J'lem orders demolition of 2 illegal UN caravans

UN's Humanitarian Relief Fund placed caravans in place of two illegally built Arab homes the municipality demolished.

Beit Hanina demolition (photo credit: Meir Margalit)
Beit Hanina demolition
(photo credit: Meir Margalit)
The Jerusalem Municipality has issued demolition orders against two illegal UN caravans that house Palestinian families.
According to UN sources, at the end of May the organization’s Humanitarian Relief Fund placed the caravans on plots of land in east Jerusalem’s Beit Hanina neighborhood that belonged to the two Arab families.
They replaced two illegally built Arab homes the municipality demolished, one in December 2011 and one in January 2012.
According to Jerusalem councilman Meir Margalit (Meretz), it was the first time that the UN had placed illegal caravans in the city to house Arabs whose homes had been demolished by the municipality.
The UN is a well-known critic of the city’s policy of demolishing illegal Palestinian structures, said Margalit, who is the founder of the Israeli Coalition Against Housing Demolitions.
“This time, [the UN] decided not just to speak, but also to act,” Margalit said.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said the decision by a UN body to act illegally in east Jerusalem was viewed “very seriously.”
According to an Israeli official, representatives of the Foreign Ministry complained about the caravans to the office of UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry, who then passed the matter on to New York.
Israeli officials blamed the move on the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the occupied Palestinian territory (OCHA oPt).
Tensions have grown in the past year between OCHA and the government, particularly after an OCHA information officer, Kuhlood Badawi, in March tweeted a picture of a Palestinian child covered in blood and falsely claimed she was killed by an IDF strike.
The picture, it emerged, was published in 2006 by Reuters and was of a Palestinian girl who died in an accident unrelated to Israel.
Security officials have also accused OCHA of supporting and building illegal structures for Palestinians in Area C of the West Bank.
But the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory, Maxwell Gaylard, defended the UN’s decision to put the caravans in place. He said that the move was a humanitarian one on the part of an UN emergency fund supported by six UN member states and OCHA.
In this case, Gaylard said, the Palestinians turned to them for help.
He said that the Humanitarian Relief Fund’s role, along with that of OCHA, was to provide relief to those who needed shelter and/or any other humanitarian assistance. In the West Bank, he said, the UN has provided Palestinians whose homes have been demolished with food, supplies and, in some cases, tents.
Gaylard said the UN has long complained to Israel about its policy of demolishing unauthorized Palestinian homes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. The UN, he said, has called on the municipality to suspend demolitions of Palestinian homes and to accelerate the planning and building of new ones.
It has also lamented the failure of the municipality and the government to provide housing permits and an adequate supply of new housing for Palestinian residents of the city.
Palestinians are applying for permits, but they are not receiving them, he said.
He noted that for the UN, “Beit Hanina is occupied Palestinian territory.”
Gaylard said he respected Israeli law, but that in this instance, the UN had no choice but to act. The caravans, he said, were placed on land owned by Palestinians who were homeless and who could not receive permits to build.
“Where else could we put [the caravans]?’ he asked.
“We are helping the Palestinians on land that is theirs.”
But Israeli officials charged that the issue here was politics, not humanitarian assistance.
“This is about a UN body infringing the law,” said an Israeli official who noted that the UN had not tried to apply for a permit for the caravans.
“It is completely political. The UN is not above the law,” the official said.
“The State of Israel is not a banana republic but a state with law and order,” a municipal spokeswoman said.
“The United Nations can offer to improve the quality of life for residents in the framework of the law, we hope, because the United Nations building illegally in the area is inconceivable,” she said.
Margalit said the homes were located in an area of the city that was not designated for housing and as such it was not possible to obtain permits.
He said the municipality had made a technical error and issued the wrong type of demolition order. He said that on Thursday, he planned to ask the municipality to rescind the orders.