Jerusalem — Ras Khamis, a poor neighborhood in a neglected part of Jerusalem, might be mistaken for being outside the city altogether. It lies beyond the separation barrier that Israel has erected to fence itself off from Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, and the neighborhood’s Palestinian residents receive almost no city services.
They burn their own garbage, among other things, because the municipality conducts no garbage pickups in the district.
But one day in late October, Daoud Sabha, who recently put his life savings into buying a high-rise apartment in Ras Khamis, discovered that the municipality had not forgotten about his new neighborhood after all. Posted to his high-rise building, he found a copy of a government request, filed recently with a Jerusalem court, to demolish the building and 10 other high-rise apartment buildings nearby.
If it’s carried out, that will be the largest demolition project implemented in Jerusalem since Israel won control of the city’s eastern Palestinian sector from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War. More than 1,000 people could lose their homes.
“This whole neighborhood is poor people,” said Sabha, who worked in maintenance at the Jerusalem Post for 19 years. “Where will they live? In an alley?”
Sabha said that he had put all his severance pay into buying his apartment. And he still had to go into debt to afford the buying price of over $85,000. But the city says it is simply enforcing the law and protecting public safety, because the entire complex was built without a permit and in disregard of engineering and building codes.
“It’s the municipality’s obligation to make sure all buildings are safe,” said the Jerusalem municipal government spokeswoman Brachie Sprung. “What is going to happen if something happens to the building? We’ll be held responsible.”
Sabha snorted at this explanation. “All of a sudden the municipality remembers it’s without a permit,” he said. “They should have said so from the beginning… This is racism against poor people who need houses. It is great tyranny to put people into the streets.”
Dovish Israeli advocacy groups say that Palestinian residents in East Jerusalem are forced to build illegally because of discriminatory zoning and licensing practices designed to protect the city’s Jewish majority.