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2019 Demolitions

What is affected
Housing Private
Type of violation Forced eviction
Date 01 January 2019
Region MENA
Country Palestine
City Jerusalem

Affected persons (number & composition)

Total 667
Men 0
Women 0
Children 342
Your solution

Israeli house demolitions spiked in 2019 compared to previous years

Planning Policy in the West Bank


06 January 2020


Israel demolished a record number of homes in East Jerusalem in 2019, also setting a record for homes demolished by their own owners on Israel’s orders. The number of homes Israel demolished in the rest of the West Bank, both over permit issues and as a punitive measure, also spiked in the past year.


East Jerusalem


In 2019, Israel demolished 265 structures in East Jerusalem.


According to B’Tselem figures, Israel demolished 169 housing units in East Jerusalem in 2019 –more than in any year since 2004, when B’Tselem started keeping records. The demolitions have left 328 Palestinians homeless, 182 of them minors. In 42 cases, the homeowners demolished their own houses to avoid the hefty levies the city collects for demolitions it carries out itself. This is the highest number of self-demolitions B’Tselem has recorded since it began keeping track.


Additionally, 96 non-residential structures were demolished in East Jerusalem in the past year, 13 of them by the owners and the rest by the city.


Palestinians in East Jerusalem are effectively left with no choice but to build without permits as a direct result of Israeli policy which makes it practically impossible for them to obtain building permits. Israel uses this policy to further its goal of perpetuating a Jewish majority in Jerusalem. One of the way in which it pursues this goal is by making life in the city unbearable for Palestinian residents, in a bid to push them to leave their homes, ostensibly of their own free will.


From the beginning of 2004 until the end of 2019, the Jerusalem Municipality demolished 978 housing units in East Jerusalem, leaving 3,177 people homeless, including 1,704 minors. In addition, from the beginning of 2012, when B’Tselem began recording demolitions of non-residential structures, to the end of 2019, the municipality demolished at least 413 such structures.


West Bank


In 2019, Israel demolished 256 structures in the West Bank.


According to B’Tselem figures, Israel demolished 106 housing units in 2019, more than it did in both 2017 and 2018. The demolitions have left 349 Palestinians homeless, including 160 minors.


The Civil Administration also demolished 150 non-residential structures in the West Bank this year.


Israel uses its planning system in the West Bank to block Palestinian development and dispossess Palestinians of their land. Palestinians have virtually no chance of obtaining a building permit, even for their privately owned land. With no hope of obtaining a permit and building in keeping with Israeli law, Palestinians are forced to develop their communities and build their homes without permits. As a result, they live with the constant threat of seeing their homes and businesses demolished. This Israeli policy, which has been repeatedly upheld by the country’s Supreme Court, is based on the concept that land in the West Bank should primarily serve Israeli needs and interests, while the needs of the Palestinians are never considered.


From 2006, when B’Tselem started recording these figures, until the end of 2019, Israel demolished at least 1,525 Palestinian housing units in the West Bank. At least 6,660 people were left homeless as a result, including at least 3,342 minors.


Israel repeatedly demolishes homes in communities it refuses to recognize, and which are at risk of expulsion. From 2006 to the end of 2019, Israel demolished the homes of at least 1,069 Palestinians, 511 of them minors, more than once.

During the same time, the Civil Administration demolished 779 non-residential structures in the West Bank (including fences, water cisterns, roads, storage facilities, agricultural structures, businesses, public buildings, and other structures).


Punitive demolitions


In 2019, the military demolished 14 housing units as a punitive measure. These demolitions left 36 people, including 15 minors, homeless. Punitive house demolitions have also increased compared to the previous two years: Israel demolished nine housing units as a punitive measure in 2018, and seven in 2017.


This policy is immoral and constitutes collective punishment, which is prohibited under international law. Nevertheless, the justices of the Supreme Court repeatedly dismiss petitions brought by Palestinians against these demolitions, relying on an unreasonable interpretation of international law and acceptance of the state’s arguments, including the claim that the policy is meant as a deterrent rather than a penalty - even though this claim has never been proven.



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Brief narrative

‘My dream was destroyed’: Home demolitions soar in East Jerusalem


A spike in both home demolitions and settlement building in East Jerusalem is forcing Palestinians out of their houses — and jobs.


Judith Sudilovsky, +972 mag 


25 November 2019


On November 5, Muatasem Abbasi became a statistic.


His home in Silwan, which he shared with his parents, joined the ranks of the 155 Palestinian houses in East Jerusalem the Jerusalem municipality has demolished so far this year, as of November 14. The reason: it had been built without a permit.


Abbasi, whose home was built in 2011, said they had been trying to get a building permit for years. Two years ago, city inspectors came to look at the house and then went away. He was not aware of any demolition order against his house.


February he was fined NIS 80,000 for building without a permit and has been paying the municipality in monthly installments of NIS 1,300.


On the morning of November 5, Abbasi, 30, had left for work. His 23-year-old wife, Bara’a Obaid, was home alone with their two toddlers when the police arrived. His parents were in their home on the second floor of the building.


“They knocked on the door and told me to open up,” recalled Obaid. “I asked them to wait a moment so I could cover my hair but they didn’t let me close the door and they came inside. They gave me five minutes to get dressed and dress my children. They didn’t let me take anything. They threw our things from the window. I asked from them a number of times for a little bit of mercy but they didn’t give me any.”


With the help of family and friends, the couple was able to gather a few pieces of clothing and rescue a white living room set from the rubble of the home. For the next month they are staying in an unused apartment Abbasi’s uncle built on top of his own home for one of his sons, in a crowded neighborhood near the Mount of Olives.


Their grandmother bought the children some new clothes so they would have something to wear, and Abbasi’s parents went to live with his older brother.


“For five years we lived together in our house, nobody bothered us and we didn’t bother anybody. We were in our house and our children ran outside and the only thing we heard was their laughter,” said Obaid. “All day now my son remembers how the police destroyed our house.”

A 15-year High in Home Demolitions


According to B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights NGO, Israeli authorities have demolished more East Jerusalem Palestinian homes in 2019 than in any single year since 2004. For the past 15 years, an average of 54 residential units a year were demolished.


There has also been a marked increase in the number of Palestinians who demolish their own homes, in order to avoid incurring the fine imposed by the municipality for carrying out the demolition. This year 37 people demolished their own homes, compared to only 12 last year.


Since 1967, Israel has expropriated more than 38 percent of East Jerusalem for the construction of settlements for Israelis. Today Palestinians constitute 37 percent of Jerusalem’s population; however, only 15 percent of East Jerusalem, and 8.5 percent of the total area of the city, is zoned for their residential use.


“It’s true that we built the house without a legal permit,” said Abbasi, his eyes bloodshot from lack of sleep three days after the demolition. “But we tried to get a permit, we tried several times. We got an engineer and an architect and a lawyer. I paid $30,000 to the planning authorities. We were waiting to go to court.”


Four months ago the municipality also demolished a row of small shops and offices Abbasi and his brother had built down the hill from his house. His brother had used one of the spaces for his accounting office, and another brother had a furniture business in one of the shops. There was also a small cafe at the site. All three brothers lost their livelihood when the buildings were destroyed.



Abbasi, a plumber and carpenter by trade, has not been able to go back to work, he said.


“I don’t know how I will continue because they not only destroyed a house, they demolished a whole family. The first time they hurt my livelihood, then they destroyed my home,” said Abbasi.

The municipality did not respond to phone and email requests for comment on house demolitions in East Jerusalem in general, or on the specific cases mentioned in this article.


‘This is to show them who is boss here’


Between 1991-2018, municipal planners approved a total of 48,201 housing units in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem, 21,834 of which are in Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem. In Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, only 9,536 units were approved.


Ir Amim researcher Aviv Tatarsky cited an “astonishing” gap between what the municipality has approved in the Jewish and Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. This year, he said, some 12,000 housing units were approved for Jewish neighborhoods, compared to a mere 1,500 in Palestinian neighborhoods.

“It is chronic discrimination and one of the issues most hurtful for Palestinians,” said Tatarsky. “The problem is we tend to focus too much on the issue of settlements and we forget that Palestinians are marrying and need homes, regardless of the big political issue.”


Tatarsky believes that Israel’s planning and building policy is motivated by demographic considerations: they want to annex land without including too many Palestinians. According to this theory, Palestinians will leave Jerusalem if they cannot build a home in the city.


But Jerusalem expert and lawyer Daniel Seidemann said the issue is more about asserting Israeli control, rather than pushing Palestinians out.


 “This is to show who is boss here. To show that yes, you Palestinians have rights here but they can be withdrawn, you have property here but we can expropriate, you have residency rights, but we can cancel them,” he said. “The subjugation of Palestinians is included in the occupation. The atmosphere is difficult so Israel is doubling down on the occupation…[using] repressive and controlling measures in order to sustain itself.”


Additionally, Seidemann said, since most Palestinians in East Jerusalem do not vote in municipal elections, politicians have no incentive to take up their cause.

Just below French Hill, a Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem, Ishaq Hamdan, a 55-year-old car mechanic, has been trying to build on a plot of land he owns at the edge of the Palestinian village of Issawiya. In 1985 he built a house that was demolished. In 1995 he tried to build his own garage but it, too, was demolished. In 2000 he began building a wedding hall, but the Israeli authorities destroyed it upon its completion in 2008. In 2014, he decided to build two apartments for his older sons; they, too, were torn down.


Hamdan served over two years in prison for driving without a license; it was revoked because he had not paid all his building fines. Now he is living in the middle of the crowded old part of the village.


Most recently Hamdan built a carwash on his property for his son to work at, and a small stable for his youngest son’s horse. In early November the car wash and the horse stable were demolished, and even the water tank for the horse’s water was toppled over so they wouldn’t be able to use it.


Meanwhile, according to the Jerusalem municipality’s website, on September 11 the local Planning and Building Committee, chaired by Deputy Mayor Eliezer Rauchenberger, approved plans to renovate the French Hill commercial center, which is about a 15-minute drive from Hamdan’s plot. The Commercial Center Renovation Plan would replace the old commercial center with a mixed-use complex to include a large urban plaza, new public buildings and the construction of five buildings — two 12-story buildings, two 18-story buildings and one eight-story building, with the upper floors to include 213 new residential units.


From where he stands near the toppled water tank, Hamdan gazes up at the multi-family cottages of French Hill. They creep down the hillside toward what was once the agricultural land of Issawiya.


“What can I do? Eat my heart out? I will have a heart attack,” said the father of six, who now owes the municipality over NIS 1 million for building fines. One of his sons is an architect and the other is studying to be an engineer. “I just want to know why it is forbidden to build here. I have to give my children apartments. I don’t have the space in my house for everyone to live [when they get married].”


He has a packet of documents he shuffles through, attesting to his fines, payments, land ownership, building plans, adjustments to the building plans and court cases. There is even a court order to put the demolition order on hold. But nothing makes sense to him.


Ishaq Hamdan’s son stands with his horse next to a stable demolished by the Israeli authorities, Issawiya, East Jerusalem, November 7, 2019. (Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Activestills.org)


“I suffer because of this situation. [But] it is important to stay here on this land,” said Hamdan.


‘I will give her back her dream’


At the other end of East Jerusalem, in the Wadi Yasul neighborhood, Quosiy Burqan walks by the debris of what had been his home. The headboard of a bed juts out from under the broken cement.

Both his and his brother’s homes were demolished seven months ago.


Close to 500 people live in Wadi Yasul, adjacent to a forest that was expropriated from its Palestinian owners in 1970. This forested area, and the land where the Wadi Yasul neighborhood was established, was zoned by the Jerusalem municipality as a green area in 1977. But Burqan’s father built the two homes in Wadi Yasul some 30 years ago.


“This land belongs to my father. My children were born here. I lived here when I was single. We tried all the ways we could to get building permission,” said Burqan, one of 12 siblings. When the police came that early morning in March this year to demolish the house, his children were still in bed. Neighbors stalled the police so he and his wife had enough time to quickly bundle up the children and take them to nearby Abu Tor, where their grandparents live, so they would not have to see their homes being demolished.

They were able to rescue very little from the homes, he said, adding: “The hardest thing was seeing my parents cry.”


In 2004 the residents of Wadi Yasul submitted a plan which they had paid for out of their own pockets to the District Planning and Building Committee for retroactive authorization of their homes, but their request was rejected in 2008 on the grounds that the area was zoned to remain a green space.


There are now court-ordered demolitions for all the homes in Wadi Yasul, though families have appealed the decision both with the District Court and the Supreme Court, seeking an interim injunction on carrying out the orders. All of the homes are still under threat of demolition and all residents were issued tens of thousands of shekels in fines.


“You know what is funny? The city is still sending me bills for the arnona (property tax) even after they demolished my house. I was paying arnona,” said Burqan. He was also fined NIS 74,000 for the demolition of his house and another NIS 4,000 for pitching a tent when neighbors came to pay solidarity visits.


“I will be paying fines till the day I die. The minute I finish with one fine they give me another,” Burqan continued. “If you are an Arab there isn’t any permission for you, if you are a settler you get everything, all the doors are opened before you. We don’t have any power. All the power is in the hand of Israel. But I won’t go to jail for this, it is not how my parents educated me. We will pay the fines, we will stay here, we won’t leave.”

On the Mount of Olives, still adjusting to her new reality and not knowing where she will be living in another month, Abassi’s wife Obaid jiggles her fussing two-year-old daughter on her lap.

“I have nothing to say. I was able to get these two rooms and we are together with my two children,” Obaid said. “My dream was destroyed.”


Abbasi looks over to his wife with red-rimmed eyes and stubs out a cigarette.

“I will give her her strength back,” he said. “And I will give her back her dream.”




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