Gov't bulldozers demolish 2 east Jerusalem homes

Meretz councilman denies gov't claim two residential buildings in East Talpiot illegally constructed on national park.

east Jerusalem 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
east Jerusalem 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
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 neighborhood.
“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.”
Margalit 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 Wednesday.
“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 taken away.”
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 land.”
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 license.”
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 permits.
“Everyone can get a license – they just need to fill out the forms,” she said. “I don’t understand the claim at all.”
Furthermore, she 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 family.”
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 construction.
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.
“The 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 decades.”
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 respective populations.
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 ACRI.
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.