Police use riot-control measures to quell protests against destruction of buildings.
Israeli authorities demolished 20 illegally-built, single- and multi-family homes in East Jerusalem overnight Monday, the most extensive house-demolition in the Palestinian sector of the capital in recent years.
Violent protests carried on through much of the night in the village of Qalandiyah, where most of the demolitions took place. Border Police fired sponge-tipped bullets, stun grenades and tear gas against some of the rioters, but there were no known injuries. Early Tuesday morning the troops accompanied Finance Ministry building inspectors to carry out the remaining demolitions.
“I have been in this business 20 years, and there was never such a widespread operation,” said Ahmad Subalaban, an area coordinator for the NGO Ir Amim, which promotes Jewish-Arab equality in Jerusalem. He added that in the past, “at most they would demolish four or five structures.”
Hassan Salameh, who owns a two-story building in Qalandiyah that was demolished, told Haaretz the demolition order was received only on Monday morning, and that it had been stuck onto the door of the building during the night. “All my brothers, seven families, lived in the building. Not even 12 hours passed from the moment we saw the demolition orders and the time the bulldozers arrived. They destroyed everything, the furniture and everything that was inside. If they had given us warning, we would have had a chance to speak to them, we would have brought all the papers. ... They destroyed my life. What will we do? I’ll stay with my children until we rent an apartment or I’ll put up a tent. I’m in shock,” Salameh said.
A treasury official said authorities removed possessions from the Salameh house. “I personally removed a refrigerator and shoes. We insisted that they take out their clothes,” the official said.
According to Ir Amim, the number of house demolitions of Palestinians has increased sharply. This year to date, 78 homes have been demolished (not including homes of terrorists), as opposed to 74 in all of 2015. In 2014, 52 homes were destroyed.
An enforcement official confirmed that house demolitions were on the rise. “Enforcement against illegal housing starts was always high preference for us,” the official said. “Lately there has been a wave of illegal housings starts, for example in Qalandiyah and Walajeh, in south Jerusalem. All the building that we demolished in Qalandiyah popped up at once over the past month and a half. We don’t want to get to the point of high-rise buildings, which ruins things for everyone, also in terms of village planning. Second, there is indeed a decision to increase enforcement.”
Salameh said people living in the area are residents of Jerusalem who own apartments and land within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries, but a few years ago found themselves on the other side of the separation barrier, cut off from the city. He said many residents thought they did not need building permits to construct new homes in the area beyond the barrier.
“After they built the fence people said, ‘Come on, let’s build.’ I personally had a building permit that had expired, and my only fault was that I didn’t renew it. But a lot of people thought this place belonged to the West Bank, not the municipality [of Jerusalem]. Big villas were destroyed here tonight. People spent all their money to live in these houses,” Salameh added.
Ir Amim said the demolitions reflected the municipality’s “cruel policy.” “From a survey of the planning situation we made, it emerges that the Jerusalem municipality does not prepare detailed plans for the Palestinian neighborhoods of the city and brings about the failure of any plan the residents make on their own initiative,” said the NGO. But Regavim, which fights against illegal structures built by Palestinians and Israeli Arabs, welcomed the operation, saying, “The government of Israel proved to itself tonight that the expression ‘rule of law’ is not an empty cliché, and that it can restore sovereignty to every corner of Israel.”