Jerusalem Mayor Freezes House Demolitions in Restive Palestinian Neighborhood

Eight structures were demolished in Isawiyah in recent months, and orders were issued against dozens more. Freeze will delay demolitions for at least six months

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Entrance to East Jerusalem neighborhood of Isawiyah
Entrance to East Jerusalem neighborhood of Isawiyah Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

Jerusalem will freeze the demolition of homes in an East Jerusalem neighborhood for six months in order to advance an urban master plan there, the municipality said Wednesday.

Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon made the decision after holding a series of meetings with local leaders in the Palestinian neighborhood of Isawiyah over the past few weeks.

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 63Credit: Haaretz

Eight structures were demolished in Isawiyah in recent months, and demolition orders were issued against dozens more. In addition, the owners of hundreds of buildings constructed without permits are paying heavy fines to postpone demolition.

The talks between Leon and local leadership in Isawiyah started at the beginning of the school year in September, after the neighborhood’s parents’ committee threatened to call a school strike because of ongoing police raids.

Leon visited Isawiyah to dedicate the first playground there about a month ago. A local representative approached him and explained the problems faced by residents, after which neighborhood representatitves were invited to a round of talks with Leon and his adviser on Arab affairs, Uri Yakir. The residents asked to freeze the demolitions and Leon promised to examine the possibility. Leon said he wanted Isawiyah to become an example for all the neighborhoods in East Jerusalem in terms of municipal investment.

Similar to most of the neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, Isawiyah suffers from serious neglect and flawed planning. A large number of the buildings in the neighborhood were built illegally, because obtaining building permits in the neighborhood is nearly impossible.

Moreover, Isawiyah also suffers from inadequate infrastructure, lack of sidewalks and sewage systems, public buildings and green space, as well as a shortage of business and commercial space.

Some 14 years ago, the residents and the Bimkom – Planners for Planning Rights nonprofit organization – began promoting a new master plan for the neighborhood, with the city’s blessing. The plan included expansion of the neighborhood’s urban area, but the city eventually canceled the plan and approved others for the areas that the neighborhood was supposed to expand into, including a new national park on the slopes of Mount Scopus and a large site for construction waste disposal.

In recent years, Jerusalem has been promoting its own master plan for Isawiyah, and according to the municipality’s announcement this plan is in its final stages of detailed planning.

For years, residents who petitioned the courts to delay the implementation of the demolition orders – claiming the master plan was being advanced – were rejected on the grounds that the municipality had not yet set a date for completing the master plan.

The municipality added that the freeze on demolition orders would be in force until September 1, 2020, vowing to invest great effort to approve the master plan by then.

“This is great news for the residents of Isawiyah,” Leon said. “The plan will lead to the zoning of the land and building rights in accordance with the character of the neighborhood and the future development trends there – for the benefit of residents.”

In a letter to the residents of Isawiyah, Haim Nargassi, the lawyer who heads the municipal claims department in the office of the municipality’s legal advisor, wrote: “In light of the new leadership in the neighborhood, the City of Jerusalem has decided to give a final chance to bring about the plan’s approval and significantly advance this plan in coordination and cooperation with the residents and reach an agreement on the the final framework within half a year from now … In light of this, the municipal claims department will agree to grant an extension of half a year for the purpose of the final formulation of the master plan in cooperation and coordination with the residents.”

Isawiyah residents hope the plan will enable then to receive building permits retroactively for illegally constructed structures. According to the agreement between the city and the local leadership, the local leaders promised to act to calm the security situation in the neighborhood.

Over the past eight months, the police have been operating intensively in Isawiyah in an enforcement campaign that residents view as collective punishment. Hundreds of residents have been arrested, dozens injured in clashes with police and routine life has been seriously disrupted. A respite from police activities has occurred over the past month and residents say they have felt that the enforcement campaign is finally coming to an end. But on Saturday, a police officer fired a foam-tipped bullet and seriously wounded 9-year-old Malek Issa, who lost his left eye and is hospitalized in with a skull fracture and other injuries. This has again increased tensions in the neighborhood, and on Tuesday night young people in Isawiyah clashed with police, who used riot control gear to disperse the disturbances.

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