Jerusalem to Demolish Palestinian Homes in 'Peace Forest', Let Settlers Build

After demolitions ordered for homes of hundreds of Palestinians under guise of zoning, Jerusalem municipality changes plans to allow for settler construction

Qusai Burkan and his nephews and nieces in front of their home to be demolished in East Jerusalem, April 13, 2019.
Olivier Fitoussi

The homes of hundreds of East Jerusalem Palestinians are slated for destruction after a court rejected an appeal against the demolitions.

The Jerusalem District Court court upheld some of the demolitions because the houses, built in the neighborhood between Silwan and Abu Tor, are on part of what is considered a national Israeli “peace forest.” Two weeks ago the municipality tried to change the forest’s zoning so that Elad, an NGO that moves Jewish residents into Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, would not have to destroy some of the illegal buildings it has put up there.

The houses were built without licenses, as are many buildings in East Jerusalem. Palestinians say it’s impossible for them to obtain building permits and therefore they must build illegally.

“It’s not that we didn’t want to obtain a building permit, they wouldn’t allow us to,” said Walid Shweiki, a resident. “Your family grows, you have a wife and children. Where can you go and live? On the street? You need some place.”

More than 60 buildings have gone up in what has been zoned as public space or forest.

Through the years, residents with the assistance of architects and lawyers, have tried to advance new construction and to authorize buildings that were put up without permits.

In 2008 their plan was rejected for allegedly contradicting a new zoning plan for Jerusalem. District Court Judge David Cheshin recommended examining the plan again to prevent demolitions. Former Mayor Nir Barkat had promised to advance the plan. But “in the end they told us they don’t have a majority to pass the new plan in the city council, we presented a new one, but they kept putting spokes in the wheels,” attorney Ziyad Kawar said.

The city has filed indictments in a local court against the home owners and has obtained demolition orders. But the process was delayed as three families appealed to the district court, then their appeals were rejected two weeks ago.

The court’s ruling is expected to affect some 60 buildings that are home to 500 people. But the judge wrote that despite the harsh repercussions “there are clear planning and construction laws and the High Court has ruled that whoever decides to build without appropriate permits can complain only to themselves for deciding to take the law into their own h ands.”

But while fighting against the Palestinian residents of the neighborhood, the city has advanced a plan to cancel the area’s zoning, per a request from Elad. Haaretz reported a week ago that Elad has also illegally built camping and tourism structures in the “peace forest.” Demolition orders have been issued but the city has granted a request by Elad to permit the illegal structures to remain standing.

The city says in response: “The Jerusalem Municipality sees great importance in carrying out city zoning plans, alongside law enforcement against illegal construction.” The city added that Elad’s plans did not involve construction but the development of land for leisure and sport activity.