East Jerusalem: Emerging Patterns

Building legally (i.e., with the required building permits issued by Israeli authorities) is virtually non-existent as an option for Palestinians living in East Jerusalem. The numbers tell the story:

  • In 1967, there were 69,000 Palestinian residents in East Jerusalem, living in 12,600 housing units.
  • In 2016, there are more than 320,000 Palestinian inhabitants in East Jerusalem, living in 55,000 housing units.
  • Since 1967, the Jerusalem municipality issued only about 4,000 construction permits, which, roughly estimated, covers about 10,000 housing units.
  • This means that more than 38,000 out of the 55,000 Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem were built illegally – and that more than 50% of the Palestinian population of East Jerusalem lives under constant threat of seeing their lives/homes destroyed with little notice and less resource (to better understand the issue, see our Layman’s Guide to Jerusalem Home Demolitions). Many homes have pending demolition orders for years; other Palestinians simply live with the risk that such an order will be delivered and eventually executed.

Within this context, we have identified emerging patterns in the way the Israeli government has intensified home demolitions in East Jerusalem. These patterns fall broadly into two categories: punitive demolitions and agenda-driven demolitions.

  • Punitive demolitionsinvolve the destruction of the homes belonging to the families of Palestinians who have engaged in terrorism against Israelis, as a form of collective punishment aimed at “deterring” others from undertaking such acts. Punitive demolitions also include destruction of homes and in areas perceived as particularly hostile to Israel (like in Issawiya, following clashes and rock throwing), as a form of collective punishment aimed at teaching the inhabitants of the area the lesson that their resistance to occupation carries a high cost.
  • Agenda-driven demolitionsinvolve the destruction of Palestinian homes that, due to their location, stand in the way of settlers’ plans and ambitions, and due to lack of permits or construction violations, are vulnerable to demolition orders at any time.

Punitive demolitions often grab headlines – both for the controversial nature of collective punishment itself, and for the evident double-standard of justice imposed by Israel, which in no case demolishes the homes of Israelis who have committed acts of terror. And the number of punitive demolitions has significantly increased with the wave of terror attacks and popular uprising witnessed in Jerusalem since last year

At the same time, it is equally if not more important to pay attention to agenda-driven demolitions – whose scope and intensity disclose a great deal about the intentions and concrete plans of the settlers and their allies in the government, as they seek to increase the settlers’ hold in the targeted areas in order to prevent any two-state solution and guarantee, instead, that these areas are a permanent part of Israel. Following the same logic, these targeted areas are often those in which evictions or expropriations of Palestinian homes and lands have become a routine, to allow government-backed settlers to move in.

Specifically, we have seen the following developments in the last months:

Methodical destruction of Bedouin homes in E-1. On an almost monthly basis, the government of Israel has been destroying structures in Bedouin communities located in and adjacent to East Jerusalem, in the area connecting Maale Adumim to E-1. Based on the figures published by OCHA, since January, approximately 38 structures were demolished in that area. Does this mean that the government is laying the ground for construction in E-1? As we reported in December 2015, the Ministry of Housing is in the process of updating/expanding pending plans for initial construction in E-1. While this process does not necessarily mean that a decision to proceed with E-1 construction has been made, the forcible displacement of Bedouins from E-1 is a worrying sign that the government of Israel is going ahead with preparing the area for that next step. For more, see:  OCHA (18 May 2016): Humanitarian Coordinator calls on Israeli authorities to stop destruction of humanitarian aid and respect international law; OCHA (8 April 2016): OCHA Flash Update – Multiple demolitions across Area C in the West Bank with 124 people displaced; OCHA (19 January 2016): UN officials call for an immediate revocation of plans to transfer Palestinian Bedouin in the Jerusalem area

Demolition orders in Silwan (Bustan), settlement approvals in Silwan (Batan al Hawa) . In April 2016, Israel issued 30 stop work and demolition orders in the Silwan’s neighborhood of Al Bustan – where the Municipality of Jerusalem has plans to build a tourism complex. Two additional demolition notices were delivered at the end of May.

Demolition orders in Al-Walaje. Al-Walaje is a Palestinian village located on Jerusalem’s southern boundary – as in, Jerusalem’s municipal border goes through the middle of the village (for excellent background on the village, see this Btselem report). Notably, the entire village is on the Palestinian side of the Israel’s separation barrier. Also notably, Israel views a huge amount of the construction in the village as illegal (because of the village’s unique circumstances/location, approval of planning for construction and permits has been virtually impossible for decades – for more, see here). Since the beginning of 2016, Israel has started to issue demolition orders in the village; in April, three homes there were demolished. These demolitions could be punitive, since residents have been engaged in active efforts to oppose the disconnection of Al-Walaje from its agricultural lands and water resources and confiscation of lands located in the Cremisan valley, as a result of the construction of the fence.  However, given the broad consensus across Israeli political spectrum that areas located beyond the fence in Jerusalem will not be part of Israel, it is still difficult to make sense of the demolitions in Al-Walaje, which are taking place following a period of relative lax enforcement by Israel against illegal construction in the village. Thus, these demolitions should be monitored closely, as they appear to signal a shift of policy whose objectives are not fully clear. For more, see: +972: Jerusalem demolishes Palestinian homes beyond the wall for first time; Haaretz: Palestinian Villagers Tilled Their Land So Well, Israel Is Now Confiscating It From Them

Takeover in the Old City/Muslim Quarter: On May 9, a group of settlers took over a six-unit apartment building in the Al-Sadia neighborhood of the Old City’s Muslim Quarter (between Damascus Gate and Herod’s Gate). This area is reportedly a new focus of the settlement organization Ateret Cohanim. Read more here.

Settler-related Developments in Sheikh Jarrah: In Sheikh Jarrah, construction is ongoing of the new offices for Amana – the company behind many of the settlements and outposts established across the West Bank. A report last month by Peace Now (and subsequently covered in detail in Haaretz) laid out in detail the murky and legally dubious manner in which the land for the new Amana HQ was expropriated from its Palestinian owners and handed over to the settler group. The sordid tale offers powerful insights into the way business is conducted in East Jerusalem – i.e., that successive Israeli governments have routinely and systematically both looked the other way and acted in violation of the law in order to further the interests of the settlers, and that, when caught, Israeli courts have failed to provide a fair legal remedy. In addition, On 5/17, a Jerusalem court ruled in favor of a Jewish right of return to properties in Shiekh Jarrah. The court ruled that Palestinian residents of three East Jerusalem properties must vacate the premises, based on the fact that the properties were owned by Jews before 1948. Also see this report from Maan (Palestinian news outlet).