Silwan, Occupied East Jerusalem – Some 84 Palestinian homes in the Wadi Yasoul suburb of Silwan in occupied East Jerusalem are facing demolition to make way for the expansion of an Israeli national park in the area.
Fakhri Abu Diab, a member of the Silwan Lands Defense Committee, said the threats against houses in Silwan were part of an attempt to target neighborhoods in the “Holy Basin” where Israel continues with the City of David amusement park.
About 600 Palestinians living there will be left homeless if an Israeli court rules in favor of the demolition.
Diab said that if the Wadi Yasoul expropriation continues, it will be the second largest forced relocation of residents in Jerusalem since the 2019 forced relocation in Sur Baher’s Wadi al-Hummus neighborhood when more than 10 residential buildings were demolished, killing hundreds made homeless.
Forced relocation, or illegal relocation of civilians in occupied territory, violates the Fourth Geneva Convention and constitutes a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
Diab said urgent international action was needed to stop Israel’s demolition in Wadi Yasoul, which lies just south of Jerusalem’s Old City.
Ziad Qawar, the lawyer representing the affected families, told Al Jazeera it was unclear when Jerusalem’s district court could rule on the case, but that it could be in the coming days or weeks.
Qawar appealed to the district court on November 18 against an earlier municipal court ruling that gave the demolition in Wadi Yasoul, home to more than 1,000 Palestinians and about 310 dunums (31 hectares), a green light.
Engineer demographic change
In 2019, the Israeli-controlled Jerusalem municipality demolished 12 residential buildings and a stable in Wadi Yasoul, displacing more than 70 residents.
“This is very difficult from a legal point of view, because as we are appealing against the pending demolitions, hoping the judge will show some compassion, we will also try to get planning for the houses approved so that if they are demolished , they can be rebuilt in the future, ”Qawar told Al Jazeera.
The owners of the threatened homes, and other buildings, have repeatedly given notice over the years by the Israeli authorities that the buildings would be destroyed because they were built without permits.
NGOs and human rights organizations have repeatedly released reports on how the Israeli authorities issue very few building permits to Palestinian residents, despite extreme overcrowding, while at the same time encouraging illegal Israeli settlement construction with economic incentives.
At least one-third of all Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem do not have an Israeli-issued building permit, which the United Nations says could endanger more than 100,000 residents.
Critics argue it is part of a plan by the municipality to design the demographics of Jerusalem in favor of a Jewish majority.
“Immediately after Israel occupied the area in 1967, Israel illegally annexed thousands of hectares in and around Jerusalem,” according to a report by the Israeli legal group B’Tselem.
“Since then, it has instituted policies designed to expel Palestinians from the city and to create a demographic and geographical reality that will frustrate any challenge to Israeli sovereignty there.
“The policy, which disrupts every aspect of life, includes the isolation of East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank and deliberate underdevelopment and under-service leading to overcrowding, poverty and substandard infrastructure,” the organization said.
Living in fear
Medical student Yahya Shabaneh (18) has postponed his dental studies in Ukraine to be with his family in Wadi Yasoul.
Not only is his family home threatened with demolition, but also the medical center run by his father, who is a doctor, in the neighborhood.
Shabaneh said the center treats thousands of patients. “My brother, who works as the general manager of the center, received a notice from the municipality last week warning about the pending demolition.
“In addition to residents in the area losing a quality medical center, the staff members will also lose their jobs and need months to try to find other work. It is not easy, “said Shabaneh. More than 40 staff members work at the medical center, Shabaneh said.
He added that his family, staff and neighbors, whose homes are also threatened, are living in fear.
“We do not know what will happen in the next 24 hours when the bulldozers will come with the soldiers to destroy our homes and our livelihoods.”
On November 23, Israeli forces demolished a three-story house in Sur Baher. Israel’s demolition of 10 residential buildings in Sur Baher in 2019 provoked condemnation from Amnesty International.
“For decades, Israel’s authorities have taken arbitrary and disproportionate measures in the name of security to expand their control over Palestinian land and push Palestinians out of areas they consider strategic, by forcibly displacing entire communities and tens of thousands of homes. to destroy illegally, ”Amnesty said. a Press release.
Addressing the threat against Wadi Yasoul, Diab of the Silwan Lands Defense Committee added that it is currently the most dangerous threat of demolition and eviction in Silwan.
In April, more than a dozen families were given 21 days to demolish their homes themselves or pay thousands of dollars for the municipality to do the work in the Bustan area of Silwan.
Due to international pressure following intensive media coverage, some of the demolitions were temporarily halted.
Former school principal Abu Thaer Marajha (69) and his wife Sabah (60) live with 16 family members on several floors of their building in Wadi Yasoul.
Abu Thaer has lived there for 28 years and raised his children, and they in turn raised his grandchildren in the family building.
Israeli authorities have been trying for more than 20 years to evict the Marajha family.
“I have tried more than 10 times to get a building permit for the house, but without any success,” Marajha told Al Jazeera.
“I paid about 250,000 Israeli shekels [$79,711] in fines over the years for building the house without a permit. ”
Shabaneh, the medical student, said the cost to residents to fight the evictions and demolitions was enormous.
“Not only do people have to pay fines for building without permits, if they do not demolish the houses themselves, the municipality carries out the demolition which can cost up to 100 000 shekels. [$31,884] for every demolition, ”he said.
“What choice do we have?”
Muhammad Shweiki, 32, said 14 of his family members were being made homeless in their multi-storey house in Wadi Yasoul.
“I am married with two young children, and I do not know where we will live if our house is destroyed,” Shweiki told Al Jazeera.
The Shweiki family said they had previously submitted a town plan to the municipality and undertook to organize the neighborhood, but all their initiatives were rejected by the municipality. The Shweiki family believes the refusal was for political reasons.
Despite the fear, uncertainty and impending loss, the residents decided not to give in.
Abu Thaer Marajha said his family was not going anywhere.
“If they destroy our homes, we will clean up the rubbish and set up tents to live on the remains of our homes,” Marajha said.
Shabaneh said his father and the other staff at the medical center were desperately looking to move the center elsewhere, including their home, albeit temporarily. “What choice do we have?” he said.
Advocate Qawar described the pending demolitions and evictions as “racist and dangerous” developments and promised to continue fighting by the courts.