Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Mosque and medical center demolished as the squeeze tightens on Al Tur


By Beth Staton - April 08, 2014
TAGS:
Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation] [Features]
Tags: [Jerusalem] [House Demolition]

Israeli bulldozers demolish a Palestinian family’s home in the al-Tur neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem, 26 March.

 (Saeed Qaq / APA images)
 
Another Palestinian building has been destroyed in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Al Tur. On Wednesday 26 March two apartments, a mosque and a medical center were demolished by Israeli authorities, directly affecting 24 people including a family of seven refugees.
 
Witnesses told Ma’an News Agency that bulldozers surrounded the building early Wednesday morning, and forcibly evacuated those inside before destroying the structure. The owner of the building, Ghadir Abu Ajram Abu Ghaliya, said he had tried to obtain permits for the building, without success, for more than 18 years. Today, the structure is a tangled mess of concrete and steel; a tent, which locals say temporarily housed the displaced residents, stands next to the ruins.
 
The incident prompted condemnation from the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator, James Rawley. “These actions cause unnecessary humanitarian suffering and increase tension,” he said. “Demolitions must halt until Palestinians have access to a fair planning and zoning regime that meets their needs.”
 
But this demolition is one of many, and criticisms from the like of Rawley have not stopped the bulldozers. Since the beginning of Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, more than 3,400  Palestinian structures have been destroyed. During the current, albeit failing, round of negotiations, the pace appears to have increased. According to OCHA, 298 people were displaced in the city in 2013, compared to 71 in 2012. Just three months into 2014, 85 Palestinians have already lost their homes to demolitions.
 
For the residents of Al Tur the numbers represent a painful and frightening reality. Like other East Jerusalem neighborhoods, such as Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah, the village has become a hotspot for home demolitions: last year, 136 people there were directly affected by nine demolitions of homes, businesses and public buildings. 
 
The problem is especially pronounced at the edges of Al Tur, where one resident indicated that at least four buildings had been demolished in the land adjacent to her home. One morning last February, she says, bulldozers arrived at 5 AM to destroy large areas of the hillside: today, the space is only occupied by temporary structures and rubble. 
 
Al Tur is not being targeted by accident. About 1 km from the Old City of Jerusalem, the village is home to 18,150 people as well as several historic and religiously significant sites. And crucially, it lies between Jerusalem and the West Bank: an area that Israeli planners call the 'Eastern Gateway’ to the city and regard as a corridor between West Jerusalem and settlements like Ma’ale Adumim. 
 
Establishing an Israeli presence in this area - and limiting Palestinian growth - is a crucial aspect of Israel’s efforts to control greater Jerusalem. In a 2010 paper, the pro-zionist Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs outlines a clear political rationale behind this. The “built-up Palestinian areas” in Jerusalem, it argues, should not be linked to those outside the city, as this would “reinforce the Palestinian demand to recognize the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem as a single contiguous entity.”
 
The Jerusalem Municipality’s plan for Al Tur and the neighboring village of Al Issawiya fits with this strategy. Plan 11092, approved in November, will establish a 'national park’ on some 741 dunums of land confiscated from Al Tur and Al Issawiya. This open space, planners say, will maintain “the religious and cultural significance of the site,” connecting the French Hill with the Old City. 
 
The reality for the Palestinians living in the village is not so palatable. “The confiscated area is the potential land for these two villages to expand,” says Rami Saleh, of the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Centre (JLAC). “This is land for new houses and public facilities, in an area where there is a real shortage of schools, medical centres and so on.”
 
In an area that is already overcrowded, obtaining building permits to develop new homes and infrastructure is nearly impossible: only a small proportion of applications to build are approved, and even if they are, the cost of 150,000 NIS (a little more than 43,000 USD) for a permit is prohibitively steep. As a result, residents in the area are left with no choice but to build without an Israeli provided permit. The widespread lack of paperwork that results from this situation is then used to justify demolishing Palestinian homes. 
 
The complex that was demolished on 26 March was directly adjacent to land confiscated in plan 11092. It’s one of many properties facing demolition orders in Al Tur and Al Issawiya, including around nine structures on the land where the national park is set to be established. 
 
The JLAC is using all avenues at its disposal to halt progress, but success is hard to come by. First, lawyers pushed for Plan 11092 to be translated into Arabic - the only language most of Al Tur’s residents can read.  The request was denied. But it did buy enough time to gather 230 objections to Plan 11092 from the people its implementation would affect most. 
 
The testimonies were delivered in a day long hearing in mid November last year. The results were disappointing. “The hearing lasted from midday until 9:30 PM, and there were hundreds of objections - not just from us,” the JLAC’s Rami Saleh told the Palestine Monitor. “But less than an hour after it ended, the media was already reporting that the plans for the park had been accepted. This shows the bias that exists in the Israeli legal system.”
 
The JLAC and the residents of Al Tur continue to challenge the 11092 plans in Israel’s court system. But as legal avenues continue to be exhausted, it becomes increasingly likely that the national park will go ahead as planned, and that more Palestinian buildings will be destroyed. 

“All of these initiatives are pieces of the Jerusalem puzzle that Israeli authorities are fitting together,” says Saleh. “And the aim is always to minimise the Palestinian population in the city.” 

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