JERUSALEM’S ARAB neighborhood of Silwan is seen last summer.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Two Arab families charged with constructing their homes in the southeastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan without municipal building permits opted to personally destroy the illegal structures with sledge hammers on Saturday rather than pay expensive fines for government bulldozers.
One of the home owners, Hajj Salih Shweiki, told Arab news organizations that he had attempted to contest demolition orders for his 10-year-old property in the Bir Ayoub section of the neighborhood, located adjacent to the Old City.
After losing the case in court, Shweiki said that instead of paying a NIS 80,000 demolition fee to the city to compensate demolition crews, his family of 13 decided to manually dismantle the structure, composed of bricks and corrugated metal sheets.
“I had to choose between two very difficult options: either personally demolish the home where our children and grandchildren have been brought up for 10 years, or to allow the occupation’s bulldozers to demolish the house... and force us to pay NIS 80,000,” Shweiki told Palestinian news agency Ma’an.
According to Shweiki, the demolition order violates international law.
“Where in the world is there a law that displaces a citizen from his own house?” he asked. “Or coerces a citizen to demolish his house with his own hands?” The Qaraeen family also opted to dismantle its illegally constructed Silwan home instead of paying municipal fees to cover the cost of demolition.
A family representative told Arab media that after losing the case in court, the owner was given until the end of February to either personally raze the six-year-old home or pay for city bulldozers.
Fakhri Abu Diab, a spokesman for a local committee defending Arab properties in Silwan, said that an unprecedented number of home demolitions have been issued across Jerusalem over the Green Line, with an emphasis on Silwan, which was once a thriving Jewish Yemenite neighborhood.
“Israeli occupation institutions have launched an unprecedented attack against Silwan in the form of land confiscations, demolitions and other methods to apply pressure on its indigenous residents to coerce them to leave their community, which abuts the Old City and al-Aksa Mosque, [and] to pave the way for settlers to replace them,” said Abu Diab.
B’Tselem – the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, issued a statement condemning the demolitions as an attempt by the municipality to change facts on the ground in the contested area, which has a small number of Jewish residents.
“Israeli authorities continue their discriminatory policies against east Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents as part of an overall policy designed to cause Palestinians to leave the city,” the NGO said. “Their actions are also part of efforts to achieve a demographic and geographic reality that would frustrate any future attempt to question Israeli sovereignty in east Jerusalem.”
Last Tuesday, dozens of Israeli activists from the left-wing NGO Free Jerusalem gathered in front of Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat’s home to protest the increase in Arab home demolitions.
“In the last month in east Jerusalem, there has been a major issue with increased Palestinian home demolitions, but the municipality is consistently not giving building permits to Arab residents and not planning appropriately for their housing needs,” Free Jerusalem spokeswoman Michal Haramati said.
“It’s impossible [for east Jerusalem Arabs] to get a permit to begin with, and the result is that they have no choice but to build to accommodate their families and end up paying hundreds of thousands of shekels to appeal the demolitions in court, which only postpones them,” she said.
Barkat has repeatedly denied that home demolitions and housing permits are based on politics, and has claimed that there have been more demolitions in west Jerusalem than in the eastern sector of the capital over the past three years.
“Contrary to the claims raised, demolitions in the eastern part of the city as a percentage of citywide zoning enforcement have decreased compared to previous years,” he said in a statement.
“The city does not discriminate based on race, religion or gender in the granting of building permits, or in zoning regulation enforcement,” the statement said. “The municipality will continue to enforce the law equally in all parts of the city, preserving public areas for the benefit of local communities.”