The Jerusalem municipality is preparing to demolish five buildings with a total of 138 apartments – only a small number of them are currently occupied – in Kafr Aqab in northern Jerusalem.
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Last week the Jerusalem District Court rejected the village residents’ appeal against the demolition order, permitting the city to knock down the illegally-built structures immediately. If the demolition takes place, it will be the first one in Kafr Aqab since 2001.
Kafr Aqab is part of Jerusalem but it is located beyond the separation barrier. Since the barrier was completed, numerous buildings, many of them higher than 10 stories, have been built without permits. Residents say that from the time the barrier was erected, the city has denied their requests for building permits, so they were forced to build without them. Construction on the five buildings in question started several years ago; all the apartments have been sold and around 20 families currently are living there.
“Since 2001 no building permit has been issued in Kafr Aqab,” said Munir Zagheir, chairman of the Kafr Aqab Residents Committee. “I have 52,000 residents living in such homes and the municipality has looked away. These are 138 families who put shekel after shekel together, who sold their jewelry so they could build. They bought because they knew there are no demolitions here and saw that the city did nothing.
“There are schools here and HMO clinics – all in illegal structures,” he continued. “Since 2004 we haven’t seen any police here, so now they’re going to come and demolish instead of sitting with us in order to speak with us logically?”
The demolition is aimed at clearing land to pave a public road that will connect the Al-Matar neighborhood with the Qalandiyah checkpoint. The residents, who had petitioned the High Court of Justice with demands that roads be paved in the area, argued that this particular road was not crucial and that in any case, it could be paved without destroying the buildings. “The homeowners are even prepared to pay for moving the barrier a few meters,” said Zagheir. “I don’t sleep at night thinking of these families.”
District Court Judge Chana Miriam Lomp rejected the residents’ arguments and ruled that the demolition order could be executed immediately. The municipality argued during the hearing that arrangements to carry out the demolition, which will cost millions of shekels, had already been made with the security forces and contractors. The judge accepted the municipality’s argument that the demolition did not constitute selective enforcement, because, as the city’s lawyer said, “There will always be those who are first when enforcement begins and that doesn’t constitute discrimination.”
Aviv Tatarsky, a researcher for the left-wing Ir Amim organization, criticized the pending demolition.
“After long years during which the state ignored Kafr Aqab, it would be a mistake to come now and destroy the homes of dozens of families in the name of laws that the State of Israel itself was violating,” he said. “The Transportation Ministry and the municipality should first dialogue with the residents committee to come to an agreed solution. The next stage is for the state to take full responsibility for the neighborhood and give its residents all the services that Israelis who live in the Israeli capital enjoy.”
The municipality said in response: “The claims are not correct. The demolition orders were issued lawfully when the buildings were unoccupied skeletons, and even today most of the buildings are not occupied. Courts, including the district court and the Supreme Court, validated the orders time after time.
“The claim of unfairness is out of place The purpose of the road is to make it easier for tens of thousands of people and thus the construction of the road for the benefit of all the residents is fair and necessary.”