House demolitions: ethnic cleansing in East Jerusalem

The Freedom Ride took a day off today, so Mary Brodin took a trip to East Jerusalem and the site of two house demolitions. Here’s her report:

Two houses were built on this site in Ash-Shayyah on the slopes of the Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem. One was demolished ten years ago, the other two weeks ago.

The land has been owned by the same Palestinian family for centuries but the Israelis have ruled that the current owner requires a permit to build as it is designated Area C (under full Israeli civil and security control since the Oslo Accords signed in 1995).

But only 5% of permit applications are successful and the process costs 200,000 shekels (£40,000).

bulldozer opt 1
The site in East Jerusalem housed two homes over the past ten years – both demolished by the Israelis

That makes it extremely difficult for Palestinians to build legally so they have no alternative but to build it ‘illegally’.

If they were to go through the legal channels the house has to be deemed part of a district Masterplan and the Masterplan for Ash-Shayyah is the demolition of hundreds of Palestinian homes to expand the Jewish cemetery.

So Palestinians have no option but to take the risk of building a house without a permit, not knowing when the demolition order will come.

Once demolition is notified it can take some years before it actually takes place, leaving the owners in a constant state of worry and insecurity. Meanwhile the homeowners are periodically fined 5,000 shekels (£1,000) making it a lucrative business to keep the house owner waiting.

house demolition rubble opt 1
What’s left of the family’s second home.

The Palestinian owners then have two options: demolish it themselves or an uncertain wait for the Israelis to do it for them – the latter being the best of a bad choice.

When the time comes no prior notice is given. The demolition crew typically arrive before 5am – backed-up by around 50 police officers despite knowing there will be minimum resistance.

The police surround the house, holding hands in a ring. The owners are given exactly 15 minutes to grab what they can and leave forcing them to leave most of their possessions behind.

To add insult to injury, the house owners are sent the bill for the bulldozer – 5,000 shekels (£1,000).

Israel demolishes about 200 homes in Area C each year.