Mayor Orders Demolition of East Jerusalem Trailer Homes Put Up by UN Body

Foreign Ministry and city officials accuses OCHA of repeatedly violating accepted protocols regarding the operation of international organizations.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat on Wednesday signed demolition orders for two trailer homes in East Jerusalem that house Palestinian families whose former homes were torn down by the city. The structures were put up by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and its emergency pooled fund, the Humanitarian Response Fund.

Foreign Ministry and city officials on Wednesday accused OCHA of repeatedly violating accepted protocols regarding the operation of international organizations.

OCHA officials said the trailers, in the Beit Hanina neighborhood, do not require a license from the municipality because they are not hooked up to city utilities or attached to foundations and they are a stopgap, emergency solution only for the homeless families in each one.

But the municipality and the Foreign Ministry dismissed OCHA's explanations, saying the move constitutes a ratcheting up of intervention in Jerusalem by an international agency.

"Israel is not a banana republic, but a state of law and order," the municipality said in a statement. "The UN can help to advance the residents' quality of life in keeping with the law and we hope the construction violation at the site is not in accordance with the UN."

The trailers bear OCHA's emblem as well as the flags of HRF's donor countries: Britain, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Spain, The Netherlands and Ireland. Municipal officials said the flags were a ploy to embroil Israel in embarrassing pictures of destroying trailer homes donated by friendly states.

All six members of the Salma family, whose home was demolished twice by the municipality because it lacked building permits, now live together in a cramped, 40-square-meter trailer home. The Salmas were unable to obtain permits because the city refuses to grant construction permits for the area.

City council member Meir Margalit (Meretz ) commended OCHA's help to the families. "This is the first time the agency has taken a proactive step rather merely criticize. This is not the time to quarrel with the UN and Europe because of two trailers," he said.

About four months ago Israel's ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, called for the dismissal of an OCHA official who posted a photo of a dead Palestinian girl covered in blood to her Twitter account, accusing Israel of killing the girl.

In fact, the photograph was of an accident victim. Khulood Badawi, OCHA's information and media coordinator in Jerusalem, who tweeted the photo and the accusation, was suspended due to Israeli pressure.

An Israeli official yesterday accused OCHA of exceeding its mandate by publishing critical reports of Israel and acting in the territories without coordination. "They're not supposed to take a stand in the conflict, they're supposed to be a humanitarian agency," he said.

The Foreign Ministry spokesman said: "The Jerusalem municipality acted according to the law and procedures and gave a 30-day extension for complaints regarding the demolition order. This is not the first time OCHA has breached the law and customary procedures and we take a grim view of it."

The Salma family, outside their caravan that is set to be demolished.
Emil Salmon