Palestinians blast ‘massacre’ as Israel razes homes near security barrier

PLO says it will hold an emergency meeting; lawyer representing homeowners accuses Jewish state of double standard regarding construction adjacent to fence in Jerusalem area

Adam Rasgon is the Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

This picture taken July 22, 2019 shows Israeli security forces razing a Palestinian building under construction in the Wadi al-Hummus area adjacent to the East Jerusalem Palestinian village of Sur Baher. (Hazem Bader/AFP)
This picture taken July 22, 2019 shows Israeli security forces razing a Palestinian building under construction in the Wadi al-Hummus area adjacent to the East Jerusalem Palestinian village of Sur Baher. (Hazem Bader/AFP)

Palestinians lambasted Israel on Monday for demolishing structures in part of the Sur Baher neighborhood near the West Bank security barrier.

Israeli security forces demolished a total of 12 buildings and two building foundations on Monday, according to a defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, drawing condemnation from Palestinians as well as the international community.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s office called the demolitions a “massacre” and said Israel bears “full responsibility for this dangerous escalation against the innocent Palestinian people,” according to the official PA mouthpiece Wafa.

Most of the buildings Israel razed on Monday are in a section of the neighborhood that according to agreements between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization are designated as under Palestinian Authority administrative control. Most of the homes were still under construction.

The owners of the properties have said they had received construction permits from the PA government in Ramallah.

Haitham al-Khatib, a lawyer who represented property owners in Israel’s High Court, said all but one of the buildings were on the Jerusalem side of the West Bank security barrier, which does not hew exactly to Jerusalem’s municipal boundary with the West Bank.

This picture taken on July 22, 2019 shows buildings demolished by Israel in the Sur Baher area on the Jerusalem side of the West Bank security barrier. (HAZEM BADER / AFP)

Jafar Abu Hamed, a 33-year-old resident of Sur Baher, said he invested NIS 600,000 ($171,000) in the property that security forces destroyed.

“I’ve put so much into that place,” Abu Hamed, a father of three, said in a phone call. “We had finished building the first floor and we were working on the second floor and then they came and destroyed it.”

He said he would continue to rent an apartment in Sur Baher to provide shelter for his family.

Israel has argued that the construction of the buildings violated a military order first issued in 2011 and later extended that prohibited building in areas adjacent to the security barrier. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said Monday that under the Oslo Accords, Israel is allowed to demolish homes that pose a security risk.

Saeb Erekat, the secretary general of the PLO Executive Committee, described the demolitions on Twitter as a “war crime” and said the Executive Committee would hold an emergency meeting about the matter.

Earlier this year, the High Court rejected a petition brought by the building owners, all of whom hold Israeli residency, suing for the annulment of demolition orders against their properties.

In its ruling, the Court said: “The original construction ban order and the orders extending it were publicized as required. The petitioners took the law into their own hands when they started and continued to build structures without receiving a special permit from the military commander.”

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 the Jerusalem area. (Photo by Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

The court also noted that the structures could be used to traffic weapons and provide cover for terrorists and Palestinians who have illegally entered Israel.

The PLO Negotiation Affairs Department slammed the court’s ruling last week, stating that it “aims to set a precedent to enable the Israeli occupying forces to demolish numerous Palestinian buildings located in close proximity to Israel’s Annexation Wall.”

Al-Khatib, the owners’ lawyer, accused Israel of applying a double standard with regard to building next to the security fence.

“Why are my clients barred from building close to the wall, while others are given permits in many other places to build adjacent to it,” the attorney said in a phone call, pointing out that the Rami Levy supermarket chain recently constructed a mall next to the security barrier in northern Jerusalem.

He added that the court’s ruling undermines the agreements between Israel and the PLO that gave administrative and security control to the PA in parts of the West Bank.

“A major loser here is Oslo,” he said, referring to the agreements. “What we basically see here is that the PA does not control parts of the land that are supposed to be under its control.”

The Hamas terror group censured the demolitions, contending that they require “the release of the hand of the resistance in the West Bank and a decisive Palestinian response with a comprehensive national program that preserves Jerusalem’s identity and standing.”

The demolitions also drew condemnation from the UN and EU.

“Despite calls not to go ahead with the demolition, the destruction of residential buildings in #SurBahir will displace many #Palestinian families. No amount of humanitarian aid can compensate their suffering! #Israel must stop this policy,” UN Middle East peace envoy Nickolay Mladenov wrote on Twitter.

The European Union also urged Israel to immediately halt the razings.

“In line with the EU’s long-standing 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.”

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