Activists from Free Jerusalem protest in front of Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat’s home Tuesday night. .
(photo credit: AMIR PAVILION)
More than 40 members of the left-wing, pluralistic NGO Free Jerusalem gathered in front of Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat’s home this week to protest ongoing Arab home demolitions in the eastern sector of the capital.
The Tuesday night protest, which was not coordinated with police or the municipality, was peacefully dispersed by officers.
It follows a recent spike in demolitions of dozens of illegally built Arab homes in Beit Hanina, Silwan and al-Zaayyem.
On Tuesday morning, 14 apartments in al-Zaayyem belonging to Othman Abu Sbeitan, Ahmad Shebr and Ayman al-Dayya were razed by government bulldozers, while Hafez Rajabi opted to demolish his Beit Hanina residence himself rather than pay prohibitive government demolition fees.
No incidents of violence were reported. Barkat, who is in the United States on a speaking tour and to hold meetings, was not at his home during the demonstration.
According to Free Jerusalem’s spokeswoman Michal Haramati, Barkat, who is rumored to be interested in running for national office, is increasing the number of home demolitions to garner support in the Likud, which he joined last year.
Moreover, Haramati contended that since the reunification of the capital, the city’s master plan has made it highly difficult for Arab residents to procure legal building permits due to a “racist policy” enforced by the Jerusalem Municipality.
“Since 1967, the municipality has not created a comprehensive master plan for east Jerusalem,” Haramati said. “Each year, hundreds of individual building permits are received in east Jerusalem, compared to thousands in the west.
“At the same time,” she continued, “the municipality destroys many buildings each year that did not have the possibility of obtaining legal construction permits due to this policy.”
Ir Amim, a left-wing NGO dedicated to ensuring a more equitable and sustainable city for Israelis and Palestinians, issued a recent report citing 200 home demolitions in 2016, which it said is twice as many as the annual average in east Jerusalem since 1967.
According to Ir Amim, approximately 30 illegally built Palestinian homes have been demolished so far this year.
Barkat has repeatedly denied that home demolitions and housing permits are based on politics. He has claimed that there have been more demolitions in west Jerusalem than in the eastern part 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,” Barkat 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 municipality will continue to enforce the law equally in all parts of the city, preserving public areas for the benefit of local communities,” he said.