The Jerusalem municipality demolished 18 storefronts and three gas stations on the main commercial street of the Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem on Wednesday as part of the city’s new policy of extending the reach of municipal enforcement to neighborhoods beyond the security fence.
Israeli authorities entered the camp with excavators to destroy the structures as police formed a security perimeter, an AFP journalist reported.
The stores, all built without permits in a part of the city that has seen rampant neglect and almost no enforcement by municipal authorities for decades, were given demolition warnings only 12 hours earlier.
During the demolition, police sealed off the street and shut down all movement in the area, effectively sealing residents in the neighborhood, rights groups charged.
Police said the demolitions were carried out due to complaints from residents of the refugee camp. It said the action targeted “stores that were built illegally in the center of the camp and created unbearable traffic congestion and crowding.”
“The municipality will continue to carry out activities with the support of the police against illegal business in the different areas,” the police statement said.
Ahmad Abu Holy, head of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s refugee department, condemned the demolitions to the official Palestinian news agency WAFA, saying they carried out were “under the illegal pretext of building without a permit.”
Khader Dibs, an official from the camp, which is surrounded by Israel’s separation wall and is the only refugee camp within Jerusalem, also condemned the demolitions and said the shops had been built in 2007.
The move was the most significant act of demolition in the area since the construction of the security fence over a decade ago.
Last month, outgoing mayor Nir Barkat announced he would expand enforcement of city ordinances to Shuafat and other Arab neighborhoods beyond the security fence, as well as begin to massively upgrade access to city services such as garbage collection in those areas.
Last May, the Jerusalem Police opened the first-ever police station in the Shuafat refugee camp in a ceremony attended by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich and Barkat.
Despite Israel’s official annexation of the city’s neighborhoods over the Green Line, a move not recognized by the international community, East Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods suffer from neglect and poor infrastructure. Palestinian residents refuse to vote in Jerusalem’s municipal elections so as not to de facto recognize Israeli annexation of areas they hope to see as the future capital of a Palestinian state.
Deputy Commissioner Yoram Halevy, who commands the Jerusalem Police, has led a major restructuring and expansion of the force in the city’s eastern half over the past two years.
AFP contributed to this report.