Jerusalem24 – A short-notice decision to demolish a building in occupied East Jerusalem housing 74 Palestinians including 42 children was postponed at the last minute on Monday afternoon following an international outcry.
Far-right extremist and Israeli Minister of National Security Itamar Ben Gvir unexpectedly ordered the building in Wadi Qaddum in Silwan be demolished on Tuesday. Jumia Halaila, the lawyer representing the tenants, was handed the notice on Saturday, a mere 72 hours before the scheduled demolition.
Ben Gvir ordered 500 members of the Israeli police to attend the demolition, according to deputy mayor of Jerusalem Aryeh King.
But on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office ordered the demolition be postponed amid intense international pressure from human rights organizations and diplomats.
The demolition order remains in force, however, and could be executed in the coming weeks according to Israeli daily Haaretz.
The 12 families inhabiting the building have been under threat since June 2022. Two of the households are facing the prospect of being forced to leave their homes for a second time in just two years, as a result of previous home demolitions.
A “policy of demolition”
The building in Silwan is just one of thousands currently under threat, according to Ziad Hammouri, Director of the Jerusalem Center for Social and Economic Rights.
“What’s happening is that more than 23,000 houses will be demolished in the near future,” Hammouri tells Jerusalem24. “They started this week to demolish some of these houses which already have court decisions to demolish them.”
Ben Gvir has boasted of his intention to step up the rate of demolitions of Palestinian construction – both in occupied East Jerusalem and in Areas B and C of the occupied West Bank – now that he is part of the governing coalition.
Chasing impossible building permits
The building in Silwan is slated for demolition due to its lack of a building permit. However, obtaining building permits is nearly impossible for Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem and most of the occupied West Bank.
Between 2009 and 2021, 76 building permits were issued to Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem, while 23,448 were issued to Israeli settlers in the same area.
“This policy, really, is nothing new,” says Hammouri. “It started in 1948 when they demolished villages and many Palestinians left their homes and country.”
Hammouri nevertheless expects that under the new extreme right-wing government, Palestinians will face “a massacre of house demolitions” – not only in East Jerusalem, but the West Bank as well.
Since the beginning of 2023, the Netanyahu administration has overseen the demolition of 149 Palestinian-owned structures, displacing 210 people including 98 children. One-third of the demolitions have taken place in occupied East Jerusalem, where 55 people including 29 children have been made homeless.
The West Bank, too?
According to Israeli NGO Bimkom–Planners for Planning Rights, recent Israeli policy changes have “drastically increased the rate and ease of demolitions and confiscations, obstructing the process to appeal these decisions for Palestinians both in Area C of the occupied West Bank and in occupied East Jerusalem.”
“There are two primary types of changes: the first expedites demolitions and confiscations; the second prevents
planning processes that would protect buildings from demolitions or confiscations,” says a Bimkom report. “Whereas building new structures and avoiding demolitions and confiscations before these changes was difficult, now it is virtually impossible.”
Bimkom highlights that many of the new policy changes apply retroactively to structures, putting
thousands of existing buildings and infrastructure “at risk of immediate destruction”.
While these policy changes were introduced under Netanyahu’s previous tenure as prime minister, the new administration has expressed a stated intent of accelerating this process of dispossession, according to Hammouri.
“They are trying to confiscate even more of the lands in Area C,” he says. “They are even demolishing some [houses] in Area A. They are increasing settlements and demolitions orders in all the Palestinian areas.”
Area A of the occupied West Bank, as per the 1993 Oslo Accords, is under full civil and security jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority, and Israeli demolitions of Palestinian-owned buildings in both Area A and Area B run in contravention of the accords.
While Palestinian residents of occupied East Jerusalem are subject to a different regime of laws and regulations than Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, they are also at the mercy of the Israeli legal system. According to Hammouri, the 74 residents of Wadi Qaddum have “exhausted all legal options”, and may have to rely again in the future on international intervention.
Listen to the full interview on Vibes.