Abu Dis, Jerusalem, security barrier_521.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
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
“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.
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
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
City Councilor Yael Entebbi, who represents Pisgat Ze’ev and
Neveh Ya’acov, urged the MKs to pressure the city into taking immediate
“I can see illegal building from my window at home,” she told The
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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