Security forces disperse Palestinian protest over East Jerusalem demolitions

Police reportedly fire tear gas at demonstrators who oppose plan to remove buildings in Sur Baher deemed too close to security barrier

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)
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)

Israeli security forces fired tear gas to break up a protest near the country’s West Bank security barrier on Thursday over an order for demolitions of Palestinian homes.

A small group of Palestinians set up a tent on the outskirts of Beit Sahur on the West Bank side of the fence next to East Jerusalem, before it was removed and tear gas was fired by police, an AFP journalist said.

Police did not respond to a request for comment. Israel considers the area near the fence a security zone.

Palestinian Red Crescent medics at the scene said 13 people suffered from tear gas inhalation, but did not require hospital treatment.

The protest was over a high court ruling last month dismissing a petition by residents of the Wadi al-Hummus area of the Sur Baher neighborhood on the Jerusalem side of the security fence requesting the cancellation of a military order prohibiting construction.

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.

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 could also be at risk in the near future.

A picture from the Palestinian village of Beit Sahur in the West Bank shows Palestinian buildings which have been issued demolition notices, in the Sur Baher neighborhood of East Jerusalem, July 11, 2019. (HAZEM BADER/AFP)

Protesters called the demolition plans a “war crime.”

“Our solidarity activities will not stop with our brothers and sisters,” said Younes Arar, 48, of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s colonization and wall resistance commission.

“We will continue to erect more tents all around, and we will continue to make our voice and message heard to the international community.”

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 systematically seeking to push them out of the Jerusalem area.

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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