by Palestine Monitor | Palestine Monitor | 29 April 2004
Orders from the Israeli Interior Ministry distributed yesterday stipulate the demolition of a further 24 Palestinian houses in the East Jerusalem communities of Beit Hanina, Shu'fat, and Al Isawiya.
The destruction of these East Jerusalem houses clearly illustrates the political agenda driving Israel’s relentless demolition policy. As Zaid Hamouri explained, the real issue behind these demolitions is Israel’s attempt to alter the demographic make-up of the city.
In conformity with international law and as stated in the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements, Jerusalem is the subject of permanent status negotiations. International law not only establishes Israel’s annexation and authority over East Jerusalem as illegal it also states that all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying power, which purport to alter the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal validity.
However, since the occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, Israel, has zealously attempted to counter Palestinian demographic strength by encouraging Israeli Jewish immigration into the city and by employing discriminatory policies of restricting Palestinian building, revoking Jerusalem residence rights, almost completely abandoning the provision of social services to Palestinian neighbourhoods and isolating communities from one another and from the West Bank.
Zaid Hamouri, head of the Jerusalem Centre for Social and Economic Rights, believes Israel’s goal is indeed to displace an entire people by evacuating them from the city. Thousands of houses are already under the threat of demolition, yet Israel has for the time being frozen many orders due to the expenses involved of actually demolishing so many homes. The owners can do little more than wait for the day the bulldozers come.
The reasoning commonly cited by Israeli authorities for such demolitions is that houses have been built without permission. Discriminatory zoning policies however make it extremely difficult for Palestinian owners to build on their own land or to add additional rooms to existing structures. As a result, Palestinian lands in East Jerusalem remain empty until they are expropriated – most commonly for the construction of Israeli settlements.
Since 1967, Israel has expropriated approximately 34% of East Jerusalem's land area for “public use”. Another 53% of East Jerusalem’s land has been set aside for colonies or designated as “green areas.” Palestinians in East Jerusalem can therefore live and build on only 13% of their land. Permission to build houses in East Jerusalem can cost $30,000, (the price of a small apartment in West Jerusalem) and the process often takes up to five years. Palestinians often therefore find themselves lacking any other alternative but to build without permits and are then subject to forced evictions and home demolitions. Over 2,000 Palestinian homes in Occupied East Jerusalem have been destroyed by Israeli occupation forces since 1967.
Palestinian residents of Jerusalem are now facing further problems due to the construction of the wall which will de facto annex 320 square kilometers (5.6% of the entire West Banks land mass) as it carves through Jerusalem. The wall is set to isolate more than 120,000 Palestinians from Jerusalem. Resituated on the eastern side of the wall and therefore detached from the city, many Palestinians will lose their blue Jerusalem I.D.s, and with it the right to work in Jerusalem, the right to educational and health facilities, to insurance, and to social welfare benefits. Another daunting possibility is that no longer able to satisfy Israel’s requirement that Jerusalem is the ID holder’s place of residence, houses and places of business will further be confiscated and demolished as occurred following the mass exodus of refugees from Israel in 1948.
Israel is not only demolishing Palestinian houses in East Jerusalem. Between September 2000 and December last year 60,781 houses had been demolished or partly destroyed by Israeli forces in the West Bank and Gaza. In Oct 2001 Israel also renewed its activity of demolishing houses as punishment and has since destroyed at least 479 houses for this reason. This week the Israeli High Court of Justice took a decision against permitting judicial review for families of Palestinians whose homes are targeted for demolition because a family member has been involved in (or even suspected of) military attacks. Setting aside fundamental human rights in favor of military considerations which are mere extensions of the government’s political goals, the Court accepted the argument of the army that such demolitions take place as integral parts of military operations.
Such an operation occurred in the early hours of this morning when 200 Israeli soldiers invaded the Palestinian village of Sarra, west of Nablus and demolished the homes of Ghalib Abdullah and Jaser Owda. The sons of these men had been accused of plotting an attack against the illegal Har Bracha settlement yet they remain in prison without trail or judgment. When the Israeli army blew up their parents’ homes they allowed them just 10 minutes to evacuate before making 17 people homeless.