition was carried out by the Israeli army in Nablus.

On Monday, Israeli forces and bulldozers demolished an agricultural structure east of the village of Beit Dajan in Nablus.

The UN also reported on a demolition in the Khirbet Tell al-Himma in the northern West Bank district of Tubas, without providing further details.

“These incidents bring the total number of structures destroyed or confiscated by the Israeli authorities in the West Bank since the beginning of 2016 to 878. This represents a 60 per cent increase compared to the figure for the whole of 2015 and is the largest number of structures targeted in any full year since 2008, when OCHA began systematically documenting this phenomenon,” the UN agency said in a statement on Wednesday.

“Due to discriminatory and unlawful planning processes, it is almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain building permits in the vast majority of Area C and East Jerusalem,” the statement added. “The systematic destruction of property in this context, along with other factors, contributes to the generation of a coercive environment pressuring residents to leave.”

Their statement also highlighted that five of the demolitions affected Bedouin or herding communities, "which are among the most vulnerable in the West Bank in terms of humanitarian needs."

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah also issued a statement Wednesday condemning the “ongoing large-scale” demolition of Palestinian homes by Israeli forces across the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

“Israel’s policy of demolishing Palestinian homes, schools, and water cisterns is not only unlawful but also immoral. Our people will not be deterred from living on their ancestral lands.”

Jamal Dajani, director of communications at the prime minister’s office added that, "Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, destruction of private property is prohibited. Devastating Palestinian communities to pave the way for more illegal Israeli settlements does not constitute implementation of ‘the rule of law,’ as Israeli officials claim.”
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