Left-wing NGOs dispute Jerusalem Municipality’s claims of equitable building permits

Ir Amim: "Israel greatly limits the possibility of Palestinians to address their housing needs legally'"

Rubble from a house which was demolished in Jerusalem as they did not have a building permit (photo credit: REUTERS)
Rubble from a house which was demolished in Jerusalem as they did not have a building permit
(photo credit: REUTERS)
While the Jerusalem Municipality contends that there is no discrimination between Arabs and Jews with respect to procuring residential construction permits in the capital, two left-wing NGOs claim nothing could be farther from the truth.
The issue recently came to a head amid a pronounced spike in Arab home demolitions in east Jerusalem, with many Palestinians claiming they have no choice but to build illegally due to the refusal of the municipality to grant them the requisite permits.
As a result, following frequently protracted court battles costing tens of thousands of shekels to fight demolition orders, most illegally-built homes are razed, either by government bulldozers at a cost to the homeowners of NIS 80,000, or by the residents themselves.
Despite widespread allegations that the municipality has institutionalized a racist policy against Arab east Jerusalem residents, the city issued a statement this week claiming that the law forbids it from taking into account the race, religion or gender of prospective applicants.
“Jerusalem is a unified city, and all residents are entitled to live wherever they choose, as long as they do so in accordance with the law,” the statement said. “The city does not discriminate based on race, religion, or gender. The only criteria by which building plans are approved are proof-of-ownership and compliance with the city’s master plan.”
Asked for a breakdown of approved and rejected construction permits for Arab and Jewish Jerusalem residents, the municipality claimed: “We do not collect, and therefore cannot provide, data on the ethnicity or religion of house owners.”
However, based on its records, it stated that over the past six years only 2,062 of the citywide 14,551 applications for building permits came from the eastern sector of the capital, representing 14% of all applications.
“The municipality receives a disproportionately low number of building permit applications in predominantly Arab neighborhoods,” it said. “For example, over the past six years, only 14% of building permit applications (2,062 of the 14,551) were filed by residents of predominantly Arab neighborhoods – less than half of their share in the city’s population.”
Still, the municipality claimed that among the residential building permit applications received from east Jerusalem residents, a whopping 99% were approved.
“When such applications are submitted, they have a particularly high rate of approval,” the municipality said. “In 2016, 99% of building permit applications (197 out of 198) for predominantly Arab neighborhoods were approved.”
Aviv Tatarsky, a researcher at Ir-Amim, which advocates for an equitable capital for Palestinians and Jews, said on Tuesday the municipality is misleading the public about its purportedly unbiased process for granting residential building permits.
“Israel greatly limits the possibility of Palestinians to address their housing needs legally,” said Tatarsky.
“Under Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, Israel has approved 10,000 housing units in detailed outline plans for Israeli neighborhoods in the city. All such plans for the Palestinian neighborhoods have been blocked by the municipality and Ministry of Interior,” added Tatarsky, noting that a detailed outline plan is a prerequisite for obtaining building permits.
“Knowing how Israel prevents most of the east Jerusalemites from obtaining building permits exposes the heartless cruelty of the sharp increase in home demolitions, which last year rendered 123 east Jerusalem families homeless,” he said.
Moreover, left-wing activists allege that the High Court’s controversial ruling to evacuate 40 Jewish families from the West Bank outpost of Amona because their homes were built on Palestinian land, has set the stage for a massive demolition campaign in east Jerusalem, which is presently underway.
Following the Amona ruling, Barkat promptly announced the demolition orders for 14 Palestinian homes in Beit Hanina, which the court ruled were built on land owned by the state. One of the homes was razed last week, displacing an Arab family of seven.
It is estimated that there are hundreds of Arab families living in illegally-built homes on Jewish land in east Jerusalem, though only a fraction of the proposed demolition orders have been issued to date by the municipality.
“Now, following the High Court’s ruling in the case of Amona, the Jerusalem Municipality will be required to carry out the demolition orders issued by the said courts,” said Barkat.
According to Amit Gilutz, a spokesman for B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, which works closely with displaced Arab families in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, Barkat is cynically manipulating the Amona ruling.
“From our perspective and analysis, the [municipality] is clearly citing Amona as a smokescreen for a consistent policy that is now escalating,” he said, adding that issuing a scarcity of building permits is part of the municipality’s “long-term plan” to diminish the Arab presence in Jerusalem.
“In 2016, we saw a record-high number of demolitions in east Jerusalem, with 88 residential structures and 48 other structures demolished – rendering 285 people homeless, including 160 minors. This is the highest number of demolitions we’ve seen since we began systematically collecting data in 2004.”