Posts Tagged ‘East Jerusalem’

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When a Family is Forced to Demolish their own Home…

July 5, 2010

Imagine building a home for your family with your own hands…putting your life savings into this house and planning a future in it for your children. Then one day, the authorities come and say that you have built your house illegally. Because of this, you must now pay a fine of thousands of dollars, and if you don’t want to pay thousands more, you must demolish your own house—leaving your family homeless.

This is the life of a Palestinian Jerusalemite.

Background on House Demolitions in Jerusalem

In 1999, the Israeli Ministry of Interior said that more than 20,000 homes in East Jerusalem (the mainly Palestinian area of Jerusalem) had been built illegally. Following this, the Municipality of Jerusalem issued 141 demolition orders that year.

Almost one hundred homes have been demolished since the Oslo Agreement was signed—causing hundreds of people to be displaced in Jerusalem.

Judaization of Palestinian Neighborhoods in East Jerusalem

The Israeli government is very clear that they want Jerusalem as the “eternal, undivided capital” of their Jewish state. This poses a major problem for the Christian and Muslim Palestinian residents who have been living for generations in homes now considered illegal.

“It was reported that at a meeting of the Jerusalem Regional Planning Committee, Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert has said that the most important task in the coming years was to increase the numbers of the Jewish inhabitants within the city limits. He had also said it was important to include ‘Green areas’ in the plan. He had made little mention of any particular vision to develop the eastern part of the city.” (Jerusalem Post, 21 October 1999)

Between 1967 and 1997, only 12% of all new buildings were in Palestinian neighborhoods while at least 40,000 housing units were constructed in the Israeli public sector for Israeli Jews living on expropriated land.

The Blue Line and Green Areas

Jerusalem Now

24.5 square kilometers (35% of the total annexed area of East Jerusalem—70 sq km) is expropriated land by Israel. In theory, this leaves 45.5 sq km for Palestinian use. However, the Israeli authorities get past this using several different techniques.

Only land within the “blue line” can be built on, however, most of the land within the blue line has already been built on. The “green area” is land set aside for environmental or recreational reasons.

In reality, this is a zoning tactic used by Israel to remove the land from Palestinian use and reserve it for future Jewish housing. How many “tourist parks” does one city really need?

Here is one example of this:

The Jabal Abu Ghneim neighborhood was initially defined as a green area to prevent the neighboring Palestinian villages of Sur Baher and Umm Tuba from expanding. It was later rezoned for residential construction for the new Jewish settlement of Har Homa.

In general, there are very different attitudes and conditions used by the Israeli authorities about planning in Palestinian and Jewish neighborhoods. For Jewish ones, the authorities tend to promote and assist as much as possible  so that they can settle as many people as possible on the available land. For Palestinians, it is the opposite. They are confronted with numerous obstacles and restrictions.

Difficulties in Building “Legally”

On average, according to the Jerusalem Center for Social and Economic Rights (JCSER) the Jerusalem municipality grants Palestinians only 150 building permits per year. In addition to all the other bureaucratic difficulties in obtaining these visas, they also cost 25,000 USD—an unaffordable sum to most Palestinian residents.

Because of these obstacles, there are an estimated 1400 houses inside the Old city that are in desperate need of renovation but cannot get the permits. Because of this and the natural population increase, large scale “illegal construction” is the result.

Double Standards

When a Palestinian builds or renovates without the proper permits, the Ministry of Interior and Jerusalem Municipality respond by imposing high fines and by carrying out house demolitions. These demolitions can take place within 24 hours—leaving Palestinians no opportunity to go to court to defend themselves.

There have been some demolitions in West Jerusalem (the Jewish part) but only of an extra room or porch—never a whole building like in Palestinian neighborhoods. JCSER estimated that 84% of building violations take place in the Jewish sector of Jerusalem. While Palestinians are responsible for 16% of building violations, more than 60% of the demolitions are carried out on Palestinian homes.

Table of Palestinian Homes Demolished in 2009

Table of Palestinian Homes Demolished in 2010

Forcing Palestinians to Demolish their own Homes

As families grow, the homes need to grow as well to accommodate them. So what happens when the Israeli authorities will not give out the necessary permits so that the families can add extensions? Or when they delay giving out the permit for months or years?

In these cases, many families decide to build without permits. In doing so, they risk demolition and thousands of shekels in fines. If the family does not demolish their own home, the Israeli authorities will do it—and then send the family a bill for the costs of the demolition—leaving the family homeless and broke.

Abu Shusha Family

Abu Shusha, his wife and five children live in Al Tour neighborhood in East Jerusalem. In order to accommodate his growing family, Abu Shusha decided to add a room to the house. Soon after, he received a demolition order from the Jerusalem municipality, along with a fine of 90,000 NIS (24,384 USD).

The municipality claims that the land on which the room was constructed is part of the “green area” and therefore no construction is allowed there.

Officials from the Jerusalem municipality and the Israeli Ministry of Interior came to Abu Shusha’s house to threaten his family. They informed him that if he doesn’t destroy the room himself in the next 24 hours, the municipality will destroy it and charge the family additional costs to cover the expenses of the demolition.

To add a twist to this story, the Abu Shusha family had just moved to Al Tour neighborhood from Sheikh Jarrah. Sheikh Jarrah is one of the most infamous neighborhoods of East Jerusalem because of the problems caused by Israeli settlers moving in, and forcing Palestinians out with house demolitions.

The policy of Judaization by the Israeli authorities had forced this family to move only to be forced to demolish part of their own house.

Legal Statement

According to Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Conventions, the destruction of property is prohibited. This means that the Jerusalem Municipality and the Israeli Interior Ministry, which adopted a policy of demolishing homes in East Jerusalem since its illegal annexation, violate the Geneva Convention.

On 24 November 2001, the UN Committee Against Torture stated Israel’s policy of demolishing Palestinian homes may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in breach of article 16 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which Israel ratified in 1991.

For more information, check out JCSER’s website at: http://www.jcser.org/

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Silwan Clashes

June 28, 2010

Palestinian protestors clashed with Israeli Border Police officers near Jewish settlements in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan yesterday.

What began as a confrontation between Palestinian residents and the settlers’ security guards escalated into a face-off between 150 Palestinians and Israeli Border Police officers. At the height of the clashes, the Israeli Border Police used teargas, rubber coated steel bullets, sound bombs, and reportedly even live ammunition against the Palestinian demonstrators and the boys who were throwing stones.

The Israeli Border Police shot teargas into Palestinian homes, breaking windows and injuring dozens of women and children with teargas inhalation, causing several to faint.

20 Palestinians needed medical attention for teargas inhalation, one Palestinian was reportedly injured by live ammunition, and several were hit with teargas canisters—all of whom had to be treated at the scene because the Israeli Border Police would not let the ambulances leave.

Several Border Police were injured by stones.

These clashes were a continuation of the demonstrations that began on Friday in response to the decision by the mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, to approve the demolition of 22 Palestinians homes in the Silwan area to make room for a tourist park.

On Friday afternoon, the Sheikh Jarrah protests (another Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem that is facing house demolition orders in order to make room for Jewish settlements) merged with the Silwan protests. Over 500 Palestinians, Internationals, and Israelis demonstrated against the demolition orders.

The neighborhood of Silwan is particularly contentious because it is located on top of the ancient remains of the 3000 year old City of David.  Israeli settlements have been built in the middle of this Palestinian neighborhood in an effort to slowly Judaize the area and Jewish development companies have funded archaeological digging in areas where Palestinian buildings once stood.

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Weekly Update: 2/14/10

February 14, 2010

PA Corruption Scandal

Well, there is a lot of things going on this week…the biggest news is this mass corruption scandal in the PA. Apparently the head of the anti-corruption office in the PA was fired over some petty fight and in reaction he gave a lot of information, tapes and video tapes to an Israeli group who should publicize one piece of corruption a day until Abbas and the PA get their act together and get rid of corruption.

They don’t think there’s anything in it about Abbas specifically but theres stories like someone in the PA in charge of buying land for a project …when he asked for money he put it in dollars instead of shekels (over one million) and kept the difference for himself. And of course there is supposedly a sex tape as well.

Sometimes I can’t decide who is better, Hamas or Fateh? Even though Hamas has its issues, it doesnt coordinate with Israel and it doesnt have the same level of corruption as far as I know. Maybe they would if they could…haha.

PA as Israel’s Enforcer in the West Bank

Anyways I was reading a book a friend of mine’s, Ahmed, brother wrote (half of their family is in Gaza, and he is the one who wrote the story “A story that needs to be told” thats in the ‘notes’ section on my facebook–its about their whole family being split between West Bank, Gaza, and England–without the chance to see eachother) The book–called Remember Gaza– was about the Gaza war. He wrote it from the perspective of someone who has family down there, and can only watch and wait.

Its a really powerful book and it reminded me of some weird things that went on at that time too. There were lots of demonstrations in Ramallah during the war and the PA security would always be there. At first I thought they were participating. But then I realized they were doing ‘crowd control’ to make sure it didnt get to the point where demonstrators went to any checkpoints to throw stones.

Ahmed was telling me the other day that he went with a big group of friends walking one night in the general direction of Beit El (a settlement on the outskirts of Ramallah). He said they were just going somewhere they could drink a beer without getting in trouble (theres lots of fields and land between the settlement and the city).

On the way, some PA army guys came over to them and asked them if they were going to throw stones at the settlement. They said no…but the soldiers kept interrogating them and saying “shame on you for going to throw stones!”. Then they arrested the kids and beat them up a little bit in the police station! This is the PA. And thats why everyone thinks they are collaborators with Israel, Israel’s puppet.

Even my friend who is a captain in the PA is getting fed up with the PA—because after that last incident where the IDF came and assassinated 3 men in Nablus who were at some point associated with the Al Aqsa brigades (but had nothing to do with the settler stabbing)–the PA basically arrested Wajdi and anyone else who was ever associated with the Al Aqsa brigades. They wouldnt let him leave Al Muqata or talk to anyone on the outside. So he just wants to finish the PA now…

“Terrorist Attacks”

There were a couple of “terrorist” attacks on soldiers this week. One for sure was real–a man stabbed a soldier while he was sitting in his jeep. He was arrested afterwards. Then the checkpoints went up all over the West Bank…ha.

A day or two later, there was another supposed attack. But in this case theres no injured or dead soldier, just a dead Palestinian. So I think maybe it was a random revenge attack….because there is usually at least one person killed at a checkpoint ever few weeks. And usually the eyewitness accounts dont match the Israeli official report. Hmmm….?

Bil’in

In Bil’in this week all of the villagers wore Avatar masks to the wall–because in the movie the aliens planet was being colonized by the humans. They are so funny and creative in Bil’in. And next week is their 5 year anniversary of the protests. So I will be going back to Bil’in next Friday for sure…

Nabe Saleh

I went again to Nabe Saleh even though its getting crazier and crazier. But we had a car this week from a friend and everyone wanted to go there instead of Bil’in so I caved to peer pressure, hahaha. Anyways, it was so strange this week.

Since Nabe Saleh started protesting, the Israelis have been setting up new temporary checkpoints around the West Bank and blocking the main roads that go to villages that protest. So we always have to drive for an extra 20 or 30 minutes to get to Nabe Saleh, which is like 15 minutes from Ramallah. Its funny, on the way back from the protest we drive for about 20 minutes and then come around the bend right in front of Nabe Saleh, again. Hahaha….its ridiculous.

So anyways, we drove into the village and there were no soldiers anywhere. We all have teargas masks now–thanks to Israels policy of giving out gasmasks to everyone outside the Green Line–which includes some friends of mine (Palestinian) who loaned them to us. Hahaha…..so ironic!

We waited for the protestors to come down from the center of the village and I watched from my spot at the gas station as they marched down the road way past where the soldiers usually stop them. Now we were confused! hahaha, what do we do if there are no soldiers? We win???

So they all marched off the road down a valley to get to their land–which is the purpose of the protest–to get to their spring that the settlers took over a month ago.

My roommate and I climbed on the mountain overlooking the valley where they were marching in the direction of the settlement across the highway. On the opposite mountain, there were about 30 settlers sitting and watching the protest. At first they were marching down the hill and we thought they were going to clash with the Palestinians, but instead they ended up making a BBQ. ha.

So the army jeeps pull up on the highway…cars are still driving by through all of this. The villagers make it to the highway but the soldiers stop them from crossing it by shooting LOTS of teargas, the teargas cannon, rubber coated steel bullets and soundbombs.

After a while, the border police drive up in vans for arresting protestors and taking them away. Luckily, no one got arrested!

Eventually, half of the jeeps drove back to the bottom of the road leading out of the village where there is a small checkpoint and watch tower–a little further down than where the protest usually happens on that road.

Then most of the protestors in the valley by the highway moved back up to the road and split the protest in half. After that, we walked back and did a few interviews with some villagers in their house. This family owns some of the land that was confiscated by the settlers. They said one day they went to their land and the settlers were on it making a BBQ and swimming in the spring. The Palestinians asked them what they were doing there and they said, “Oh we just want to swim in the spring sometimes”.

The next time they went to their land the settlers were there again, with shovels–pretending to work on the land. The Palestinian who owned the land asked them to leave. And the settlers came at him with the shovels and threatened to hit him. After that, the settlers were a constant presence at the spring and the villagers can’t use it anymore.

The ‘father’ of their family, because they are the ones who own the land and have the most to be angry about, is not allowed to be in the village at all on Friday afternoons. Hes 60 years old. And the IDF comes to take him somewhere else every Friday.

Its such a messed up situation.

I had some really good videos from the protest but unfortunately I got robbed Friday night in Jerusalem. Someone took my wallet, camera, mp3 and maybe some other things I havent realized yet…

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Weekly Update:

February 8, 2010

 NONVIOLENT PROTESTS:

 Nabe Saleh

 So last Friday in Nabe Saleh it was pandemonium. The villagers blocked all the roads into the village so that the Israeli army jeeps couldn’t enter the village. The demonstration started out very violent—the soldiers shooting tons of teargas and rubber coated steel bullets. Before long, the boys from the village were throwing stones. Then the Israeli army called in the Border Police.

 The Border Police are called in when the army expects a lot of arrests to be made. They are also a more violent version of the soldiers who are usually stationed at the protests. My roommate Lazar said he saw one of the border policemen shooting rubber coated steel bullets like a machine gun at the kids while screaming and yelling like Rambo—completely enjoying himself. All that was missing from that picture was the “born to kill” written across his helmet like some of the soldiers have.

 The soldiers were spread out on a road that leads to the village while the boys and other demonstrators were on the hill that sits over the road. Lazar was taking photos with a few other press guys (wearing the bright press vests) about 50 meters away from the closest boys throwing stones. For some reason, the soldiers decided to shoot him in the head with a rubber coated steel bullet. Now, although it has “rubber” in the name, this bullet is metal and the size of a large marble. It has a paper thin coating of rubber over it—that’s the Israeli’s version of rubber bullets I guess.

 If one of them hits you in the head, you will either be severely injured with likely brain damage, in a coma, or dead. My roommate Lazar, for the entire year he has been here in Palestine and going to these weekly demonstrations, has never invested in a helmet. He has a gas mask and a borrowed bullet proof vest but never found a helmet—until a few days before last Friday’s protest. He bought a plastic construction helmet for 25 shekels (8 dollars). And it saved his life!

 Later during the protest, Lazar was talking to a friend of ours, Ahmed, in the field behind the boys throwing stones at the soldiers—who were shooting at the boys with rubber coated steel bullets, teargas, soundbombs, and some live ammunition. As he was chatting with Ahmed, another rubber coated steel bullet hit him in the stomach. Luckily, he was too far from the soldiers for it to do much damage. But it was definitely a dangerous day to be at Nabe Saleh.

 About a dozen were hit with rubber coated steel bullets on Friday, none serious. One boy was hit 5 times!

 (For pictures from Nabe Saleh this week, look on Palestinemonitor.org)

 Bil’in

 In Bil’in, the demonstration is a lot smaller now because of the arresting campaign the Israelis have carried out against the village. Over 40 boys and men have been arrested so far for “participation in an illegal demonstration”. Ha. What’s illegal is the settlement Israel built on their land. What’s illegal is the wall the Israelis built on their land, and to steal land.

 The court decision that was made when Bil’in brought their case to the Israeli Supreme Court and won looks like its finally going to be at least partially carried out. They won another 100 meters of their own land back a couple years ago in that court. But so far, the Israeli government has not acquiesced to that decision and has kept up construction on the existing route.

 One of the guys from Bil’in that everyone told us was a spy got arrested the other day by the Israelis. Don’t know why that happened? He was always in the front of the demonstration throwing stones at the soldiers, never taking cover or running away when they started shooting—it was so obvious that he was a spy. And he was never arrested even when all the others who regularly went to the protests were arrested—especially being in the front of the demo all the time where soldiers can easily take his picture and arrest him later. So, he will probably be kept for a few days, maybe weeks, then released. It could be a game by the Israelis to make the village trust him again, or it could be he wouldn’t cooperate with them anymore.

 Ni’lin, Al Masara

 Dozens were injured by teargas but there were no serious injuries.

 International Solidarity Movement (ISM) Arrests

 The ISM is an organization that was created at the beginning of the Second Intifada to get internationals over here to witness what was happening to the Palestinian people. At the beginning, they were a valuable group for Palestine because they would go and actually live in villages being oppressed by the Israeli military and see things first hand.

 However, now, the ISM people mostly gravitate towards the areas with the most “action” and where they have the greatest chance to fight with Israeli soldiers. For many of them, getting arrested or deported is a status thing—and its like a game to them to see how many times they can get arrested until they get deported. After that, they change their names and come back through Israel with a new passport.

 They chain themselves to olive trees and generally just increase the violence and anger from Israeli soldiers in any given situation. So now, I would say they are doing more harm than good—which would be different if they followed stricter rules on what they are allowed to do here.

 Anyways, there are a lot of them in the West Bank who have expired visas now because they know if they try to leave and come back on a new visa, the Israelis have their names and pictures from times when they were chained to olive trees and such so they have no chance of renewing their visa. So instead, they stay in the West Bank as long as they can.

 The Israelis have caught on to this—first by arresting ISM people at protests and looking at their passports and seeing they don’t have visas—unlike the rest of us who have jobs here and either have work visas or leave every three months to renew our ‘tourist visas’. Now the Israeli military has taken it so far as to raid Ramallah in the middle of the night to arrest these ISM people with expired visas.

 Last night they raided the Ramallah ISM office and arrested two ISM people—one from Spain and one from Australia. They will probably be detained for a few days then deported and banned forever from Israel (and thus Palestine).

 Al-Shufat Refugee Camp Arrests

 The Israeli military raided Al Shufat Refugee Camp—a camp on the outskirts of East Jerusalem that holds 25,000 Palestinians who were driven from their homes in Jerusalem. The military arrested up to 60 people from the camp—most with political affiliations and some that the Israelis claim were ‘wanted.’

 Goldstone Report

 Israel once and for all dismissed the Goldstone Report “without apology.” They have won, because of the American veto on UN actions. So now, they will most likely get away with all the war crimes and murders of innocent men, women and children in Gaza. And they didn’t even apologize. Ha.