Forcing their Hand: Self-demolitions in East Jerusalem
By Sam Gilbert
Ziad Ameira was forced to demolish his East Jerusalem house last week in order to avoid the 73,000-shekel demolition cost leveled by the municipality. On Monday, 19 August, Ziad hired a bulldozer and truck, at a personal cost of 25,000 shekels, and destroyed his family’s home, thus ending a 15-year battle with the Jerusalem Municipal Court and adding to the increasingly common phenomenon of self-demolitions in East Jerusalem.
Ziad, an East Jerusalem native, told the Palestine Monitor about the events preceding the eventual self-demolition. "The house was built 15 years ago [on land Ziad owned], after 20 days people from the municipality came saying that the house had been built without a permit."
The family of eight was able to postpone the demolition by paying multiple fines and hiring lawyers to contest the court’s ruling.
"After 2 months we went to court and we had hearings for 2 ½ years. In the first verdict they gave me a fine of 35,000 shekels (500 shekels per month). After 2 ½ - 3 years, they made me pay other 27,000 shekels." After that Ziad hired a lawyer, "It was better to postpone everything by hiring a lawyer and paying him every year around 1000 dollars. Like this I gained every time one more year until I couldn’t afford it any more."
Israel’s discriminatory policies and practices in East Jerusalem, coupled with exorbitant permit costs (250,000—300 000 shekels) lead many Palestinian to build illegally. According to the United Nations Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2011 report, "at least 32% of all Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem lack building permits, meaning that some 93,100 residents are at risk of being displaced by having their homes demolished."
Ziad explains that for the 15 years leading up to the demolition, his family lived in constant fear of displacement. "It was difficult, we were constantly waiting. On every paper it was written that they could come and demolish the house at any time."
A continual process of Israeli land seizure compounds the difficulty and cost of attaining a permit. In East Jerusalem, 35% of Arab owned land in East Jerusalem has been expropriated for Israeli settlements. Another 54% of the Palestinian owned land has been designated "open green space," reserved for public purposes and forbidding Palestinian construction. This leaves 11% of East Jerusalem available for Palestinian construction, far below the needs of the 58% majority Palestinian population.
Palestinians destroying their own homes has become commonplace in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt). A report by the Palestine Counseling Center shows how this underreported policy of self-demolition is on the rise in the oPt, as Israel has attempted to shield itself from the internationally condemned practice that has seen the destruction of 28,000 Palestinian structures in West bank and East Jerusalem since 1967. For families the "choice" to destroy their own home comes down to economic considerations, as Israeli authorities use the threat of fines and fees if the family refuses to demolish their house. The fact that it is underreported has to do with the guilt of self-demolition in an area where staying put is an act of resistance itself.
Zaid explains the rise in the practice: " Some years ago it was not like this, the Israelis came and demolished the house themselves. Now it’s more common that the people demolish their own houses. People generally never leave Jerusalem. There are people that live here in tents now, but the Israelis don’t even allow them to live in tents or containers."
Demographic Polices-The quite transfer
The demolitions, land expropriations, and discriminatory zoning/planning projects reflect a demographic policy of transfer at work throughout historic Palestine. As a report from the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions stated in 2012, "These policies are political and racially informed: to either drive the Palestinians out of the country altogether (quite transfer) or to confine the four millions residents of the West Bank, East Jeruslaem, and Gaza to small crowded and impoverished and disconnected enclaves."
As Ziad says, "It is not conceivable that a person is forced to demolish his house with his own hands. Intelligence cannot accept this. This is racism."
Coveting the land without the people—this policy is at work on both sides of the Green line, from the Negev Bedouins in Israel, to the Palestinians in the Hebron Hills, to the thousands of families in East Jerusalem, more and more Palestinians continue to confront the prospect of homelessness.
Ziad and his family are victims of this policy. For him, the future is uncertain: "I can stay in my brother’s house for one month or two, but then I have to leave, he has a small house. I don’t have a plan now. I will go to buy a tent. And we will stay here, in this land. This is a problem, especially in the winter. And they don’t let you stay, even in a tent."
Yet only days after the trauma of loosing his home, Ziad is committed to his city. " We will stay here in Jerusalem, until we die. Despite it is clear that the Israelis are trying to push us out. In the West bank, the prices of the houses and the land are much cheaper. They want us to forget Jerusalem, to forget al-Aqsa, to forget everything. This is impossible. We were born and raised here. This is our country."