Over 100 Palestinian Families in East Jerusalem Face Demolition of Their Homes

Residents have tried to prevent demolitions by proposing master plans, which include legalizing existing buildings. But after years of negotiations, the Jerusalem municipality hardened its stance

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
A building slated for demolition in Jerusalem’s A-Tur neighborhood.
A building slated for demolition in Jerusalem’s A-Tur neighborhood.Credit: Emil Salman
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

More than 100 Palestinian families in East Jerusalem are in immediate danger of having their homes demolished after the Jerusalem municipality hardened its stance on master plans for the area.

A large clinic and hundreds of other buildings are also at risk of demolition in the near future.

There are currently some 20,000 illegal buildings in East Jerusalem, and demolition orders have been issued against thousands of them. Most were built illegally because the city’s Palestinian neighborhoods have no master plans that would enable legal construction.

Residents have therefore tried to prevent the demolitions by proposing their own master plans, which include the legalization of existing buildings. Negotiations with the city over these plans have gone on for years.

But recently, residents said, the planning authorities have hardened their position on these plans, reducing the likelihood of their acceptance. This in turn makes it harder to secure further postponements of the demolition orders.

After 25 years of fighting the Elad settler organization in the courts, the Siyam family is evicted by force from their Silwan homeCredit: Emil Salman

On Sunday, the Jerusalem District Court rejected an appeal by 58 Palestinian families against the demolition of their homes in the Silwan neighborhood’s Wadi Yassul section. The last master plan approved for that area dates from 1977 and zoned it all as open public space. Residents have been trying to get it rezoned as residential for 15 years, but to no avail.

In her ruling, Judge Rivka Friedman-Feldman noted that the area isn’t expected to be rezoned anytime soon, so the homes aren’t likely to be legalized anytime soon. Given the lack of any significant progress on this issue, she continued, there is no justification for postponing the demolition orders. This means the city can implement them immediately.

“I’ve accompanied the residents since 2004 on a Via Dolorosa of plans prepared on the basis of empty promises and deceit,” said their attorney, Ziad Kawar. “The residents have spent millions of shekels on these plans, but in the end, [city officials] broke their promises, posed insurmountable obstacles and insist on implementing the demolition orders and throwing the families out onto the street with no alternative.”

A month ago, Jerusalem’s Court for Local Affairs also refused to postpone a demolition order in Silwan. A clinic operated by the Clalit health maintenance organization has been on the building’s ground floor for decades. Aside from regularly serving 5,500 residents, this clinic is the only one that provides PCR swab tests and coronavirus vaccines to tens of thousands of other East Jerusalem residents.

The East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, in March.

The building also contains a dental clinic and four apartments that house 30 people, most of them minors.

Its owners recently appealed this ruling to the Jerusalem District Court. Friedman-Feldman agreed to postpone the demolition order if they deposited 50,000 shekels ($15,840) as a guarantee.

Negotiations between the municipality and dozens of families living in Silwan’s Al-Bustan section also collapsed in recent weeks. Eleven years ago, then-Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat began pushing a plan to build an archaeological park there as part of the City of David National Park. But that plan, which would have required the demolition of dozens of homes, sparked an international uproar, leading the city to launch talks with the residents in an effort to agree on a plan for relocating them.

The residents submitted a plan that called for the complete demolition of Al-Bustan, with the homes rebuilt on 60 percent of the area and the rest allocated for a park. But the city recently rejected that plan in favor of its own, which would move the residents to a handful of buildings occupying just 5 percent of the area. After the residents rejected that plan, the talks broke down, which may get the demolition orders against the area reactivated.

In Jerusalem’s A-Tur neighborhood, the Finance Ministry’s construction supervision unit was slated to demolish a building housing 10 families in the coming weeks, but the Jerusalem District Court recently postponed the demolition to give the residents a chance to demolish the building themselves, which is cheaper.

Murals on the walls of the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Eyad al-Ghouch said repeated efforts to get the building legalized had failed, and now “my 3-year-old son tells me he wants to sleep outside because he’s afraid they’ll demolish the house on top of us. They say they want to build a school here, but first a child needs a home and health and food, and only after that a place to learn.

“I tell Israelis this not for the sake of our children, but for yours – because our children won’t forget who did this,” he added.

Later this month, the High Court of Justice will hear a petition by 38 families from Al-Walaja challenging the demolition orders against their homes, which are in a section of the village annexed to Jerusalem in 1967. The district planning committee, which for years refused to even consider a proposed master plan the families submitted for the area, finally examined it this year under court order, but rejected it.

Residents are now working on a new plan. But meanwhile, the state has asked the court to reject the petition so it can implement the demolition orders.

The Jerusalem municipality said in a statement that it is advancing plans in many parts of the city, including East Jerusalem. “Contrary to what is claimed, there is no change in the municipality’s policy,” it said, adding that the residents’ claims “don’t conform with the reality.

“Many extensions have been granted over the years to people who committed construction violations, but despite these extensions ... they didn’t move forward with legalizing the construction,” the statement added. “Therefore, in line with Supreme Court rulings, the local affairs and district courts have rejected extension requests that didn’t show any planning progress even though many years have passed since the violation was committed and since the verdict [approving the demolition] was handed down by the court.”

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