Al Jazeera has documented the terrible effect on Palestinian families in this special interactive project.
Hundreds of Palestinians in the Jabal al-Mukaber area of occupied East Jerusalem say they are living in a state of anxiety and fear as Israeli occupation authorities begin excavations for the “American road” project, set to be built on the ruins of their homes.
The road that constitutes only one section of a larger highway, titled al-Touq, will cut through East and West Jerusalem, with the unstated aim of connecting illegal Israeli settlements north, south, and east of the city. It is set to bridge between the West Bank settlements of Har Homa and Maale Adumim, passing through Jerusalem.
The Israeli municipality’s planning and construction committee introduced al-Touq road scheme in Jerusalem a decade ago. The completed highway will run a length of more than 11km, with a width of about 70 metres.
To build the road, the Jerusalem municipality will confiscate approximately 1,200 dunams (300 acres) of Palestinian land in at least 12 Palestinian neighbourhoods within Jabal al-Mukaber.
Construction for the “American road” section of the project has already commenced in the Salaa neighbourhood of Jabal al-Mukaber, stirring fears among residents.
“We are living in a state of perpetual fear,” said Mohammad al-Sawahra, a resident of Salaa. “It’s as if we are living in [two different worlds]. In Palestinian areas, it is like living in the third world, while those living in settlements built on the land of Jabal al-Mukaber are offered a life of comfort like first world countries,” al-Sawahra told Al Jazeera.
A month ago, Al-Sawahra received a demolition order for his home to make way for the new road. “Now, they want to build a road on the ruins of my home for themselves, as well,” he added.
About 57 homes, housing 500 Palestinians, will be demolished for the completion of the “American road”, according to Raed Basheer, a lawyer with the Committee of Defence for Jabal al-Mukaber properties.
“We were surprised to hear about the project, which will be 32 metres wide, with an additional 32 metres on the sides to allow for the light rail. All of the homes, both old and new, standing in the way of the road, will be demolished,” Basheer told Al Jazeera.
“In response to this plan, we reached out to the Israeli municipality in Jerusalem and managed, with difficulty, to obtain an extension on the house demolition orders for five years, provided that we submit a request every year to extend the demolition orders. But, still, we do not know whether we will be allowed to remain in our homes over the next five years.”
Suhad Bishara, a lawyer with the Haifa-based Adalah legal centre, said that the map for the planned project indicates that the road will serve only Israelis and Israeli settlements.
The plan will wipe out all the roads that connect the Palestinian neighbourhoods of Jerusalem together, turning the areas into islands that will be geographically and economically disconnected, making it difficult for Palestinians to access their schools and health centres, she told Al Jazeera.
Nabeel Basheer, another resident of Salaa, described the al-Touq scheme for the city as deceptive. “It [the project] is being promoted as a one that will benefit the Palestinians of East Jerusalem, without mentioning of the fact that it will entail the demolition of homes, and its ultimate goal of connecting the settlements,” he told Al Jazeera.
Israel frequently uses home demolitions to control and punish Palestinians living under its occupation in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Since 1967, when Israel occupied the Palestinian territories, at least 48,000 Palestinian homes and housing structures have been demolished.
The reasons that the Israeli state gives to the homeowners vary – from building without permits to punishment for an attack.