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Israel Forces Palestinians to Demolish their Own Homes

Thirteen Palestinians, including five children, were left homeless in “self-demolitions” forced by the Israeli occupation. It is a particularly brutal method of Zionist oppression and displacement of the Palestinian people.

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The Zionist state of Israel forced two Palestinian families in the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabal al-Mukabber — east of the occupied Old City — to demolish their own homes, leaving 13 people, including five children, homeless. The Shqeirat family, owners of the houses, said the Israel District Court in Jerusalem issued a final decision on Sunday ordering the demolition of their homes within one day.

Israeli authorities cited a lack of building permits as the reason, but the Israeli-controlled Jerusalem Municipality denies at least 93 percent of all Palestinian building permit applications in the city. The ruling is a sign of how the Israeli judicial apparatus is yet another form of oppression, wielded as a tool for the Palestinian ethnic cleansing that began in 1948.

Brothers Mahmoud and Daoud Shqeirat, the two homeowners, began vacating their homes with their families on Sunday night ahead of the self-demolition, which began Monday morning.

“The border police arrived at the houses immediately after the court decision on Sunday morning and told the families that if they did not demolish them, they [the police] would bring their machinery and carry out the demolition, and that the family would have to bear the cost,” said Arafat Shqeirat, one of their cousins and a neighbor from Jabal al-Mukabber, also known as al-Sawahrah al-Gharbiya.

Like many other Palestinian families in Jerusalem, the Shqeirats had to opt to demolish their own homes to avoid the high, extortion-like cost of demolition by the Jerusalem Municipality, which can amount to tens of thousands of shekels. The two houses were built in 2012 and measure 80 square meters each.

“The municipal inspector told me yesterday, ‘You’ll even have to pay for the bottle of water I give to the officer carrying out the demolition,’” continued Arafat, 45.

“We dismantled everything in the house last night: the windows, the doors, the kitchen. They told us they would come today to see if we are going ahead with the demolition,” he added.

Mahmoud, 38, is the father of four children, including an eight-month-old baby, while his brother, Daoud, is the father of five.

The families first received the demolition orders three years ago but have been trying to fight them in Israeli courts. Since first building their homes, they have had to pay more than 50,000 shekels (US$15,680) in fines to the Jerusalem Municipality (which is supervised by the Israeli occupiers) because they had never been able to obtain a permit.

“We are now in the process of looking for rental housing for the families. Yesterday we put their belongings in the house of one of their brothers,” Arafat said, adding that the International Committee of the Red Cross would provide them with a tent to stay in for a few days while they look for a new home.

“We are looking, but the rents in Jerusalem are very high.”

Israeli forces routinely demolish Palestinian homes in occupied East Jerusalem under various legal pretexts, one of the main ones being “building without a permit.” At least one-third of all Palestinian homes in Jerusalem lack a building permit, putting some 100,000 Palestinians at risk of forced displacement.

There are now at least 218 more Palestinian homes — housing more than 970 people, including 424 children — that face forced evictions thanks to legal cases filed against them by Israeli settler groups in coordination with the Zionist government. Some 350,000 Palestinians live in Jerusalem, and 220,000 illegal Israeli settlers live among them.

The forced displacement and transfer of a militarily occupied population is a violation of international law and a war crime.

Last week, 15 Palestinians from the Karameh family were left homeless when Israeli forces demolished their house in the nearby neighborhood of al-Tur. That demolition came days after authorities demolished an 18-resident house in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood during an overnight raid.

“Israel’s policy is clear. It wants to forcibly displace people and remove them from Jerusalem,” said homeowner Mahmoud Shqeirat.

Local NGOs and human rights groups have long denounced Israeli policies and practices in Jerusalem aimed at altering the demographic ratio in favor of Jews, described in the municipality’s master plan goals as “maintaining a solid Jewish majority in the city.” Illegal settlement expansion, demolition of Palestinian homes, and restrictions on Palestinian urban development are among the main ways this goal is achieved.

“Jerusalem has been the core target of Israel’s demographic engineering design aimed at entrenching its colonial domination over the Palestinian people as a whole,” the Ramallah-based human rights group Al-Haq said in a September 2021 report.

“House demolitions have been central tools to facilitate Israel’s land appropriation and dispossession,” Al-Haq continued, noting that “the self-execution aspect raises home demolitions to another level of Israeli oppression imposed on Palestinians.” A person who refuses to self-demolish his or her own house faces additional fines of US$2,500 and up to 18 months in prison, according to Al-Haq.

The Israeli military occupied the eastern half of the city in 1967. Only 13 percent is zoned for Palestinian development and residential construction, most of which is already built. Israel’s settlers have expropriated about 57 percent of all land in occupied East Jerusalem, including from private Palestinian owners, both for the construction of illegal settlements and for zoning the land as “green areas” and public infrastructure. The remaining 30 percent comprises unplanned areas where construction is also prohibited.

“This is an occupation. It has no mercy. It has no religion. They don’t care about the elderly or the young. If they did, they wouldn’t be demolishing your house in the middle of winter. But no, they come at a time when people need to be under a roof,” Arafat said. “This is about the Judaization of Jerusalem. They want to put pressure on the Palestinians to leave the city.”

In 2021 several families in the Sheik Jarrah neighborhood managed to stop their eviction through a huge solidarity effort that turned into a popular uprising. It was an enormous demonstration of the strength of the Palestinian people. In the face of the savage demolitions carried out by the Zionist state, new protests against the displacements may very well arise.

First published in Spanish on January 31 in La Izquierda Diario.

Translation by Scott Cooper

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