Jerusalem resumed on Tuesday demolitions of Palestinian homes built illegally in the eastern part of the city after a month-and-a-half freeze due to the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
On Tuesday the municipality demolished a three-story building in Silwan, which was home to 45 people and for years operated as a branch of an Israeli Health Maintenance Organization.
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The structure was demolished despite the fact that in a plan promoted by the municipality about a decade ago, it was supposed to receive a building permit. Clashes developed at the site and young Palestinians threw stones at police who were providing security for the demolition.
The building was constructed in Silwan without permits. In 2002 and 2003 proceedings began against it. The building was home to five families, and on the first floor a branch of Kupat Holim Clalit operated until a few months ago. Throughout the years Samir Rajbi, the owner, tried to file a number of construction plans in order to receive a permit for the building after the fact, but all the plans were rejected.
About a decade ago the municipality itself promoted a master plan for the entire area, which was designed to approve a large percentage of the buildings in the neighborhood. The residents of Silwan say the purpose of the municipal plan was to prevent the demolition of Beit Yehonatan, a large structure that houses about eight Jewish settler families, which was also built without permits and was included in the area of the plan. But after a number of years the planning committees rejected the plans filed by the Rajbi family.
Last February, Jerusalem District Court Judge Rivka Friedman-Feldman rejected the appeal filed by Rajbi and ordered the demolition. “For a long period the planning has not progressed, and there is no dispute about the fact that the permit is not accessible. Under these circumstances, the time has come to carry out the demolition order handed down many years ago,” wrote the judge.
The implementation of the demolition order was delayed because the Jerusalem Municipality does not demolish homes during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. On Tuesday morning large police forces arrived at the site and ordered the families to evacuate. The families say they weren’t given enough time to remove their possessions.
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“I left the house on my way to Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital, I have to undergo surgery, the entire police unit entered the house, told me ‘This is a search,’ I woke up the children, the police picked up the children and threw my wife outside. They told me, ‘Take the silver and gold and leave.’ They gave me less than an hour. They destroyed everything, clothing, mattresses, living room, refrigerator. My daughter was about to get married, they destroyed her things,” says Rajbi.
“I have five daughters, the oldest is 11 and the youngest is 6 months old. Look at my shoes, that’s what I have left,” says Fars, Rajbi’s son, who watched the demolition in his slippers. “I’m not a racist, I want to live like every other person. Peace won’t come when you step on people, afterwards they’ll say why are there stones thrown in Jerusalem, why are there terror attacks? I don’t interfere in politics and I try to educate my children to be somebody in this world. This causes only hatred and racism. And I live from a minimum wage, I don’t have anything with which to dress the children. Ask yourself, be a human being, look at your children and think what would happen if you were in my place.”
Due to the issuance of the demolition order a few months ago, the branch of Kupat Holim was closed. Health authorities in East Jerusalem say the closure has harmed the medical services provided in the area.
“In East Jerusalem most of the branches of the health services are operated by franchisees and not directly by the health fund. Therefore, when a branch is closed, the significance is far greater than in the western part of the city,” says Dr. Yael Assor, coordinator of a campaign to close Jewish-Arab health gaps in East Jerusalem.
“In the west of the city, an insured person whose branch is closed can simply enter another branch and receive service. That’s not the case in East Jerusalem. According to evidence that we have, there are many cases in which other franchisees are unwilling to provide service to insurees from other branches, or demand private payment for it, in violation of the law. Closing the clinic in Silwan therefore arouses a fear about the continuation of treatment for its insurees,” said Assor.
The demolition was also criticized by Laura Wharton, a member of the Jerusalem City Council with Meretz, which is part of Mayor Moshe Leon’s coalition. “Demolition of buildings, and of the building that served as a branch of Kupat Holim, are not only a terrible injustice and a violation of the law, they are also foolish. Prolonged oppression and using force against a civilian population create hatred and escalation,” said Wharton.
According to the data of the left-wing Ir Amim NGO, in the first three months of the year, the municipality demolished 31 residential units in East Jerusalem and a similar number of non-residential buildings.
The Jerusalem Municipality replied: “The municipality and the Jerusalem police carried out a demolition order this morning for a structure that was built illegally on an open public space in Silwan, which is earmarked for the needs of the community of neighborhood residents.
“The first demolition order was issued already in 2003, and was approved in all the legal instances, including the Jerusalem District Court. It should be stressed that the building under discussion is located on the slope of the neighborhood and outside the residential area – in the jurisdiction of Nahal Kidron. It should also be noted that within the areas designed for residential purposes in the neighborhood, many municipal master plans have been promoted and approved in recent years.
“The building is only partially occupied, since the first floor where the branch of Kupat Holim operated was evacuated already several months ago, and a new, upscale branch was opened in its place in another building in the neighborhood. The planning committees in the Jerusalem Municipality have led many efforts at rapprochement with the owners of the building in recent years, in order to find legal solutions for approving it, but there was no cooperation with these efforts.”