Palestinian walking on rubble of demolished East Jerusalem home
Palestinian walking on rubble of demolished East Jerusalem home
Photo: AFP
Palestinian home owner watches house built without permit razed in East Jerusalem

Denied permits, Palestinians raze own homes in Jerusalem

Many Palestinians lacking construction permits prefer to demolish their property themselves, fearing arrest if unable to pay city's demolition bill or fines; 44 houses have been demolished in East Jerusalem in 2020

AFP |
Published: 08.30.20 , 10:35
Palestinian Alaa Borqan preferred to tear down his own house in East Jerusalem after a court ruled that it was constructed illegally and must be demolished.
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  • The 35-year-old was given two options: to destroy his four-bedroom home in the Jabal Mukaber neighborhood himself or to let the city council do it and then send him the bill.
    Palestinian home owner watches house built without permit razed in East JerusalemPalestinian home owner watches house built without permit razed in East Jerusalem
    Palestinian home owner watches house built without permit razed in East Jerusalem
    (Photo: AFP)
    Israeli authorities regularly raze homes built by Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank if they lack construction permits.
    The catch, according to a UN study, is that such permits are "virtually impossible" to obtain and the result is a chronic housing shortage.
    "I applied to city hall for a building permit, but without success," Borqan told AFP. "I spent around NIS 75,000 ($22,000) on legal fees and on a ground survey," he said.
    Ben Avrahami, an advisor to city authorities on East Jerusalem, said that every case is handled strictly according to the law.
    "The demolitions are carried out by order of an Israeli court and are subject to careful legal scrutiny," he said.
    Palestinian walking on rubble of demolished East Jerusalem homePalestinian walking on rubble of demolished East Jerusalem home
    Palestinian walking on rubble of demolished East Jerusalem home
    (Photo: AFP)
    However, Borqan, a father of four, said he was dismayed after he hired a bulldozer that tore down his own house in front of his eyes.
    He said he had invested all his savings in the building, taking on a debt of NIS 800,000 ($240,000) and putting in four years of work.
    The court, which ruled the structure illegal due to it being built without a permit, fined Borqan NIS 60,000 for the offense.
    He now lives with his family in a house that he rents for NIS 2,800 ($840) a month.

    Psychological effects

    According to city hall, 44 houses have been demolished in East Jerusalem since the beginning of this year.
    Palestinian home owner watches house built without permit razed in East JerusalemPalestinian home owner watches house built without permit razed in East Jerusalem
    Palestinian homeowner watches house built without permit razed in East Jerusalem
    (Photo: AFP)
    Some owners prefer to raze their homes themselves to avoid having to pay to the city's demolition crews.
    Since Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan during the 1967 Six-Day War, the city sector is home to around 300,000 Palestinians and 200,000 Jewish inhabitants.
    Palestinians charge that the true purpose of the permit regime is to empty the city of its Palestinian inhabitants.
    The UN's Office for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) noted in an April 2019 report that in East Jerusalem "a restrictive planning regime applied by Israel makes it virtually impossible for Palestinians to obtain building permits".
    "At least one-third of all Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem lack an Israeli-issued building permit, potentially placing over 100,000 residents at risk of displacement," it added.OCHA says that only 13 percent of East Jerusalem is designated for Palestinian construction, much of which is already built up, while 35 percent has been allocated to Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law.
    Palestinian Muslim cleric heads prayers in protest tent set up by activists against demolition of houses by Israeli authorities in East JerusalemPalestinian Muslim cleric heads prayers in protest tent set up by activists against demolition of houses by Israeli authorities in East Jerusalem
    Palestinian Muslim cleric heads prayers in protest tent set up by activists against demolition of houses by Israeli authorities in East Jerusalem
    (Photo: AFP)
    According to the director of the Jerusalem Center for Economic and Social Rights, Ziad Hammuri, the self-demolitions are "humiliating" and "have considerable psychological effects" on families, in addition to heavy financial costs.
    But many Palestinians still prefer to demolish their property themselves, fearing arrest if they are unable to pay the city's demolition bill or fines.

    Housing shortage

    On July 2, the Shalalda family also demolished their home, a two-bedroomed apartment in A-Tur.
    It is "very difficult, a dream has been destroyed," lamented Sara Shalalda, a mother of six.
    כוחות צבא צה"ל מזרח ירושלים ואדי חומוס צור באהרכוחות צבא צה"ל מזרח ירושלים ואדי חומוס צור באהר
    IDF forces demolish East Jerusalem home built illegally
    (Photo: Reuters)
    "We were about to move in, we didn't want to have to pay rent anymore."
    According to OCHA, 65 children were displaced and 85 others variously affected by self-demolitions in east Jerusalem in the first six months of the year.
    Palestinians lack 30,000 to 40,000 housing units, rents are high, and building permits are expensive, said Mahmud Zahaykeh of the Jerusalem Housing Union.
    "The average rent is $800 and a building permit for an apartment can cost $50,000," he said. "Only 20 percent of residents obtain permits, and the process can take five years.
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