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Twenty-one Israel Prize laureates have called for an end to the razing of homes in East Jerusalem, blaming official policy for the abundance of illegal construction in that part of the capital.

In a letter to Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, the laureates write about the "deep sense of fear that one morning a family will wake to the presence of police forces and municipal inspectors coming to destroy their homes, leaving the family members with only the clothes on their back."

They say more than half the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem feel this daily. Among the laureates signing the letter are renowned authors Amos Oz, David Grossman and A.B. Yehoshua.

The signatories say the residents of East Jerusalem have for decades been forced to build illegally because of the policy of the city planning authorities. This policy, they say, left most of East Jerusalem without a blueprint for issuing building permits.

"All efforts by the residents, including the preparation and filing of [construction] plans, and the paying of fees and municipal taxes in accordance with the law, came to nothing.

Unfortunately, most of the residents have only one option: building without permits and taking a risk," the laureates say.

They add that the municipality's policy has been "a constant policy, in place for decades. It has created a situation in which thousands of people are unable to build a roof over their heads on land that belongs to them."

The signatories say the policy "runs contrary to the State of Israel's obligation to care for the welfare of the civilians it is responsible for, and hurts the basic right of thousands of people to live in human conditions. Therefore, this should not be a matter open to political debate: A humanist society seeks to preserve human rights and must oppose [this policy]."

Since 2000, the municipality and Interior Ministry have razed about 700 homes in Jerusalem, and there are thousands of warrants yet to be carried out for further destruction.

Barkat and the official responsible for East Jerusalem at the municipality, Yakir Segev, have repeatedly said they intend to carry out the warrants that have been issued legally.

Tension has grown in recent weeks over the plans to destroy 88 buildings in the al-Bustan neighborhood in the village of Silwan in East Jerusalem.

On Saturday, the Palestinian Authority declared a halt to commercial activity to protest the planned razing of the homes. Jerusalem police prepared extra forces on Friday, fearing demonstrations after Friday prayers on the Temple Mount.

On Monday, the municipality destroyed one home in Silwan, an event that passed with relative calm.