Monitoring group: 'A roof overhead is a basic human right'

After international pressure, PM delays East Jerusalem razing sought by Ben Gvir

Netanyahu’s office puts stay on demolition of building where 100 Palestinians live after pushback from Western embassies; national security minister says it’ll be done eventually

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

View of buildings in East Jerusalem, February 1, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
View of buildings in East Jerusalem, February 1, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Bowing to international pressure, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office on Monday ordered a stay on the razing of a Palestinian apartment building in East Jerusalem whose demolition had been pushed by the far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, a Western diplomat told The Times of Israel.

Some 100 Palestinians live in the 12-apartment, four-story building, which was constructed without a permit in 2014 in the Wadi Kadum neighborhood. A 90-day stay was granted on the demolition order last September, followed by a 30-day extension that had been slated to expire on Tuesday.

Palestinians say they are forced to build unauthorized structures because it is next to impossible to receive permits for construction.

Ben Gvir has vowed to take a more aggressive stance against Palestinian homes that were built without the necessary permits from Israel in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. He has framed demolitions of such structures as part of Israel’s efforts to combat Palestinian terror, even though there have been no links between the owners of the homes razed in recent weeks and security offenses.

The Kan public broadcaster reported Sunday that Ben Gvir directed police to prepare to demolish the Wadi Kadum building once the extension expired. The operation was expected to take over 24 hours and require some 500 officers to secure. The network said that the security establishment had warned against the move, saying it would spark another round of violence in East Jerusalem.

Following the Kan report, several Western embassies, including the American and British missions in Israel, reached out to Netanyahu’s office, expressing their opposition to the demolition, the Western diplomat said.

The Prime Minister’s Office agreed to intervene and ordered the demolition called off indefinitely.

A spokesman for the Jerusalem Municipality confirmed that the razing would not be taking place on Tuesday as planned, but declined to comment further.

Ben Gvir said in a statement that while the demolition might have been delayed, it would still go forward eventually because he was determined to enforce the law.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir speaks to onlookers at the scene of a terror attack in Jerusalem’s Neve Yaakov neighborhood, on January 27, 2023. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

“If not tomorrow, then the day after tomorrow. If not this week, then in two weeks,” he said.

The dovish Ir Amim group, which tracks government policy in East Jerusalem, blasted the municipality for its intention to raze the building: “The municipality doesn’t build Palestinian neighborhoods in the east of the city, doesn’t update outline plans for existing Palestinian neighborhoods, and almost never gives building permits.”

File: Israeli machinery demolishes a Palestinian home in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan on May 10, 2022. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

Between 2016 and 2020, 99.1 percent of Palestinian requests for building permits were rejected, according to data provided by the IDF’s Civil Administration last year.

In 2021, 177 structures in East Jerusalem were demolished for lack of permits.

Such demolitions often set off clashes between residents and security forces in the tinderbox neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.

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