(photo credit: Associated Press)
At least four illegally-built structures in east Jerusalem were demolished on Tuesday.
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City officials said the buildings, which were in the Arab neighborhoods of Isawiya and Beit Hanina, were leveled in accordance with a court ruling.
Dozens of policemen and border policemen secured the sites of the demolitions. Though the buildings were unfinished, people could be seen carrying belongings out of at least one of the buildings before the demolitions were carried out. There was disagreement between the municipality and residents over the number of structures demolished.
Ala, a neighborhood organizer in east Jerusalem, said that at least one of the structures was completed and was already being lived in by a couple and their four children.
Ala said that the illegal construction is directly linked to the difficulties residents have in gaining permits for building projects.
“The problem, and it’s a problem in all of east Jerusalem, is that it is very, very hard for people to receive approval to build. Only a very small number of people receive permits.”
One of the demolished buildings was a 44 square meter structure built in an area not zoned for construction in Beit Hanina. According to municipality, another of the illegal structures was 240 sq.m. and included a poured concrete slab and the cement frame of a building added onto a previously built structure in Isawiya. The third unfinished structure was 25 sq.m. and in the process of construction in an area not approved for building next to the Jerusalem- Ma’aleh Adumim highway. The fourth building was an 80 sq.m. one–story cinderblock structure built in a part of Isawiya not zoned for construction.
Demolition orders from the municipality show that one of the structures was identified as illegal and slated for demolition in February 2008, with the other three being approved for demolition in late 2009.
The city’s demolition orders included photos of the structures, which appeared half-built and deserted. The most recent pictures included in the documents were from 2009.
Stephan Miller, a spokesman for Mayor Nir Barkat, said on Tuesday that the buildings were “illegal structures in the process of construction” and were “completely empty.”
“There’s a right way and a wrong way to build in the city, a right place and a wrong place. Many illegal structures are built on land that is supposed to be for public use, benefiting the entire community,” Miller said. “Many illegal structures are built with complete disregard to basic health, fire and sanitation codes.”
Miller said the city doesn’t expect any disturbances in the wake of the demolitions.
He added that the demolitions had not been delayed to avoid their taking place while Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was meeting with US President Barack Obama in Washington last week.
“The timing of structural demolitions throughout Jerusalem is only done in coordination with the Israel Police and relevant governmental personnel,” Miller said.
When asked if the lack of building permits is due to the difficulty Arab residents have in receiving permits, Miller said, “There’s no question that getting a permit to build anywhere in Jerusalem, a 3,000-year-old city, is difficult. Just yesterday, the municipality issued permits for 22 new units in Beit Hanina, 18 in Beit Safafa, and others in Sur Bahir and Isawiya. Mayor Barkat is committed to cutting red tape and improving the process for all residents, while at the same time upholding the rule of law equally throughout the city.”