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30 Palestinians left homeless after Jerusalem home demolished without warning

March 1, 2017 11:42 A.M. (Updated: March 1, 2017 9:51 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Israeli forces demolished a building in the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya on Wednesday morning without giving prior warning, leaving 30 Palestinians homeless, under the pretext that the building lacked the nearly impossible to obtain construction permits required by Israeli authorities.

It was the third time the building -- a two-level apartment comprised of four units -- was destroyed over the course of a 15-year administrative battle to legalize the structure.

Dozens of Israeli special forces, bulldozers, and crews from Israel’s Jerusalem municipality raided Issawiya at around 4:30 a.m. and surrounded a the building, owned by Khalid Nimr Mahmoud.

Witnesses said residents of the building were forced outside before they had time to evacuate their belongings.

Municipality crews had evacuated some of the building’s contents before bulldozers carried out the demolition on top of piles of furniture and other belongings that were ruined under the pouring rain.

Mahmoud told Ma’an that Israel repeatedly refused to issue licenses for the building, saying that he began the administrative battle to legalize his home in 2002.

Mahmoud said that sessions were held in the Jerusalem magistrate’s court in recent days to postpone the demolition, but judges ordered it to be carried out anyway and ruled against any further postponements.

He said that the municipality rejected a final appeal against the demolition on Tuesday, but did not give a specific date for the actual demolition.

As a result, the Mahmoud family and the others living in the building were completely surprised and unprepared to lose their home the following morning.

According to Mahmoud, Israeli bulldozers first demolished the building in 2002, and returned to demolish it again in 2003.

The Jerusalem resident rebuilt the home again, where he lived with his family, his daughter’s family, the family of Omar Naim Kastero, and the family of Atta Dirbas -- a total of 30 individuals, including four children.

Mahmoud said that he was still paying off a fine of 75,000 shekels (approximately $20,570) to the municipality for the most recent building violations, in addition to the 20,000-shekel (approximately $5,485) fine that was imposed in 2002.

Member of a local follow-up committee Muhammad Abu al-Hummus confirmed that the municipality has been rejecting structural maps presented by locals for the building’s expansion for 15 years.

Abu al-Hummus said that Israeli authorities were enacting “revenge” on Palestinians in the occupied territory and inside Israel through home demolitions, to appease the “extremist right-wing” Israeli public, especially after the evacuation of the illegal Amona outpost.

In response to a request for comment, a spokesperson from the Jerusalem municipality told Ma'an that "today, the municipality executed court orders to dismantle an illegal structure built on land designated for public use."

Israeli authorities have stepped up issuing demolition warrants for Palestinians in East Jerusalem, particularly after Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barakat warned that the demolition of the illegal Israeli outpost of Amona in the occupied West Bank would be met with the mass demolition of Palestinian homes lacking the nearly impossible to obtain Israeli-issued building permits.

Last month, Israeli authorities demolished at least three homes in Issawiya in a single day, and in January, a man in the neighborhood was forced to demolish his own home in compliance with an order from the municipality.

According to UN documentation, as Feb. 20, 33 Palestinian-owned structures were demolished by Israel in East Jerusalem since the beginning of the year, displacing at least 57 Palestinians. A total of 190 Palestinian buildings were demolished in East Jerusalem in 2016.

Israel rarely grants Palestinians permits to build in East Jerusalem, though the Jerusalem municipality has claimed that compared to the Jewish population, they receive a disproportionately low number of permit applications from Palestinian communities, which also see high approval ratings.

However, testimonies collected by the Applied Research Institute - Jerusalem (ARIJ) 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 four out of five of Palestinians in East Jerusalem live under the poverty line, applying for costly building permits is nearly impossible, leading to only seven percent of Jerusalem building permits go to Palestinian neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu has also pledged to lift all restrictions on settlement construction in occupied East Jerusalem, while more than 6,000 housing units have been approved for construction in both East Jerusalem and the West Bank since the beginning of 2017.

In addition to land seizures and home demolitions, the crackdown on Palestinian Jerusalemites has also seen the escalation of violent night raids by Israeli police, carried out in breach of protocol and without proper search warrants.

The fate of Jerusalem has been a focal point of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for decades, with numerous tensions arising over Israeli threats regarding the status of non-Jewish religious sites in the city, and the "Judaization" of East Jerusalem through settlement construction and mass home demolitions.
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