Jerusalem Demolition Plan Could Force More Than 1,000 Arabs From Homes

Municipality Claims Buildings Were Constructed Without Permits

In a Neglected Neighborhood: Israel has initiated demolition proceedings against eleven high rise buildings including the one where Said Abu Asab lives.
Ben Lynfield
In a Neglected Neighborhood: Israel has initiated demolition proceedings against eleven high rise buildings including the one where Said Abu Asab lives.

By Ben Lynfield

Published December 06, 2013, issue of December 13, 2013.
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Israel holds that its annexation of the city’s eastern sector has made Jerusalem today a unified city. But the separation barrier’s path right through the city seems to belie this claim when it comes to Ras Khamis and several other Arab neighborhoods.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat has said that Arab neighborhoods beyond the separation barrier should not fall within the Jerusalem municipal boundaries in the future, and that the city boundary should be “identical” to the barrier’s route.

In late 2011, Barkat proposed that the municipality stop operating in Ras Khamis and other Arab neighborhoods beyond the barrier altogether. Responsibility for these areas, he said, should be transferred to the Israeli military body that runs the West Bank, the civil administration. This was seen by some as a bid to unload the area’s 70,000 Palestinians and thereby shore up Jerusalem’s Jewish majority.

Amid the city’s de facto absence from this area within its own boundaries, building regulations have not been enforced at all. High-rises have sprouted in recent years and become a magnet for lower income Palestinians from elsewhere in the city.

Said Abu Asab, who worked for 26 years as a projectionist at cinemas in West Jerusalem, also drew on all his severance pay, like his neighbor Sabha, to buy an apartment in Ras Khamis. He said it was either buy in this neighborhood or stay with his wife and three children in a crowded basement dwelling in the Shuafat refugee camp.

“My wife sold the gold of her dowry so we could buy this place,” he said in his living room, decorated by a calligraphic inscription from the Dawn chapter in the Koran, which refers to taking refuge in God from “the mischief of created things.”

Since the demolition announcement was posted in the neighborhood, “I don’t sleep at night,” he said. “I’m thinking where will I go? Where will the kids go?

“My house in the camp was beneath the ground and had no windows. For 10 years I lived there. I got asthma. Why did I stay for 10 years? No money,” he said after serving his visitor sweetened coffee.

“I see Israeli people satisfied, the wife has a car, the children have cars, they go shopping, they go on trips abroad,” he said. “My dream was just to have a home and they take it from me. For me this is a five star hotel.”

Jamil Sanduka, the head of the Ras Khamis residents committee, said his group had hired a lawyer and filed a motion with the court objecting to the city’s demolition request. That has halted its implementation, for now.

But Sprung denied that the city’s demolition request was aimed at demolition at all. The idea of posting copies of the request in the neighborhood, she said, was to get residents to step forward for court proceedings that would finally resolve the district’s status. “These are not demolition orders,” she said. “We are saying, ‘Come to court, let’s understand what is going on here.’ The municipality is not saying, ‘Come we want to destroy your home.’”

But the notice obtained by the Forward says explicitly: “The honorable court is asked to use its authority according to clause 212 and issue a demolition order.” This was necessary, the notice said, because there was no approved building plan for the structure and failing to issue a demolition order would send a “message to the public that it is possible to violate the laws of planning and building… and thus harm the status of the law in society.”

Sabha, the former Jerusalem Post employee, said he has no plans to hire a lawyer of his own. “I won’t do anything because I rely on God only,” he said.

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