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Report: With Trump in office, home demolitions in East Jerusalem on the rise

Feb. 21, 2017 3:25 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 22, 2017 9:52 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Palestinians living in occupied East Jerusalem have been subjected to a dramatic increase in home demolitions in 2017, with the lifting of Israeli government restrictions on the demolition of Palestinian homes reportedly linked to the election of US President Donald Trump.

Israeli daily Haaretz reported on Tuesday that home demolitions in the predominantly Palestinian occupied East Jerusalem had risen sharply since the start of 2017, as “government restrictions have been lifted” and Israel’s Jerusalem municipality has “been allowed to demolish many more structures than during the term of former (US) President Barack Obama.”

It remained unclear which “government restrictions” were lifted, as the Jerusalem municipality has for years demolished thousands of Palestinian homes and structures for being built without difficult-to-obtain and expensive Israel-issued building permits.

In response to a request for comment on the report, spokesperson from the Jerusalem municipality Rachel Greenspan told Ma'an that demolitions in the city were carried out as its is "obligated to by the law, without prejudice and without exception." 

"Anyone who chooses to build illegally knows that the Jerusalem Municipality will dismantle illegal building," she wrote, adding that, "It is unfortunate that radical left-wing organizations encourage flagrant violations of the law in order to advance their agendas. No sovereign city in the world tolerates illegal building, which harms all of the city's residents." 

According to UN documentation, as of Feb. 6, 14 Palestinian structures in East Jerusalem had been demolished since the beginning of the year. In Tuesday’s report, Haaretz placed the number at 42 housing units destroyed, citing NGO Ir Amim.

In 2016, 190 Palestinian structures in East Jerusalem were demolished, leaving an estimated 254 Palestinians forcibly displaced, according to the UN.

Earlier this week, two Palestinian families from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan -- which saw 16 demolition orders delivered to residents last week -- were forced to demolish their own homes following orders from Jerusalem municipality, in order to avoid incurring a demolition fee had the demolitions been carried out by Israeli forces.

In the Bir Ayoub area of Silwan, 13 members of the Shweiki family were displaced after they demolished their own home in order to avoid a fee of 80,000 shekels (approximately $21,600) for the demolition.

Commenting on an unprecedented surge of Israeli-enforced demolitions of Palestinian structures across the occupied territory and inside Israel itself, the owner of the home Hajj Saleh Shweiki said that "Israeli occupation authorities have been targeting Silwan in particular, turning a deaf ear to all international laws."

One day earlier, the Qarrain family of Silwan began demolishing their 65-square-meter home that was built seven years ago, according to the family.

Though the Israeli Jerusalem municipality has said it receives a disproportionately low number of permit applications from Palestinian communities in East Jerusalem compared to the Jewish population, and that Palestinian applications "see high approval ratings," procedures to apply for Israeli-issued building permits are lengthy, sometimes lasting for several years, while the application costs can reach up to 300,000 shekels ($79,180).

As four out of five of Palestinians in East Jerusalem live under the poverty line, applying for these permits is nearly impossible. As a result, only 7 percent of Jerusalem building permits go to Palestinian neighborhoods.

Fakhri Abu Diab, a spokesman for a local committee aiming to defend Palestinian properties in Silwan, told Ma’an that "Israeli occupation institutions have launched an unprecedented attack against Silwan in the form of land confiscations, demolitions, and other methods, in order to apply pressure on its indigenous residents to coerce them to leave their town that abuts the Old City and Al-Aqsa Mosque, to pave the way for settlers to replace them."

Silwan is one of many Palestinian neighborhoods in 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.

Though the Israeli government has yet to officially link the new US administration with a policy change regarding home demolitions in East Jerusalem, the Israeli government has welcomed Trump’s presidency, as right-wing politicians believe they will more easily advance plans to expand Israeli settlements since Trump came forward as a vocal supporter of Israel and expressed opposition to a recent UNSC resolution that harshly condemned illegal settlements.

However Trump has recently made statements critical of settlements following the passage in Israel’s parliament of the “Regularization law,” which could grant official Israeli governmental recognition to more than a dozen illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank established on private Palestinian lands.

Both opponents and supporters of the bill have said the legislation would pave the way to annexing the majority of the West Bank.

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