JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- Seven Palestinians, including five children, were left homeless Wednesday morning when Israeli bulldozers demolished their house in the Beit Hanina neighborhood of northern occupied East Jerusalem, after Israeli forces assaulted the owner at gunpoint, according to the family.
Witnesses told Ma’an that municipality crews and bulldozers escorted by Israeli special forces and police raided Beit Hanina at around 5 a.m. and surrounded Luay Abu Rmouz’s house.
Abu Rmouz told Ma'an that Israeli forces raided the house, assaulted him while holding him at gunpoint, and prevented him and members of his family from evacuating their furniture and possessions.
He said that seven family members were left without shelter as a result of the demolition, and five of them were under 18 years old.
Abu Rmouz added that the municipality held a court session two weeks ago, when it was ruled the house would be demolished.
He said he was planning to present an appeal on Wednesday, but was taken by surprise when bulldozers and police surrounded his home early that morning without prior warning.
The homeowner said that he built his house seven years ago and had attempted to obtain licenses for the structure to no avail, and had payed a total of 80,000 shekels (approximately $21,572) in fines to the municipality over the years while trying to legalize his house.
He added that the municipality had demanded that he demolish his house by himself, or he would be forced to pay the exorbitant municipality fees when their staff carried it out, as they ultimately did.
"It is difficult for me to demolish my own house with my own hands, when I built it myself," he told Ma'an. "I was shocked by the way they (Israeli authorities) raided my home and dealt with the family before carrying out the demolition.”
In response to a request for comment, a spokesperson for the Jerusalem municipality told Ma'an that the municipality "enforced construction violations by dismantling an illegal structure in Beit Hanina. No permits were requested for the structure, and appeals to Local and District courts were rejected."
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.
Because of the difficulties obtaining permission from Israeli authorities, Palestinians frequently build without permits at the risk of having the structures demolished.
Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem have been under threat of displacement since the Israeli government enacted a policy of “Judaization” in the area since its occupation in 1967, according to Israeli rights group B’Tselem.
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.