Government bulldozers demolished two residential buildings in east Jerusalem on
Tuesday morning for being illegally constructed on a national park, the Interior
Ministry said Wednesday.
However, Meretz city councilman Dr. Meir
Margalit, who holds the east Jerusalem portfolio, dismissed the ministry’s claim
as a “dirty trick” that the government was using to confiscate land from
Palestinians under false pretenses.
According to Interior Ministry
spokeswoman Efrat Orbach, the leveled homes were built on the National Garden of
Armon Hanatziv, in East Talpiot, which borders east Jerusalem’s Jebl Mukaber
“It was illegal building in an area declared a national
garden,” said Orbach on Wednesday.
“No one can build there because it’s
owned by the public, not a person. It’s the equivalent of building a house in
Sacher Park and being upset when the place is destroyed.”
countered that by designating the area as a public park, the government was
unfairly and arbitrarily confiscating Palestinian land.
“There are many
ways to take control of Palestinian land in Jerusalem,” Margalit said by phone
“One of the ways is for the government to declare an area a
‘national park’ – then no one can get a license to build there, and homes can be
He continued, “You have to look at this in the context of
dirty tricks the government uses to take land away from Palestinians. By
declaring the land [of the homes destroyed Tuesday] a ‘national garden,’ the
government doesn’t have to pay compensation to the owners of the
According to the Ma’an News Agency, one of the buildings,
constructed in 1973 and owned by the Abu al- Dabaat family, consisted of three
floors and housed four families; the second home was built in 2000 by the
al-Qaqs, a family of three.
Asked when the area had been designated a
national park, Orbach replied, “A long time ago.”
Although neither family
had obtained building permits from the Interior Ministry, Margalit expressed
frustration over the demolitions, saying that residents of east Jerusalem had
been put in an untenable situation.
“In east Jerusalem, there is a
catch-22 because the government refuses to give [building] licenses in most
cases,” he said. “And when big families have a number of children, they need
housing – and there is already a shortage there.
When they’re placed in
this predicament, they have no choice but to build without a
Indeed, data from the NGO Bimkom claim that 95 percent of
Palestinian applications for building permits are rejected.
“On one side,
there is a [national] law [requiring a building permit], but on the other side
there is what I call the ‘Law of Life,’ and it says when your family needs a
house and you have land that belongs to you, you have an obligation to build
it,” said Margalit.
“So when the law of the country contradicts the Law
of Life, the Law of Life is stronger than the law of the country,” he continued.
“If we put Palestinians in an impossible situation – where they can’t get
building licenses and the need is so strong in east Jerusalem – they have no
choice but to build.”
Orbach categorically denied the assertion that it
was difficult for residents of east Jerusalem to obtain building
“Everyone can get a license – they just need to fill out the
forms,” she said. “I don’t understand the claim at all.”
contended that the Interior Ministry unilaterally saw illegal construction in
all parts of the capital as a violation of the law.
“It’s illegal to
build without a permit, and the ministry views all illegal buildings as the
same,” she said. “There’s no pass for anyone.”
Still, Margalit likened
the Palestinians’ situation in east Jerusalem to Israel’s lack of sovereignty
during the British Mandate.
“This is exactly what the Zionist movement
did under the British Mandate – the British attempted to enforce their laws, and
the Jews defied them,” he said. “The difference here is that Jews defied the
British due to ideological motivations, and the Palestinians are doing it
without any political intentions.... They just want a house for their
Tuesday’s demolitions are the latest developments in what human
rights organizations are decrying as an unauthorized implementation of the
“Jerusalem 2000 Outline Plan,” which severely curtails Palestinian residential
In a petition submitted to the Jerusalem Administrative
Court on April 21, Bimkom and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI)
argued that the controversial outline plan – which never passed into law, but is
treated as if it was ratified – is being enforced illegally, making it virtually
impossible for Palestinians to get building permits.
“The already limited
opportunities faced by east Jerusalem residents in developing their
neighborhoods and receiving building permits are being further restricted by the
decision to consider the unapproved outline plan as a ‘policy document,’” said
ACRI attorney Keren Tzafrir.
However, the Jerusalem Municipality issued a
statement in April flatly denying the petition’s assertions.
Jerusalem Municipality rejects the allegations as incorrect and inaccurate,” the
statement read. “This is a program that has been planned for over 10 years and
aims to guide and outline the development of the city in the coming
The municipality claimed the program would enable the
construction of 50,000 housing units in all parts of Jerusalem – two-thirds for
the Jewish sector and one-third for the Arab sector, in relation to their
Palestinians constitute 39% of the capital’s
residents, yet the total area designated for building in their neighborhoods
covers only 14% of east Jerusalem, or just 7.8% of the entire city, said
Meanwhile, the municipality claimed that once the outline plan is
approved, “the bureaucratic procedures for getting building permits in the city
will be easier.”
According to the UN, 33% of all Palestinian homes in
east Jerusalem lack governmentissued building permits, potentially placing at
least 93,100 residents at risk of displacement.