Al-Tur, Occupied East Jerusalem – About 70 Palestinians, about half of whom are children, are in danger of being displaced in the Jerusalem neighborhood of al-Tur while awaiting an Israeli court decision on the fate of their five-story apartment building.
Israeli authorities informed residents on November 4 that they had a week left in their homes before the building would be demolished because they lacked a building permit.
The residents told Al Jazeera they were given another ultimatum on Sunday: to either pay a refundable 200,000 shekels ($ 64,400) and be able to demolish it by the end of the month, or the state would do it for them. – at a cost of two million shekels ($ 644,000).
Hussein Ghanayem, the residents’ lawyer, said he had lodged an appeal on Monday, and that a court hearing was scheduled for Thursday for the authorities to decide what steps they would take.
The five-storey apartment building is located in the Khallet al-Ain suburb of Al-Tur (pronounced At-Tur), also known as Jabal al-Zaytun (Olive Mountain). It has housed the 70 residents of 10 families since it was built without an Israeli-issued building permit in 2012, like many other homes in the area, according to the families’ attorney.
Law groups and Palestinians have long documented the refusal of Israeli authorities to issue building permits in occupied East Jerusalem, which the United Nations say is part of a “restrictive planning regime” that “makes it virtually impossible for Palestinians to obtain building permits, hindering the development of adequate housing, infrastructure and livelihoods”.
The residents chose to stay in the building until the bulldozers arrived. They repeatedly applied for a permit, and spent nearly nine years in courts fighting the demolition order, but were repeatedly met with rejections by occupation authorities under various pretexts, they say.
“We stay here until they force us to leave,” said 47-year-old Rania al-Ghouj when she and her family gathered on the ground floor of her apartment on Monday morning for breakfast.
She and other residents say they do not have the 200,000 shekels ($ 64,400) to pay to the state, nor do they plan to demolish the building themselves, due to the security risks involved.
“It’s collective forced relocation. There is nothing we can do at this stage, “Iyad, Rania’s 25-year-old son, echoed.
“They think that if they demolish our houses, they will get rid of us – they do not know that it will only increase our resilience,” Iyad added, as he stuffed falafel into a piece of kayak – a Palestinian sesame bread native to Jerusalem.
Since moving into the building, the families have been paying the Israeli-controlled Jerusalem Municipality monthly fines of 75,000 shekels ($ 24,153) per family, per annum, for living in an “unlicensed building.” They also pay high property taxes known as Arnona in Hebrew, as well as attorney fees. Many of them say they are in debt, while others say they can not afford to rent a house in another area.
According to the lawyer, Ghanayem, the land is privately owned by a member of the Abu Sbeitan family, who has apartments in the building. But he says occupation authorities have denied a license, saying the land “is zoned for public use”. He told Al Jazeera that the authorities said they intended to build a school for the area instead.
According to the United Nations, only 13 percent of occupied East Jerusalem, which annexed Israel after the 1967 war, is currently zoned for Palestinian development and residential construction, many of which have already been rebuilt.
“Inadequate and inappropriate planning of Palestinian neighborhoods has led to the widespread phenomenon of ‘illegal’ construction and the demolition of structures by the Israeli authorities,” said the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
About 57 percent of all land in occupied East Jerusalem has been expropriated, including from private Palestinian owners, for both building illegal settlements and zoning land as “green areas and public infrastructure.” The remaining 30 percent, OCHA notes, consists of “unplanned areas” where construction is prohibited.
“To drain our nerves”
Myassar Abu Halaweh, a young mother of three daughters, moved into the building with her husband in 2013 after selling some of her gold to pay off an installment on the then $ 100,000 apartment.
The 31-year-old told Al Jazeera that the November 4 decision came as a shock to the residents, who were hoping to eventually receive a permit.
“We have been going through the same thing for the past nine years – we have received several demolition orders, but we have not given up hope – we have continued to appeal against the decisions,” said Abu Halaweh. “Last year we received indications that it would be licensed, so my husband and I started investing more in our house.”
“It’s going to be the house we’ve settled in. It’s like, when you start to see your life finally come together, they push you back to below zero.”
“I graduated from university while living in this house, gave birth in it, raised my daughters in it. It is a witness of the love we have cultivated in our family. The time we spent in it during corona! ” she continued with tears streaming down her face, before her youngest daughter, five-year-old Mariam, hugged her with a kiss.
“They are getting on our nerves – draining us financially and emotionally,” she said, adding that she and her husband are still paying the cost of the apartment.
“We are going to stay here, in tents. Why do we have to leave with such ease? It is no different from Sheikh Jarrah. Seventy people who are made homeless are another Nakba. “
No place to expand
At-Tur is one of the most crowded Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem. Two illegal Israeli settlements have been built on the neighborhood’s land, while being blocked from expansion by neighboring Palestinian villages, settler roads and the Separation Wall.
According to Bimkom – an Israeli rights organization made up of planners and architects – the “historic core” of At-Tur is “very densely built and has almost no land reserves for residential construction”.
The planning rights group noticed that the “only hope is for expansion to the northeast, where the unrecognized suburb of Khallet al-Ain is located,” but that a national park plan is being advanced there, while “additional housing clusters are considered illegal because they were built on areas not zoned for housing ”.
“The residents of At-Tur, mainly those in the unrecognized and unplanned areas, are living under the constant threat of house demolition and evacuation orders,” Bimkom wrote in 2014.
Ghanayem told Al Jazeera he was defending the residents of 155 other buildings and houses in the Khallet al-Ain area who did not have permits.
“From 1967 until today, they have not created a single master plan that meets the needs of At-Tur residents,” Ghanayem said. “Unlicensed building in At-Tur is not because people do not want to license, it is because of the reality in which people live,” he added, noting the dramatic increase in the neighborhood’s population versus the lack of permits issued by the Jerusalem was issued. Municipality.
According to Israeli media, the municipality submitted a structure map Sunday for At-Tur and the nearby village of al-Issawiya that will need to be discussed and approved by authorities. It remains unclear whether the plan will allow residents to obtain licenses, which a long and expensive process, for existing or new buildings.
At least one-third of all Palestinian homes in occupied East Jerusalem do not have building permits, potentially endangering more than 100,000 residents, According to OCHA.
Local NGOs and legal groups have long pointed to a range of Israeli practices and policies in Jerusalem aimed at changing the demographic relationship in favor of Jews, a goal interpreted as “Maintaining a solid Jewish majority in the city” in the municipality’s 2000 master plan.
Illegal settlement expansion, Palestinian home demolition, and restrictions on urban development are among the main ways used to achieve this goal, According to real groups.
Back in the al-Ghouj family home, Iyad, who lives with his parents, his two sons, wife and siblings in their three-bedroom apartment, told Al Jazeera he hopes his children “will have a better future” as his children. .
“There is no alternative for us – nowhere to go. There are large spaces here, there is no excuse for them to forbid us to give a permit, ”says Iyad, pointing to the large open space next to the building.
“The world must come and see the injustice in which the Palestinian people live, the humiliation. We are not the first or the last people to go through this.
“We see in settlements like Modi’in buildings popping up, or in the West Bank how some settlers are erecting mobile homes and a few years later it is a built-up settlement,” Iyad said.
Fayez Khalafawi, 60, whose family owns two apartments in the building, agreed.
“If we bring settlers to come and live here, they will get a permit within 24 hours and the state will do everything for them,” he told Al Jazeera.
“The Jerusalem municipality does not want any Palestinians in Jerusalem.”