Report: 44% spike in Palestinian home demolitions in Jerusalem

NGO Ir Amim says 104 housing units were demolished by the Israeli army in 2019, compared with 72 units a year earlier.

    Men watch as a Palestinian house is demolished by Israeli forces in Sur Baher village [File: Mussa Qawasma/Reuters]
    Men watch as a Palestinian house is demolished by Israeli forces in Sur Baher village [File: Mussa Qawasma/Reuters]

    Israeli authorities demolished homes in Palestinian areas of occupied East Jerusalem at a significantly higher rate in 2019 than the previous year, according to an Israeli advocacy group.

    In a new report, Ir Amim said 104 housing units were demolished in 2019 compared with 72 units in 2018. The 44 percent spike also ends what had been a decline in demolitions between 2016 and 2018.

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    Aviv Tatarsky, the Ir Amim researcher who wrote the report released on Wednesday, said the group found only 7 percent of housing units advanced by city planners last year were for Palestinian neighbourhoods. Palestinians make up about one-third of Jerusalem's population.

    "The situation in East Jerusalem has been very bad last year," he said.

    Israel says the houses demolished were built illegally and the destruction was court sanctioned. But Palestinians say they face a severe housing crisis fuelled by Israel's reluctance to issue building permits.

    "All the money that I've collected during the past years, I've spent it to build this house and in moments they destroyed it under the pretext that I didn't have a permit," said Mohammed al-Barzyan, a Palestinian whose house was demolished last year.

    "That was an unfair decision in terms of humanity, and with this decision a family of 18 people became homeless."

    'Massive development'

    According to Israeli rights group B'Tselem, Jewish neighbourhoods in occupied East Jerusalem, as well as the settlement blocs on its outskirts "enjoy massive development and substantial funding". However, Israeli authorities go to "great lengths to prevent development in Palestinian areas".

    In a statement, the Israeli municipality of Jerusalem said all of its "enforcement operations" are conducted according to the law.

    Occupied East Jerusalem has a Palestinian population of at least 370,000, and some 209,000 Israeli Jewish settlers.

    Israel captured East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 war, lands the Palestinian Authority wants for its future state. Israel annexed East Jerusalem that year in a move not recognised internationally and considers the entire city its capital.

    Shortly after capturing East Jerusalem, Israel expanded the municipal boundaries to take in large areas of vacant land on which it later constructed Jewish settlements, which are considered illegal under international law.

    At the same time, it sharply limited the expansion of Palestinian neighbourhoods, forcing many in increasingly crowded areas to build illegally.

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies