Sunday, November 19, 2017

Surge in East Jerusalem home demolitions leaves Palestinian children sleeping rough

Juicebox Gallery

By Matt Matthews - November 24, 2016
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Section: [Main News] [In Pictures] [Features]
Tags: [demolition] [Jerusalem]

Mohammed Jaabees reclined on a sofa among the rubble of what was once a four-storey home, housing 30 Palestinians.
 
“The municipal authorities kept trying to pay me off and I said no, no,” said the unemployed 32-year-old. “So eventually they said I was going to pay.”
 
Like an estimated 20,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem, Mohammed was unable to secure planning permission for his apartments in the Wadi Hilweh district. So the Israeli authorities offered him a choice: pay 150,000 shekels for a fleet of bulldozers, laborers and armed guards, or take it apart himself, brick by brick.
 
Now the building Mohammed helped to build with his own hands is gone, and the four families who shared it sleep rough under a fly-blown tarpaulin.
 
An icy November wind already laced through the debris: it was cold enough sitting there with a cup of coffee at midday, let alone for Mohammed’s preschool-aged children in the night.
 
“I had to demolish my own home,” he said. “And doing it destroyed me.”
 
Palestinians living in the Holy City are facing an escalating campaign of home demolitions and evictions.
 
Per the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Israeli home demolitions across occupied Palestine have shot up by 150% since last year – and these demolitions have been concentrated in East Jerusalem.
 
Over 180 households in East Jerusalem are currently scheduled for further demolition. More than 800 Palestinian Jerusalemites, and nearly 400 children, are living under immediate threat of homelessness as the bitter winter months come round.
 
East Jerusalem is seen as the only viable capital for a future Palestinian state but is currently under Israeli occupation, in defiance of international condemnation. This means building permits are difficult or impossible for Palestinians to come by, as Israeli authorities and settler organizations seek to tighten their illegal grip on the land.
 
Even if a permit is granted, it can cost up to 300,000 ILS ($80,000), a sum unaffordable for the 82% of East Jerusalemites who live below the poverty line. It can take several years to secure authorization, and only 7% of permits granted go to the Palestinian 40% of the Jerusalem populace.
 
Up to 39 per cent of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem therefore lack formal building permits, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel reports.
 
Few of the tourists gliding from the Western Wall to Bethlehem in sterile, air-conditioned coaches can be aware they are pawns in a one-sided propaganda war against these Palestinian home-owners.
 
Saher Abbasi, 41, works in a culture centre in the Wadi Hilweh district of Silwan. Her office, plastered with Polaroid photos of abuses by the Israeli forces, is dwarfed alongside the City of David tourist site.
 
As she explained to the Palestine Monitor, the National Park land there is operated by settler organization Elad to peddle Zionist propaganda and force Palestinians off their land on flimsy pseudo-archaeological pretexts.  “We are not talking about history or heritage, we are talking about compulsory transfer,” she said.
 
“Silwan is considered to be a green area, and so we’re not allowed to build, but we have existed in this area since before 1967,” she continued. “They say it’s a natural park – but it’s natural for us that our families grow, and we want to expand our houses.”
 
And as Saher emphasized, Elad’s stated aim of Judaising the city by driving out Arabs and parachuting in settlers only follows the official policy of the municipal council.
 
The Israeli authorities are intent on artificially creating and maintaining a 70% to 30% split between Jewish and Arab inhabitants, in the face of high Arab and low Israeli birth rates.
 
Saher cited the 2020 Master Plan, a policy document which spells out the land grabs, expansion of Israeli neighbourhoods and concomitant obstruction of Arab population growth necessary to achieve this goal. The policy, in the view of many commentators, is quite simply ethnic cleansing.
 
Saher said the policy of Judaisation made her scared for her future: “In Wadi Hilweh there are 6000 Palestinians and 250 settlers. So how are they going to change it in just four years?” she asked. “I don’t want to think about it. I’m also going to lose my house, and so are my parents, my relatives…”
 
While there are of course many more Jewish people in West Jerusalem, across the city as a whole Arab population growth will outstrip growth among Jewish Israelis up to 2020 and beyond – unless the government intervenes with more demolitions.
 
The current spate of demolitions –125 this year alone – comes at a time when Israeli claims to Palestinian land are waxing.
 
If the hotly-contested destruction of the illegal West Bank settlement Amona goes ahead, city mayor Nir Barkhat has threatened “hundreds or thousands” of retributive demolitions in East Jerusalem. But if a bill pushed through by hard-right cabinet members tolegalise illegal West Bank outposts is passed, and Amona survives, settler organizations such as Elad are likely to capitalize on the political moment to seize more Palestinian land.
 
Donald Trump’s ambassador-in-waiting to Israel, Mike Huckabee, intends to move his embassy from the seat of government in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. No other country has its embassy in the city, but Huckabee is a Christian Zionist who has held fund-raisers in illegal settlements and views the West Bank as a part of Israel.
 
These coinciding rightward lurches in Israeli and American politics mean the current surge in demolitions is likely to continue unabated.
The brunt of this shift will be borne by ordinary Palestinians like Mohammed, or his aged father.
 
Straightening up stiffly from making du’aa’ on a tatty piece of carpet, he introduced himself as 65-year-old Obaidef.
 
“I have high blood pressure,” he said, tapping his wizened vein. “And there are 12 children sleeping out here. It’s hard, but what alternative do we have?”

 

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