MKs slam J'lem for illegal building in e. J'lem

Illegal building grows at approx 1,000 per year, worse in areas across the fence.

By MELANIE LIDMAN
January 9, 2012 12:55
3 minute read.
Abu Dis, Jerusalem

Abu Dis, Jerusalem, security barrier_521. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

 
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The Knesset’s Internal Affairs and Environment Committee on Monday slammed the Jerusalem Municipality for “losing control” of illegal construction in the east of the city.

The illegal construction is particularly prevalent in parts of Jerusalem located on the West Bank side of the security barrier, activists said during the special committee hearing.

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Regavim, a right-wing NGO dedicated to “protecting the nation’s lands,” said municipal building inspectors hadn’t been on the other side of the barrier since 2005. Without inspections, the municipality cannot issue demolition orders.

Regavim filed a petition in the High Court of Justice regarding lack of enforcement of demolition orders, which was transferred to the Jerusalem District Court, and will be heard in the coming months.

“It’s like saying the Jerusalem Municipality and Jerusalem Police have no ability to enforce laws [in these areas],” MK Yulia Shamalov Berkovich (Kadima) said. “Has Jerusalem already been divided? Because if it has, I want to know.”

In 2010, a State Comptroller’s Report estimated there were 20,000 to 30,000 illegal buildings in east Jerusalem, with roughly 1,000 new ones added each year.

Committee member MK Ibrahim Sarsour (United Arab List-Ta’al) appealed to the city to issue more building permits to Arab residents rather than destroy more homes. “The [Arab residents] want real equality in Jerusalem, and that needs to start with the minimal things, the right to a roof, to a home, to a place, to live for the thousands of people who don’t have it,” he said.

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MK Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism) expressed grave concern over the proliferation of six- and seven-story apartment buildings built right next to the security barrier on the West Bank side, which he said were destroying the effectiveness of the structure because they were 10 or more meters taller than it.

The director of activities for Regavim, Betzalel Smotrich, said the “racist legal system” was enforcing the laws selectively against Jewish rightwing activists in the West Bank while allowing illegal building to run unchecked in Arab neighborhoods. “It’s a shame that in our capital we don’t have sovereignty,” he said after the meeting.

“It’s not possible to run away from reality, and the reality is that providing services on the other side of the fence is really difficult,” said Ophir May, the director of the municipality’s building supervision branch. “We need security escorts to go into these areas, these are the guidelines from the police, but these also come from our experience and my personal experience,” he told the committee.

According to May, in 2011 the municipality carried out eight demolitions of illegal structures in east Jerusalem, compared to 67 in west Jerusalem. In 2010, there were 23 demolitions of illegal structures in east Jerusalem, and 58 in west Jerusalem.

“We need to understand if there’s a lack of ability or lack of desire [to enforce these laws],” said Maklev.

City Councilor Yael Entebbi, who represents Pisgat Ze’ev and Neveh Ya’acov, urged the MKs to pressure the city into taking immediate action.

“I can see illegal building from my window at home,” she told The Jerusalem Post after the committee meeting.

“The reality on the ground shows that there is no building freeze, not in east Jerusalem and especially not over the fence. It is really important that the MKs deal with this to enforce the laws, because we really need to solve this problem. We are talking about a danger that is right under our noses.”

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