70 Palestinians Under Threat Of Displacement From Homes
In the Jerusalem neighborhood of Al-Tur, 70 Palestinians are at risk of forced displacement as they await an Israeli court decision over the fate of their five-story residential building.
The residents told they were offered an ultimatum on Sunday — to either pay a refundable 200,000 shekels ($64,400) and have until the end of the month to self-demolish, or the state will do it for them at a cost of two million shekels ($644,000).
Hussein Ghanayem, the residents’ lawyer, has filed an appeal on Monday, and there is a court hearing scheduled for Thursday 11 for authorities to decide what steps they will take.
This building has housed 70 residents from 10 families since its construction without an Israeli-issued building permit in 2012, like other homes in the area, according to the families’ lawyer. Rights groups and Palestinians have long documented the refusal of Israeli authorities to issue building permits in occupied East Jerusalem.
This is seen by the United Nations as a part of a “restrictive planning regime” that “makes it virtually impossible for Palestinians to obtain building permits, impeding the development of adequate housing, infrastructure, and livelihoods”.
The families have repeatedly tried to obtain a permit and have spent close to nine years in courts battling the demolition order, but were met with rejections by occupation authorities. Occupation authorities have repeatedly said that the land “is zoned for public use”.
Since moving into the building, the families have been paying monthly fines to the Israeli-controlled Jerusalem Municipality amounting to 75,000 shekels ($24,153) per family each year for living in an “unlicensed building”.
According to the UN, only 13% of occupied East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed following the 1967 war, is currently zoned for Palestinian development and residential construction, much of which is already built. Some 57% of all land has been expropriated for the building of illegal settlements and zoning of land as public infrastructure.
Living conditions in Al-Tur
Al-Tur is one most overcrowded Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem. There are two illegal Israeli settlements and have almost no land reserves for residential construction. The “only hope for expansion is to the northeast, where the unrecognized sub-neighborhood of Khallet al-Ain is located” says Bimkom, an Israeli rights organization consisting of planners and architects. Nevertheless, as Tahhan explains, there is a national park plan being advanced there.
Lawyer Ghanayem told that he defends the residents of 155 other buildings and homes in the Khallet al-Ain area that lack permits.
According to Israeli media, the municipality has submitted a structural map for Al-Tur and the nearby town of al-Issawiya that will need to be discussed and approved by authorities. It remains unclear whether the plan will allow residents to obtain licenses, which is a lengthy and costly process, for existing or new buildings.
The constant threat of home demolitions, evacuation orders, and settlers’ irruptions are common practices by Israeli forces in the occupied Palestinian territories. It is not an exclusive matter happening in Sheikh Jarrah, one of the most notorious cases of Palestinian expulsions from their homes.
Al-Tur demolition order is part of Israel’s systematic displacement policy in occupied East Jerusalem, where at least one-third of all Palestinian homes lack building permits and there are more than 100,000 residents at risk of displacement, reports the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
During these past 10 years, Israel has demolished more than 1,100 structures in occupied East Jerusalem, displacing more than 2,000 people and impacting the lives of more than 6,000 people, according to OCHA.
Unlawful settlement expansion, Palestinian home demolitions, and restrictions on urban development practices aim to alter the demographic ratio in favor of Jews to maintain a solid Jewish majority in this city and others. They want to appropriate Palestinian land and dispossess them of what little they have.
In the Arab Organisation for Human Rights in the UK own words, as an occupying power, Israel is prevented under international human rights law from changing the laws and customs in occupied territory, transferring populations in and out of the occupied territory, destroying private property, and forcible transfer, and discriminating on national, racial or ethnic grounds. Its actions must be stopped now.