Jerusalem municipal bulldozers demolished the home of the Zir family of Silwan last week before the courts ruled on the issue. Left homeless, the family has moved into a cave.

Khaled Zir, a Silwan resident and father of five children, the smallest of them four months old, lived for the past seven years in a 60-square meter home made of drywall and tin. The home was built on an open area owned by the family in the heart of the East Jerusalem neighborhood. The Zirs built around their home a dovecote, a small chicken coop and planted a grove.

Half a year ago, Zir received an administrative order from the city to demolish his home because his family's land is zoned as open area within the national park surrounding the walls of the Old City. His lawyer, Sammy Arshid, appealed to the city to cancel the order, which he claimed to be illegal. "My client claims someone who is not authorized to order the destruction of buildings issued the announcements," wrote Arshid.

Although the city did not respond to Arshid regarding the rejections and in contradiction of the guideline not to carry out a demolition order as long as an objection stands, bulldozers arrived last week to carry out the order. Under the cover of inspectors from the municipality and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and backed by a large police force, the bulldozers demolished the home, dovecot and coop.

Zir has been busy ever since trying to rebuild. Using plywood and aluminum frames, he built some walls and a door at the opening of an ancient cave. The cave had served as a horse stable until a week ago. Zir furnished the cave minimally to make it livable, and moved in with some of his children, while others stay with relatives.

The cave, which borders the Zir's plot, is of the kind used for human habitation in the 19th century, when Jews and Arabs both moved into Silwan. Zir's grandparents lived in the cave, and his father was born in it.

"I have no choice where to live," says Zir. "At least here there's good air."

Zir says he plans to set up a large tent and is even threatening to block the road that crosses the village with his tent in protest at his home's destruction.

"I went to get a license. They told me it’s green space — you can't put one brick there. Where am I to go with small children?" he says.

His horse, meanwhile, has found a home in another smaller cave, next to the roosters. The doves are still bunched up in shock on the rock bordering their old dovecote. For now, they aren't prepared to enter the new dovecote, which was quickly built to protect them.

"We filed the objections to the city. The city hasn't replied to the objections to this day, and without any prior warning they came and destroyed it," says Arshid. "It's clear that the desire to kick out more and more people from their homes and from Silwan is what stands behind the city's action."

The Jerusalem municipality commented: "The objection came in February, and half a year passed since then. The objection doesn't delay carrying out [the demolition], and since it was filed nothing was filed to the court, and the petitioner didn't turn to the municipal prosecutor or the municipal supervisor on the matter, so the announcements regarding the evacuation were valid and the evacuation and cleanup conducted by the force was legal.

"Likewise, let it be emphasized that there wasn't a destruction of structures in the place. The city, in partnership with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, evacuated from the place a number of tin shacks, which were found in the middle of land designated for a national park in which it is prohibited to build residential buildings."