The High Court of Justice has approved demolition orders for 16 East Jerusalem buildings that contain a total of some 100 apartments under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority, sparking fears the unprecedented move could drive Israeli home demolitions deeper in the West Bank.
The court last week struck down an appeal against the demolition of 16 apartment buildings in the Wadi al-Hummus neighborhood of the Sur Baher neighborhood, according to a report in the Haaretz daily.
Demolition of unauthorized Palestinian-owned structures in East Jerusalem is not unusual. However, the homes slated for demolition in Sur Baher — a neighborhood that straddles the Green Line — are located in the PA-controlled Area A of the West Bank.
The majority of Sur Baher is in Israel, but the Wadi al-Hummus part of the neighborhood lies beyond Jerusalem municipal boundaries, making it part of the West Bank. Though Wadi al-Hummus is on the Israeli side of the security fence, the Palestinian Authority takes responsibility for the residents there.
The court’s dismissal of the case brought an end to the residents’ seven-year legal battle against a military order that halted work on the 16 apartment buildings. Though the permits for the buildings were issued by the PA’s planning ministry nearly 10 years ago, Israel in 2012 ordered a halt to construction work in Wadi al-Hummus, citing its close proximity to the security barrier.
Residents say Wadi al-Hummus is the only direction Sur Baher is able to expand as the border wall and increased Israeli building in the capital have hemmed in the neighborhood from other directions.
According to Haaretz, the residents’ attorney argued before the court that Israel has no jurisdiction over the area and should not be allowed to proceed with the demolitions. He also argued that the IDF’s 250-meter rule banning construction near the security fence was not enforced in Jerusalem, and pointed to other areas within the city where residential buildings are erected adjacent to the wall.
But the justices sided with the Defense Ministry, saying in their decision that major construction along the barrier would “limit [military] operational freedom near the barrier and increase tensions with the local population.
“Such construction may also shelter terrorists or illegal residents among the civilian population, and allow terrorist operatives to smuggle weapons or sneak inside Israeli territory,” justices Menny Mazuz, Uzi Fogelman and Yitzhak Amit wrote, according to Haaretz. “We therefore accept that there is a military-security need to restrict construction near the barrier.”
The court did, however, scale back the demolition, reducing the number of buildings slated to be razed from 25 to 16.
Palestinian activists and PA officials have expressed concern the unprecedented Israeli move would pave the way for Israel to demolish thousands of homes in the West Bank under Palestinian control.
Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War in a move not internationally recognized. Since then, Israel has boosted the Jewish presence there.
Palestinians make up 37 precent of the city’s population, but only 15% of areas in East Jerusalem are zoned for Palestinian construction, according to rights groups.
Palestinian residents have long complained that discrimination by Israel often makes it impossible for them to obtain planning permission to expand their neighborhoods, which have seen rampant neglect and almost no enforcement by municipal authorities for decades. The result is that many East Jerusalem families resort to building homes without permission, leaving them vulnerable to demolition.
Last October, then Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat announced he would expand enforcement of city ordinances to Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, including those beyond the security barrier. A month later, the municipality demolished 18 storefronts and three gas stations in East Jerusalem’s Shuafat refugee camp for not having the proper building permits.
The demolitions in Shuafat — a refugee camp that lies on the Palestinian side of the Green Line — were the most extensive since the construction of the security fence over a decade ago.