Municipality ‘hiding’ house demolitions in e. J'lem
City councilor says policy of not counting "self-demolitions" makes it appear as though the practice has declined.
A demolished Palestinian home [illustrative] Photo: Ammar Awad/Reuters
The Jerusalem Municipality has manipulated the statistics of housing demolitions
in east Jerusalem to make it look like fewer are taking place, The Jerusalem
Post has learned.
The policy of not including “self-demolitions” – where
Arab families are threatened with staggering fines if they do not demolish their
own houses – in the official count, has allowed Jerusalem to present a picture
of a dramatic decrease in demolitions during Mayor Nir Barkat’s term.
2008, the municipality and the Interior Ministry carried out 102 housing
demolitions in east Jerusalem. This decreased to 69 in 2009, 27 in 2010 and just
14 in 2011, according to statistics from the municipality, the ministry,
B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied
Territories, and the Israeli Committee Against Housing Demolitions. But these
statistics only account for the number of homes that authorities
In 2000, the municipality began a policy of
Since then, the demolition orders can require the
owners of the house to pay exorbitant fines unless they carry out the
demolitions themselves. Some Arab families chose this path, fearful they could
become mired in debt.
A municipal spokesman said the self-demolitions
were a result of the courts placing increasingly higher fines on repeat
offenders, and that some people “preferred to demolish the buildings themselves
rather than accrue additional fines.” He added that the municipality does not
keep track of self-demolitions.
The municipality sees them as a
“successful achievement in the enforcement and collection policy,” the spokesman
The number of self-demolitions rose from 18 in 2008 to 49 in 2009
and 70 in 2010, Margalit (Meretz), who holds the east Jerusalem portfolio. Margalit is one of
the founders of the Israeli Committee Against Housing Demolitions.
revelation is especially significant ahead of US Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton’s visit to Israel next Monday. After a number of demolitions were
announced during her first visit as secretary of state in March 2009, she
publicly called housing demolitions in east Jerusalem
“Clinton said we can’t demolish homes, but she didn’t say
anything about them demolishing their own homes,” Margalit said. “This way, it
doesn’t show up on the statistics.”
“We were playing a joke on the
Americans” by manipulating the statistics, Margalit said. “Someone thinks people
are stupid, that Jews can always pull a fast one on the goyim, and they are
causing huge damage to Israel.”
In response to a query from The Jerusalem
Post on Thursday about Clinton’s stance and the subsequent manipulation of
housing demolition numbers, a State Department official referred to a White
House statement made in 2009.
“Neither party should engage in efforts or
actions that could unilaterally preempt, or appear to preempt, negotiations,” it
read. “We also object to other Israeli practices in Jerusalem related to
housing, including the continuing pattern of evictions and demolitions of
Palestinian homes. Our position is clear: The status of Jerusalem is a
permanent-status issue that must be resolved through negotiations between the
The municipal spokesman said the decline in house demolitions
was due to an improvement in ties between the city and Arab residents, as well
as an increase in construction permits given to Arab residents.
spokesman said the municipality approved 60 construction permits in east
Jerusalem in 2011, up from just two in 2005. But, according to a recent housing
report by left-wing Jerusalem research group Ir Amim, east Jerusalem Arabs need
about 1,500 construction permits a year to accommodate population
Hilary Leila Krieger contributed to this report from Washington.