In Highly Irregular Move, Israel Demolishes Palestinian Homes Within Jerusalem Borders

Had residents known the homes lay within Jerusalem's jurisdiction, and not in the West Bank's Area C, the demolition could have been prevented, rights group says.

FILE PHOTO: A house demolition in Beit Hanina , East Jerusalem, January 27, 2014.
Tali Mayer

Israeli security forces razed five buildings in the Palestinian village of Al-Zaim, near Jerusalem, on Tuesday morning.

The move was highly unusual, because the buildings were within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, even though they were on the Palestinian side of the separation barrier. The rest of the village lies outside the capital’s borders.

Police said the demolition was carried out by police officers from the West Bank District, Border Police officers and employees of the Finance Ministry unit that enforces building laws. That unit’s jurisdiction does not extend beyond the borders of Jerusalem, in this case.

The human rights organization Bimkom, Planners for Planning Rights said that two families had lived in the buildings that were demolished.

“The demolition of the buildings in Al-Zaim this morning could have been prevented had the residents known the buildings lay within Jerusalem’s jurisdiction, and not in Area C, as they thought,” said architect Alon Cohen-Lifshitz of Bimkom, referring to the part of the West Bank under full Israeli control.

“The boundary of Jerusalem’s area of jurisdiction isn’t marked and was set arbitrarily. The buildings were admittedly built without permits, but not necessarily in violation of the existing plan, which zones the area as agricultural land but allows residences to be built on it,” Alon Cohen-Lifshitz said.

In January, Haaretz reported that the head of the Finance Ministry’s enforcement unit, Avi Cohen, himself lives in an illegal West Bank settlement outpost — Palgei Mayim, near Eli. Last week, Haaretz reported that the state plans to declare the area in question state land in order to retroactively legalize Palgei Mayim.

The Finance Ministry declined to comment for this report.