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UK architects, planners and other construction industry professionals campaigning for a just peace in Israel/Palestine.


Home demolitions, arrest raids as Israel implements Jerusalem "Master Plan" 

Report, The Electronic Intifada, 2 July 2010

Israeli soldiers in Silwan, occupied East Jerusalem. (Meged Gozani/ActiveStills)
Israeli police detained residents of Silwan as bulldozers demolished a horse stable in the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood on 29 June, while other construction vehicles razed a small warehouse to the ground in nearby Abu Tur. These demolitions came after Israeli courts decided that both of the buildings were built "illegally" and against "building codes." In a statement from the court, Jerusalem mayor Nir Barakat said his office was upholding his position that "there is a right way and a wrong way, a right place and a wrong place to build in Jerusalem."

Barkat's "Master Plan" for the city includes accelerated Palestinian home demolitions, illustrated by his recently-announced plan to destroy 22 homes in Silwan, a neighborhood already ravaged by frequent house demolitions and takeovers of homes by armed Jewish settlers under protection from Israeli forces. "Earlier this week, after several years of controversy," reported the Palestine Monitor on 26 June, "the city formally approved an incendiary plan to raze 22 homes in the al-Bustan block of Silwan to make way for tourist sites and urban development ... Jewish development companies have wedged settlers into the Palestinian neighborhood and funded archaeological digging where Palestinian buildings once stood" ("Israelis, Internationals Take Action Against Silwan Demolitions").

At least 500 demonstrators, including Palestinian, Israeli and international activists, took to the streets in Silwan on 25 June to protest the home demolition orders and the acceleration of Jewish settlement colony construction in the city. More than 50 individuals were wounded during fierce clashes as Israeli forces reportedly fired live ammunition, tear gas and percussion grenades at the crowds. One Palestinian man lost his eye when he was shot in the face with a percussion grenade and a Palestinian woman had a miscarriage after inhaling excessive amounts of tear gas, according to the Palestinian Maan news agency according to the Palestinian Maan news agency ("Five seized in Silwan, including 12-year-old child," 29 June 2010). Maan also reported that a 19-year-old Palestinian woman, also pregnant, went into shock after Israeli forces attempted to invade her home; she was rushed to the Red Cross hospital and suffered a miscarriage.

Following the protests, Israeli forces abducted five Palestinians in Silwan during pre-dawn raids, including 12-year-old Baha al-Rajabi on 29 June, according Maan. Dozens of children in Silwan have been abducted, arrested and interrogated by Israeli police and border guards since the beginning of the year in what community leaders and parents categorize as deliberate attempts to terrify their most vulnerable population, thereby convincing families to abandon their neighborhood.

The Israeli human rights group B'Tselem points out that severe housing and building code restrictions and chronic, racially discriminatory refusals of building permits force Palestinian residents of Jerusalem to build without proper permits in areas such as Silwan, consequently making home demolition policies seem legitimate and a matter of simple bureaucracy: "The Jerusalem Municipality enforces the building laws on Palestinians much more stringently than on the Jewish population, even though the number of violations is much higher in the Jewish neighborhoods" ("Policy of discrimination in planning, building and land expropriation").

In a statement distributed by Palestine Monitor, Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, Secretary General of al-Mubadara Palestinian National Initiative, said that the Silwan home demolition plan represents Israel's efforts to judaize East Jerusalem using "insidious" bureaucratic measures. "Israel's tools for negotiations with Palestinians are the bulldozers, the expansion of the settlement units, [and] changing the demographic composition of the city to favor the Jewish-Israeli population," Bargrouti stated. "We are facing a systematic expulsion of Palestinians from Jerusalem which is against a future establishment of a fully sovereign Palestinian state" ("Barghouthi, Jerusalem Master Plan to Erase Palestinian Existence from the City," 29 June 2010).

The European Union and the United Nations both condemned Israel's plan, stating that it violates international law. EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton also said on 30 June that the demolition of the 22 homes would be "an obstacle to peace."

Zakariya Odeh, East Jerusalem resident, political activist and director of the Civic Coalition for Defending Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem, spoke to The Electronic Intifada (EI) following a sit-in protest at the offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross on Thursday, 1 July. Hundreds had gathered there to demonstrate against the Israeli government's decision to expel four Palestinian politicians from occupied East Jerusalem this week after their residency rights were revoked last month.

Odeh told EI that Barkat's "Master Plan" for Jerusalem is simply meant to push the city's Palestinian population into narrower enclaves or force them to leave the country altogether. "The plan, the demolitions, the deportation issues -- it is frustrating. As a human rights organization, we can't do much other than advocacy and raising our voice against these injustices," Odeh said. "People are fed up. You can see that Israel is not listening to any pressure by the international community; the government is just doing what it wants. They want to keep us a small minority in our own city. If this plan goes through, there is no future for Palestinians in Jerusalem."

Elsewhere in occupied East Jerusalem, Maan reported on 28 June that Israeli construction vehicles and bulldozers broke ground for new Jewish-only settlement colony housing units near the illegal Pisgat Zeev settlement next to the Palestinian Shuafat refugee camp and the Beit Hanina neighborhood. The construction plan was originally announced in February 2010, and calls for 600 units to be built on primarily Palestinian-owned land.

Additionally, the Israeli regional planning committee announced that two hotels will be built on land belonging to Palestinians on the outskirts of the Jabal al-Mukkaber neighborhood. The Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions (ICAHD) also reported on 29 June that Israeli forces demolished a stable, a fence, a road and several fruit trees in the Isawiya neighborhood, making it the sixth time demolitions have occurred in the last year as municipal policies actively restrict development in the area.

"The property belongs to a family who run a small farm on the site and who have the required permits to keep animals on the property," ICAHD reported in a press release. "The legality of the demolitions, even under Israeli law, is unclear as court proceedings regarding the property were unresolved while the demolitions went ahead" ("Demolition in Isawiya Today," 29 June 2010).

Meanwhile, many are connecting the crisis in occupied East Jerusalem to the broader situation for Palestinians under apartheid and military occupation across Palestine.

"The government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has set impossible conditions on all issues, including Jerusalem, borders, settlements, water and the Jordan Valley," Dr. Barghouti remarked in his statement released by Palestine Monitor. "The answer to these policies lies in the expansion of the popular nonviolent resistance, the restoration of national unity and abandoning any illusion that the current negotiations will give positive results. We cannot wait for Israel to take serious and positive action, as it will never happen."

Palestinian homes under threat

In Silwan, a Palestinian neighbourhood near Jerusalem's Old City, Israeli settlers are increasingly encroaching on Palestinians' land.

Tension there are high after the Jerusalem municipality approved a controversial plan to demolish 22 Palestinian homes to make way for a park and shopping complex.

The European Union has warned Israel over its plans to demolish dozens of Palestinian homes in occupied East Jerusalem.

"Settlements and the demolition of homes are illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace, and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible," a statement issued by Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief, said.

Al Jazeera's Sherine Tadros visited the families whose homes are threatened by Israel's demolition plans.

Heavy police presence in Silwan
Published Thursday 01/07/2010 (updated) 02/07/2010 18:53
Jerusalem - Ma'an - Israeli forces detained three residents of the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in occupied East Jerusalem on Thursday.
As Israeli forces fanned out around the area, six homes were declared military posts, with families either confined to the space or told to evacuate. One family reported damage to the roof of their home as heavy Israeli military equipment and several personnel arrived on top of the building, causing a minor collapse.
The area, where Israeli officials recently declared 22 homes would be demolished so a tourist center could be established, has been the site of recent clashes, which residents say were sparked by aggressive behavior of settlers who have moved into Palestinian family homes and the Israeli guards protecting them.

Nocturnal Terror in Silwan

Ed’s note: Here is a story that ran earleir this week in Just Jerusalem. We are reposting it here in advance of an interview with the author, Daniel Dukarevich with additional actions expected this weekend.

Silwan protest against settlements

Another night sets in on Silwan. Just two days ago, hundreds of Israeli and Palestinian demonstrators marched together along the narrow streets of the neighborhood, to support the local residents, facing the municipality’s plan to demolish 22 houses. But here, as anywhere in east Jerusalem, happenings do not cease for a moment.

In previous weeks, more and more appeals to the solidarity activists of Sheikh Jarrah  came in from the residents of Silwan. In view of our successful campaign, more and more Palestinians have been trying to find a way for Arab-Jewish cooperation. During recent tours in Silwan, we all had a sense of urgency and shared destiny. We must act, and act fast, before catastrophe hits us, before the abyss becomes too deep and wide to bridge. And we must act together, against all the risks and against all the suspicion which has built up here over the years.

And now we are here, climbing up the narrow alleys, together with the locals. Just one hour ago, tens of private security guards, escorted by border policemen, entered Palestinian homes around “Beit Hadvash” (house of honey in Hebrew…) and “Beit Yehonatan”. The settlers have only managed to seize two houses in this area, but this is enough to bring the place to the brink of eruption. Nightly border police patrols, private security personnel, armed with guns, undercover policemen and “Mistaarvim” (Israeli soldiers disguised as Arabs) have turned the place into a war zone.

This alley is narrow, dark. Tens of meters above us, shots are being fired and explosions can be heard. A helicopter is hovering above us, projecting rays of light onto alleys where the municipality has never thought of installing street lights. Twenty activists cling to the walls, and keep going forward.

All of a sudden the alley comes to an end, and a battlefield lies ahead of us. The small street around Beit Hadvash is all strewn with rifle bullet casings, unexploded grenades and the parts of destroyed cars. The soldiers are standing in groups at the entrances to houses and on the balconies, shooting into the houses around them. Our group disperses immediately into various houses, among groups of locals gazing with despair at what is happening around them. I run after a Palestinian paramedic into one of the houses. Soldiers are hiding in the stairway, blocking us, and trying to prevent us from progressing. Eventually they let us pass, and we reach the wounded. The three storey house is full of tear gas. The windows are all shattered, their frames lying on the floor. We go up, floor by floor, scanning the apartments. In most of them, we find families huddled together, scared people, little children, women, and wounded people lying on the floor. In the living room of one apartment, a young girl is lying on a stretcher. For two hours she has been waiting to be evacuated, after the soldiers had prevented ambulances from moving in. And in the next room I can see a few little children sitting in front of the computer. That’s just the way it is here. Apartments, families, a life that has suddenly become hell. But some of those living here insist on going on with their lives.

The wounded are taken down, one by one, on stretchers, into the street. From here one still has to run quickly, a few hundred meters along the alleys, towards the ambulances on standby. During one of the “heats”, I fall behind, momentarily fearing the race between the gas grenades and the rubber bullets. And staying alone here is bad. I try to stay close to the wall, but it doesn’t seem to help. Two gas grenades land next to me. Godammit, they could have seen me just a second ago, they knew I was trying to evacuate the wounded. Not that it matters. Luckily, a few locals rescue me from that alley. After one hour, it’s all over. The soldiers withdraw towards the outskirts of the neighborhood, leaving behind a trail of devastation. A leaking water pipe, cars smashed by military jeeps and shooting, shattered windows and five wounded people. And tens of families who are about to sleep outside their tear gas flooded apartments, tonight too. And all this in the name of defending a house where nobody has ever lived, a house which, according to the owner’s claim, the settlers simply took over one day.

As we leave the neighborhood, escorted by our Palestinian friends, we know clearly that there is nothing left to do, except that which has already been done. Just as we have stood in Sheikh Jarrah until tonight, we shall stand in Silwan. And we shall return any time our presence is needed, until someone up there understands this obvious reality. This injustice, this folly, of settlement, especially in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods, must come to an end.

P.S  There is some comfort in seeing that this time the Israeli media did not ignore the events, thanks to the good work done by the solidarity activists.

Read the Physicians for Human Rights-Israel report on the violence here.

Watch a video of the police in Silwan.