Israeli minister spars with EU over East Jerusalem area home demolitions

Gilad Erdan says Oslo Accords grant right to demolish buildings near West Bank security barrier, after Europeans criticize Israeli action in areas under Palestinian control

Israeli security forces razing one of the Palestinian buildings in the West Bank village of Dar Salah, adjacent to the Sur Baher area which straddles the West Bank and Jerusalem, July 22, 2019 shows. (Ahmad GHARABLI/AFP)
Israeli security forces razing one of the Palestinian buildings in the West Bank village of Dar Salah, adjacent to the Sur Baher area which straddles the West Bank and Jerusalem, July 22, 2019 shows. (Ahmad GHARABLI/AFP)

The European Union on Monday urged Israel to immediately halt the razing of Palestinian homes on the edge of Jerusalem, drawing rebuke from Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan.

Israeli forces tore down several buildings adjacent to the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sur Baher that it said were constructed illegally and posed a security threat by being too close to the security barrier.

The EU criticized the demolitions as undermining hope for a lasting peace in the region.

“In line with the EU’s longstanding position, we expect the Israeli authorities to immediately halt the ongoing demolitions,” said a spokesman for the EU’s foreign policy arm, which represents the bloc’s 28 member states.

“The continuation of this policy undermines the viability of the two-state solution and the prospect for a lasting peace and seriously jeopardizes the possibility of Jerusalem serving as the future capital of both States.”

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan speaks at the inauguration of a new police station in the northern city of Tirat Carmel, on May 22, 2018. (Meir Vaknin/Flash90)

Erdan said the EU was blindly accepting Palestinian “lies” about the homes.

“The spokespeople of the EU, as usual, bought into the lies of the Palestinians without any in-depth examination while spreading their bias,” Erdan wrote on Twitter. “When illegal construction presents a security threat, Israel has the authority, including according to the Oslo Accords, to enforce the law against it. The Supreme Court even ruled in favor of such. The Palestinian purposely built their houses next to the security barrier!”

The homes, in an area known as Wadi al-Hummus, are part of Sur Baher but fall outside of Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries and inside Palestinian Authority-controlled areas of the West Bank.

Erdan said that under the Oslo Accords — which established the Palestinian Authority in 1994 and divided the West Bank into areas A controlled by the Palestinian Authority, B under joint control, and C under Israeli control — Israel has the right to act against security threats.

“In the context of today’s demolitions in Jerusalem’s Wadi Al-Hummus, it is worth emphasizing that the residents themselves were the ones who wanted to move to the west side of the security barrier, and the barrier was then diverted eastwards for them,” Erdan wrote. “Afterwards, they then began illegally building in a region situated in Jerusalem, even though they were in areas A, B and C.”

The demolitions capped a years-long legal battle over the buildings, built along the invisible line straddling the city and the occupied West Bank. Israel says the buildings were erected too close to its West Bank security barrier. Residents say the buildings are on West Bank land, and the Palestinian Authority gave them construction permits.

In the wake of a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for the demolitions, Israeli work crews moved into the neighborhood overnight. Massive construction vehicles smashed through the roofs of several buildings, and large excavators were digging through the rubble.

Palestinians have charged that the security concerns are a pretext to push them out of the Jerusalem area, and say it is nearly impossible to receive construction permits from Israeli authorities, resulting in a housing shortage in Arab neighborhoods in the city.

According to the United Nations, some 20 people already living in the buildings were being displaced, while 350 owners of properties that were under construction or not yet inhabited were also affected.

The UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs said it was following the demolitions with “sadness,” and said Israel’s security pretext did not hold water.

“Israel’s policy of destroying Palestinian property is not compatible with its obligations under international humanitarian law. Among other things, the destruction of private property in occupied territory is only permissible where rendered absolutely necessary for military operations, which is not applicable,” the body said in a statement.

Hussein al-Sheikh, head of the civil affairs department of the Palestinians Authority, called Monday’s demolition a “crime” and demanded international intervention.

The office of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas saying in a statement that it “places the responsibility for this grave escalation on Israel.”

“This is part of the ‘deal of the century’ which aims to put an end to the Palestinian issue,” it added, referring to the peace plan pushed by US President Donald Trump’s administration, which is yet to be unveiled. The PA accuses Trump of being biased toward Israel and has already rejected the plan.

This picture taken on July 22, 2019 shows Israeli security forces preparing to demolish Palestinian buildings still under construction which have been issued notices to be demolished in the Wadi al-Hummus area adjacent to the Palestinian village of Sur Baher in East Jerusalem. (Photo by Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

Abbas called on the international community to react quickly to the demolition.

“What is painfully happening here is the biggest and most dangerous demolition operation outside of war operations,” Walid Asaf, the PA minister in charge of monitoring Israeli settlements, said in a video from the site.

“This operation aims to cut off Jerusalem from Bethlehem (in the southern West Bank),” he added.

In Gaza, the territory’s Hamas rulers called for intensifying “resistance” to the “Zionist settlement project.”

“The increase in the occupation’s crimes against the residents of the holy city is a result of total American support,” said Hazem Qassem, a spokesman for the terror group.

An Israeli police vehicle is seen driving past Palestinian buildings in Sur Baher slated for demolition, seen here from Beit Sahur in the West Bank. (Hazem Bader/AFP)

Residents fear another 100 buildings in the area in a similar situation could be at risk in the near future.

Residents say Wadi al-Hummus is the only direction Sur Baher is able to expand as the barrier and increased Israeli building in the capital have hemmed in the neighborhood from other directions.

Though Wadi al-Hummus is on the Israeli side of the security fence, the PA takes responsibility for the residents there.

Israel gained control of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War. It later annexed East Jerusalem in a move never recognized by the international community. Israel says the security barrier is needed to prevent Palestinian terrorists entering the country from the West Bank to carry out attacks.

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