Sari Anabtawi, 36, his wife and his three children were about to move in to his new home in Beit Hanina, an upscale Palestinian neighborhood in east Jerusalem. He had bought and installed new furniture in the apartment. A cashier in a restaurant, Anabtawi's brother helped finance the $200,000 it cost. In exchange, his brother moved in to his old apartment.
But when he arrived at the apartment this week, he found the building surrounded by police, and heard a bulldozer demolishing the building: it had been built without a permit.
"The owner told me there was a permit to build and that everything was OK," Anabtawi told The Media Line. "Now I have nowhere to live. I want my money back."
In recent months the Jerusalem Municipality has increased the number of house demolitions in the primarily Palestinian, eastern part of the city and the West Bank. According to Amit Gilutz, spokesman for the left-wing human rights organization B'Tselem, 88 Palestinian homes were demolished in 2016 in both east Jerusalem and the West Bank, as well as 48 other structures.
All of these homes were built without building permits, but Gilutz says it is almost impossible for Palestinians to get these permits.
"The authorities make it practically impossible for Palestinians to build legally because they have very slim chances of getting a permit," he said. "Since Israel annexed east Jerusalem in 1967, its policy has been discriminatory in every way and this is one of the facets."
The city of Jerusalem disagrees with this characterization.
"Jerusalem is a unified city, and all residents are entitled to live wherever they choose as long as they do so in accordance with the law," Rachel Greenspan, a spokeswoman for Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat countered. "The city does not discriminate based on race, religion, or gender. The only criteria by which building plans are approved are proof of ownership and compliance with the city's master plan. We do not collect, and therefore cannot provide, data on the ethnicity or religion of house owners."
Greenspan said that few Palestinians in east Jerusalem apply for building permits. For example, from 2010 to 2015, only 15% of building permit applications (1,864 of the 12,620) were filed by residents of predominantly Arab neighborhoods, less than half of their share in the city's population.
However, she said, when such applications are submitted, they have a particularly high rate of approval. In 2015, 87% of building permit applications (223 out of 255) for predominantly Arab neighborhoods were approved, compared with 74% for predominantly Jewish neighborhoods. While many structures were built without permit in East Jerusalem, owners can and do apply for permits retroactively, which the Municipality considers without prejudice.
Most of the 350,000 Palestinians in east Jerusalem are not Israeli citizens, but permanent residents. They have all obligations and rights of Israeli citizens, except that they are not allowed to vote in national elections. They can vote in municipal elections, although the vast majority do not, as they see participating in local elections as recognizing Israel's annexation of east Jerusalem. Palestinians say that east Jerusalem must be the capital of a future Palestinian state.
A report by the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) found that Palestinians make up 37 percent of the population of Jerusalem. Poverty is high, with three-quarters of all residents, and an even higher number of children, living below the poverty line.
Infrastructure in east Jerusalem is also weak, with a shortage of classrooms. One-third of Palestinian students drop out of high school. According to ACRI, 39 percent of all homes are built without permits, meaning they are subject to demolition at any time.
Greenspan, the municipal spokeswoman, says that the mayor has built more than 800 new classrooms and 1000 others are in the pipeline. He has also made the school day longer in many east Jerusalem schools.
She said the city is trying to get Arab residents more involved in community life.
"The city has opened two new community councils and invested a significant budget in improving municipal services, including opening child-care centers, providing welfare and community services, postal services, opening an employment center in Shuafat, and an investment of millions of shekels towards upgrading numerous sports fields," she said.
But for Sari Anabtawi, none of that is important. He just wants his money back, and to find a new place to live.