JERUSALEM (Ma’an) -- Palestinians in the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya performed Friday prayers at the entrance of the neighborhood in protest of Israel’s demolition policies in the area and authorities’ refusal to approve Palestinian construction.
Muhammad Dari, who delivered the khutbah (Islamic sermon), said that the prayer was performed at the entrance of the neighborhood to protest Israel’s demolition campaign on Palestinian homes for lacking Israeli-issued building permits, despite “constant attempts” by residents to get their construction plans approved by Israeli authorities.
Following the prayer, Palestinians organized a sit-in and held signs rejecting Israeli policies, some of which read “we will not leave, “no to demolition policies,” “this is our land and we are staying.”
The protest was carried out while Israeli police and soldiers were stationed at the entrance of the neighborhood.
Dari told Ma’an that the Israeli municipality had rejected a construction blueprint presented by residents of Issawiya and instead issued a blueprint that “doesn’t adhere to the construction needs of the 22,000 residents in the neighborhood.”
He also noted that the Israeli municipality has continued to confiscate Issawiya’s land for what it has said was for the “public interest.”
Dari called upon residents of Issawiya to “stay determined despite Israeli policies of demolishing homes, detaining youths, and issuing fines on residents.”
A member of the neighborhood’s follow-up committee, Muhammad Abu al-Hummus, said that Israeli authorities had escalated their demolition policies in East Jerusalem since the beginning of 2017, adding that the latest demolition in Issawiya was carried out on Tuesday
“under a gun threat” by Israeli forces.
He added that the protest was the beginning of a series of actions that will be launched in order to put pressure on Israeli authorities to approve the residents’ blueprint for construction in the neighborhood.
Al-Hummus noted that there were 34 Israeli-issued demolition orders on homes in Issawiya, while tens of cases are still open in Israeli courts for residents to gain permits for construction, which includes paying large fines to prevent demolitions of the properties while Palestinian residents are fighting for permits in court.
According to UN documentation, as of March 20, 42 Palestinian-owned structures were demolished by Israel in East Jerusalem since the beginning of the year, displacing at least 80 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 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 being allocated to Palestinian neighborhoods.
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.