Israel demolishes two houses in occupied East Jerusalem

The number of Palestinian homes demolished by Israel in occupied East Jerusalem this year is 39, displacing 140 people.

Last year, a record 85 homes were demolished since documentation began in 2004 [File: Reuters]

Israeli forces have demolished two homes in different Palestinian neighbourhoods in occupied East Jerusalem, residents have told Al Jazeera.

The Israeli army arrived at Thaer Siyam’s newly-built house in Beit Hanina at 5am and razed it to the ground with a bulldozer.

Ismaeel Siyam, Thaer’s father, told Al Jazeera that he had built the house from wood so that the “Israeli occupation would not demolish it”.

The 40-sq metre house was uninhabited and sparsely furnished, and intended for Thaer to move in before he got married, Siyam said.

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A garden built around the house was also uprooted, he added.

“This is the fourth house in my family to be demolished,” Siyam said. “My own house was destroyed last October. Houses belonging to my daughter and my other son have also been demolished in the recent past.”

Siyam said that neither he nor Thaer received a demolition order from the Israeli-controlled Jerusalem municipality.

“We weren’t given a chance to submit the paperwork or find a lawyer to appeal the demolition order,” Siyam said.

“Last night, the Israeli army told us we did not have a building permit for the new house, and that it was subject to demolition. They didn’t tell us when. We woke up to find out that the house was destroyed.”

Residents, not citizens of Israel

More than 70 percent of East Jerusalem’s 324,000 Palestinian residents live under the poverty line. They hold permanent residency status in Israel and are required to pay taxes to the Israeli government, but are not considered citizens.

At 24sq metres a person, Palestinian neighbourhoods have a housing density that is almost double that of Jewish neighbourhoods. The situation has forced many Palestinians to build homes without obtaining a building permit.

Palestinian residents in East Jerusalem complain of a severe lack of municipal and civic infrastructure, including shortages of classrooms, water and power. Getting the approval of new building permits are very costly and are subject to a lengthy bureaucratic process.

According to Ir Amim, an Israeli left-wing non-profit organisation, Israeli policies in East Jerusalem, such as land expropriation and settlement-building, are tailored to prevent the growth of Palestinian communities in order to reach the desired 70:30 demographic ratio between Israeli Jews and Palestinians.

‘Not the first or the last to get our homes demolished’

In Jabal al-Mukabbir, located southeast of East Jerusalem, Hamza Shaloudi’s house was also razed to the ground.

“Twenty Israeli soldiers and police officers came barging through the front door at 9am with their dogs,” Shaloudi told Al Jazeera. “I only managed to stop them from going into my daughter’s bedrooms who were still sleeping.”

One of his two daughters, aged eight, suffers from partial paralysis.

The army rounded Shaloudi, his wife and two daughters and forced them to sit in their car, he said, adding that soldiers were placed on the rooftops of the neighbouring houses and the street was closed off.

“I asked them to wait until I managed to talk to my lawyer, but they immediately started demolishing the house along with our belongings and furniture still inside,” Shaloudi said.

His lawyer managed to obtain an order to stop the demolition, but when he showed the soldiers the copy, there were only two walls left standing, Shaloudi said. After a short while, they knocked them down, he said.

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Shaloudi said that a previous demolition order on his house had expired in June 2016 and that the order was not renewed.

“They arrived with no prior warning,” he said of the Israeli forces. “Now I’m staying with my side of the family, and I’ve sent my wife and kids to her family. I don’t know what we’ll do.”

We’re not the first or the last ones to get our homes demolished, he added wearily.

“This is the price Palestinians in Jerusalem pay for staying in the city,” he said.

A tale of two cities

According to the Israeli rights group, B’tselem, 39 Palestinian homes have been demolished by Israel in East Jerusalem since the beginning of the year, displacing at least 140 Palestinians.

Last year, a record 85 homes were demolished since documentation began in 2004. At least 331 people were left homeless as a result.

In contrast, Israel has approved the building of 1,500 settlement units this year in occupied East Jerusalem.

The demolitions happened on the same day that Human Rights Watch released a report about Palestinians living in Jerusalem being stripped of their residency status due to the “two-tiered system” that favours Jews over Palestinians.

The report said that since 1967, 14,595 Palestinians from occupied East Jerusalem have had their residence status revoked, causing displacement within the occupied territories and forced deportations when displacement takes place outside the country.

Source: Al Jazeera