Palestinians press EU to help prevent East Jerusalem home demolitions

PA official tells European diplomats ‘serious action’ is needed to stop unprecedented court order to raze 70 apartments in area under PA control

EU diplomats are given a tour of Palestinian buildings which have been issued notices to be demolished, in the village of Dar Salah near Beit Sahur in the West Bank south of Bethlehem on July 16, 2019. (HAZEM BADER / AFP)
EU diplomats are given a tour of Palestinian buildings which have been issued notices to be demolished, in the village of Dar Salah near Beit Sahur in the West Bank south of Bethlehem on July 16, 2019. (HAZEM BADER / AFP)

Palestinian officials urged diplomats Tuesday to take action to prevent Israel from carrying out a demolition order against Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem ahead of a court deadline.

Diplomats from around 20 mostly European countries toured the Sur Baher area where the demolition orders have been given on the grounds that the buildings are in a zone near Israel’s security barrier in southern Jerusalem.

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 Palestinian Authority-controlled Area A of the West Bank.

“When the house is demolished, we will be in the streets,” Ismail Abadiyeh, 42, who lives in one of the buildings under threat with his family, including four children, told the diplomats.

French consul general for Jerusalem, Pierre Cochard, told journalists he did not think the security explanation provided by Israel was sufficient to move ahead with the move.

“I think it’s important to underline that we cannot deny their right,” Cochard said, referring to the families living in the homes. “They are here in Palestinian territory.”

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

The PA’s Governor of Jerusalem, Adnan Gheith, said “we are looking for serious actions from your governments to stop these continuous crimes.”

The High Court of Justice ruling last month dismissed a petition by Palestinian residents requesting the cancellation of a military order prohibiting construction.

On June 18, residents received a 30-day notice from Israeli authorities informing them of their intent to demolish the homes.

According to the UN humanitarian affairs agency, the ruling affects 10 buildings already built or under construction, including around 70 apartments.

Some 17 people would be displaced and around 350 others affected, the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.

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

The Israel Defense Forces did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Israel says the structures facing demolition are in a security area where construction is barred. But Palestinians say it is nearly impossible to receive construction permits from Israeli authorities and a housing shortage has resulted.

Beyond that, Palestinians accuse Israeli authorities of using security as a pretext to systematically push them out of the Jerusalem area.

Pierre Cochard (C-R), the French consul general for Jerusalem, along with other EU diplomats are shown Palestinian buildings in Sur Baher which are slated to be be demolished, from the village of Dar Salah near Beit Sahur in the West Bank on July 16, 2019. (HAZEM BADER / AFP)

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 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 barrier and increased Israeli building in the capital have hemmed in the neighborhood from other directions.

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 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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