To the backdrop of settlement announcements and peace talks, the Jerusalem Municipality is quietly going ahead with home demolitions in East Jerusalem. Palestinian media reports that on Monday, August 26th, the Jerusalem Municipality demolished two homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of A-Tur. The owner of one of the houses (home to 12 people) told journalists that he has been trying to get a permit for his home for 6 years and has paid thousands of dollars in fines (Palestinians who build without permits must pay huge fines in order to keep their houses standing while they fight to obtain a permit). For more details of that homeowner’s story, see Haaretz reporting on August 27: Jerusalem demolishes Palestinian home, family forced to move into a cave.
In addition, sources in Silwan report that this weekend, Municipality representatives were in the neighborhood handing out demolition orders and taking photos.
Earlier, on August 19th, Israel’s Ministry of Interior took action to evict a small Bedouin community in East Jerusalem. As reported by Btselem:
“On 19 August 2013, the Ministry of the Interior demolished all six residential structures of Tal ‘Adasa, a Bedouin community that numbers dozens, including many children. The community, part of the al-Ka’abneh tribe, lives within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries, close to the Palestinian town of Beit Hanina. In addition to the demolition, inspectors informed community members they have ten days to leave the area before being forcefully removed and ordered them to clear the demolition debris themselves. Otherwise, the members were told, they would be forced to pay tens of thousands of shekels to cover the cost of debris removal and stood to be arrested.”
As we have noted in the past, Prime Minister Netanyahu has, informally, the power to suspend home demolitions in East Jerusalem, if he so chooses – and if he is willing to stand up to pressure put on him by right-wing members of his coalition and Mayor Barkat (for example, here and here). During much of President Obama's first term, Netanyahu simply refused to allow for the allocation of border patrol details, without which demolitions could not take place – much to the consternation of Mayor Barkat. Current events, regrettably, give rise to concerns that Netanyahu has at present decided not to act in similarly – leaving the way clear for Mayor Barkat and Minister of Interior Gidon Saar to engage in actions that are guaranteed to inflame the situation on the ground.
Netanyahu’s current approach may indicate, as has been speculated, that his decision to suspend demolitions in the past was out of deference to (or fear of) Secretary of State Clinton, who was sensitive to the issue of demolitions. Indeed, demolitions resumed when she left office. It may also reflect his own calculations about domestic politics (e.g., he wants to avoid a public fight with Barkat et al over this issue). Regardless, the fact remains that Netanyahu has the power to prevent provocative acts, including home demolitions in East Jerusalem. When he chooses not to use this power, he cannot then evade responsibility for the provocative acts that ensue, simply by claiming, “But it wasn’t me!”