Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

20 Tammuz 5761 - July 11, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Major Demolition Effot in East Jerusalem
by Yated Ne'eman Staff

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 recent years.

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 the municipality.

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.


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