Petition demands stop to demolitions in Jerusalem's Jebl Mukaber

Petition demands stop to

Mechanic Ahmed Shakir lives in his parents' 120 square meter home in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Jebl Mukaber with his wife and three children. He married in 1994 and has been living with his parents ever since. The house is surrounded by two dunams of empty land which cannot be built on because according to the municipal plan for the neighborhood, it is designated as open scenic space. In 1998, Shakir decided to add two rooms to his parents' home, which had been illegally built in the 1970s, so they could all have more living space. The city fined him and demolished the rooms. The existing house suffers from dampness. Shakir's wife has developed lung problems and difficulty in breathing. The house itself is in danger of collapse. Shakir's plight was included in a petition filed this week by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Bimkom - Planners for Planning Rights and Ghasem Abidat, head of the Parents' Association of Jebl Mukaber, against the Jerusalem planning authorities in the Adminstrative Court of the Jerusalem District Court. The petitioners are demanding that the planning authorities carry out a "proper planning procedure including an outline plan which will meet neighborhood needs and solve the grave housing shortage, including the lack of land for building, and provide solutions for the very low building densities and lack of infrastructure." The plan should be completed in three years, they added. In the meantime, the petitioners continued, the court must order the authorities to postpone implementing all demolition orders and desist from issuing such orders unless there is an urgent need for the land, until the new outline plan goes into effect. "The lack of proper planning, the lack of consideration given in the existing plans to population growth, the severe restrictions in these neighborhoods, along with restrictive regulations which block the possibility of obtaining permits even in those places designated for construction, force the residents to build their houses without permission," the petitioners wrote. These problems apply to many Palestinian neighborhoods in east Jerusalem, the petitioners wrote, but the petition refers specifically to Jebl Mukaber and nearby Suahra. The two neighborhoods together cover an area of 4,600 dunams. In 1978, 11 years after Israel annexed east Jerusalem, the city began to prepare a plan covering 580 dunams. It is still in effect today. The plan is characterized by the small number of plots designated for housing, low building rights of 25 percent of the size of the plot, and low buildings of two stories. Seventy-two percent of the land was declared open scenic land, where construction is prohibited altogether. Only 5% is allocated for roads, about one-quarter of the accepted standard. The rest of the neighborhood area, some 4,000 dunams, is covered by another plan. According to this plan, some 80% of the 4,000 dunams is not designated for housing construction. In the 20.5% of the land where construction is permitted, the building percentage is 37% of the plot on two stories. Despite the obvious problems in the two plans, the planning authorities have allowed only three deviations, affecting less than five dunams. In 2000, the city began to prepare an outline plan covering both the Jewish and Arab neighborhoods of the city. The plan will improve the current situation in Jebl Mukaber and Suahra, the petitioners wrote. However, the new outline plan is in limbo. A few months ago, it was presented for initial approval to the Jerusalem District Planning Committee, which demanded many changes. In the meantime, the process was suspended by Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who invoked his prerogative to study the plan. Since then, nothing has happened and there is no indication that Yishai's "study" will end any time soon.