J'lem orders demolition of 2 illegal UN caravans
UN's Humanitarian Relief Fund placed caravans in place of two illegally built Arab homes the municipality demolished.
Beit Hanina demolition Photo: Meir Margalit
The Jerusalem Municipality has issued demolition orders against two illegal UN
caravans that house Palestinian families.
According to UN sources, at the
end of May the organization’s Humanitarian Relief Fund placed the caravans on
plots of land in east Jerusalem’s Beit Hanina neighborhood that belonged to the
two Arab families.
They replaced two illegally built Arab homes the
municipality demolished, one in December 2011 and one in January
According to Jerusalem councilman Meir Margalit (Meretz), it was
the first time that the UN had placed illegal caravans in the city to house
Arabs whose homes had been demolished by the municipality.
The UN is a
well-known critic of the city’s policy of demolishing illegal Palestinian
structures, said Margalit, who is the founder of the Israeli Coalition Against
“This time, [the UN] decided not just to speak, but
also to act,” Margalit said.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said
the decision by a UN body to act illegally in east Jerusalem was viewed “very
According to an Israeli official, representatives of the
Foreign Ministry complained about the caravans to the office of UN Special
Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry, who then passed the
matter on to New York.
Israeli officials blamed the move on the UN Office
for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the occupied Palestinian
territory (OCHA oPt).
Tensions have grown in the past year between OCHA
and the government, particularly after an OCHA information officer, Kuhlood
Badawi, in March tweeted a picture of a Palestinian child covered in blood and
falsely claimed she was killed by an IDF strike.
The picture, it emerged,
was published in 2006 by Reuters and was of a Palestinian girl who died in an
accident unrelated to Israel.
Security officials have also accused OCHA
of supporting and building illegal structures for Palestinians in Area C of the
But the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied
Palestinian territory, Maxwell Gaylard, defended the UN’s decision to put the
caravans in place. He said that the move was a humanitarian one on the part of
an UN emergency fund supported by six UN member states and OCHA.
case, Gaylard said, the Palestinians turned to them for help.
that the Humanitarian Relief Fund’s role, along with that of OCHA, was to
provide relief to those who needed shelter and/or any other humanitarian
assistance. In the West Bank, he said, the UN has provided Palestinians whose
homes have been demolished with food, supplies and, in some cases,
Gaylard said the UN has long complained to Israel about its policy
of demolishing unauthorized Palestinian homes in the West Bank and east
Jerusalem. The UN, he said, has called on the municipality to suspend
demolitions of Palestinian homes and to accelerate the planning and building of
It has also lamented the failure of the municipality and the
government to provide housing permits and an adequate supply of new housing for
Palestinian residents of the city.
Palestinians are applying for permits,
but they are not receiving them, he said.
He noted that for the UN, “Beit
Hanina is occupied Palestinian territory.”
Gaylard said he respected
Israeli law, but that in this instance, the UN had no choice but to act. The
caravans, he said, were placed on land owned by Palestinians who were homeless
and who could not receive permits to build.
“Where else could we put [the
caravans]?’ he asked.
“We are helping the Palestinians on land that is
But Israeli officials charged that the issue here was politics,
not humanitarian assistance.
“This is about a UN body infringing the
law,” said an Israeli official who noted that the UN had not tried to apply for
a permit for the caravans.
“It is completely political. The UN is
not above the law,” the official said.
“The State of Israel is not a
banana republic but a state with law and order,” a municipal spokeswoman
“The United Nations can offer to improve the quality of life for
residents in the framework of the law, we hope, because the United Nations
building illegally in the area is inconceivable,” she said.
the homes were located in an area of the city that was not designated for
housing and as such it was not possible to obtain permits.
He said the
municipality had made a technical error and issued the wrong type of demolition
order. He said that on Thursday, he planned to ask the municipality to rescind