Jerusalem Municipality bulldozers demolished 14 houses being
built illegally in the Shuafat refugee camp near Pisgat
Zeev. Backed by several hundred border policemen and
security officials, municipal bulldozers took nearly four
hours to demolish the structures. It was the biggest
demolition campaign in the city's Arab neighborhoods in
The Arab owners of 25 uninhabited buildings under
construction in the neighborhood had received demolition
orders from city hall on Sunday. Mayor Ehud Olmert said the
structures had been built without permits. In the past 15
years Palestinians have built thousands of housing units in
the eastern part of Jerusalem without even applying for a
permit. Five Palestinians were reportedly hurt and several
were arrested. The homeowners had no chance to appeal with
such short notice.
Intermittently dozens of Palestinian residents, backed by a
group of far-left Israelis and human rights workers, threw
stones at police. At one point a group of screaming Arab
women lay down in the path of the bulldozers, only to be
removed by local residents.
Police also arrested four Israeli human rights activists and
a Palestinian resident for causing a disturbance.
"There is no reason to protect or defend criminals who are
breaking the law with their continued illegal building,"
Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert told Israel Radio, when asked
about the timing of the speedy demolitions, which came just
24 hours after the demolition orders were issued.
Olmert called the illegal building going on in the city "a
national plague" and stressed that no one was made homeless
by the demolitions. "We are not talking about poor people
who do not have a roof over their heads," he said. "We are
talking about houses that were being built lawlessly on
public lands, pathways and green areas, in clear-cut and
total violation of the law."
Left wing advocates cite official figures showing that far
more illegally built homes have been demolished in Arab
neighborhoods than in Jewish areas of Jerusalem. However,
even according to those figures, the 14 demolitions exceeded
the annual total of Arab homes wrecked by the city in recent
years. The number of illegal structures in Arab
neighborhoods far exceeds the number in Jewish neighborhoods
where city inspectors are much more active and halt
construction at earlier stages.
The Palestinian Authority called the demolitions "collective
punishment against the Palestinian people aimed at uprooting
it from its land."
Owners of the condemned homes complained they had been given
less than 24 hours' notice. Orient House lawyer Jawad Boulos
said he had tried since Sunday to stop the demolition
orders, but was unable to reach the responsible person in
Olmert denied discrimination in demolitions. "Just a week
ago, we demolished an illegal structure in the neighborhood
of Har Nof that served as a synagogue," he noted in his
radio interview. "This went unreported, because it's not
interesting, because it's not Arabs, and they have no
lobbyists among the Jews, and they don't have those who will
show up there to throw rocks at police."
The Jerusalem Municipality admits that it has no accurate
information about the extent of illegal building in East
Jerusalem; all it has are estimates. Each year approximately
500 violations of the building code are reported by
municipal inspectors each year as being "massive" meaning
building an entire house or several floors without a permit.
They guess that this is only about a quarter of the total
such violations in the eastern part of the city.
In February, then minister for Jerusalem affairs Chaim Ramon
said that over 20,000 building violations had been recorded
in East Jerusalem since the Six Day War. The municipality
estimates that about two-thirds of all construction in East
Jerusalem since 1967 has been done without a permit.
No master plans for Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem
were approved at all until 1983. Only in the mid-1980s --
when the wave of illegal building was at its height, and
Israeli planners began to realize that their previous policy
had been self-defeating -- were serious efforts made to
develop master plans for Arab areas. But by that point,
illegal building had covered wide areas, blocking the routes
of planned roads and effectively making proper planning
impossible for Jewish and Arab neighborhoods alike.
When the first Intifadah broke out in 1987, illegal
building, previously just a matter of necessity, also became
an act of political protest. As such, it was actively
encouraged by the Palestinian Authority when that came into
being in 1994. A recent study by the Jerusalem Institute for
Israel Studies found that hundreds and even thousands of
Arab apartments built illegally over the past few years were
in fact standing empty.