Palestinians clashed with Israeli police in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan on Tuesday after authorities demolished a butcher shop owned by a Palestinian family.
According to Israeli officials, the structure was built illegally in the al-Bustan area of Silwan, without a permit, on public land. Palestinians contend that their requests for permits are rarely granted by the Jerusalem municipality, giving them no choice but to build illegally.
Three Palestinian residents were arrested in the clashes and two police officers were lightly wounded, according to Israel Police’s Jerusalem division.
“[Police] were confronted with a riot that included stone throwing and the opposition of the three suspects to the order’s implementation, [who] attacked the officers,” the Israeli police said in a statement.
Palestinian residents said an additional 17 illegally built structures — including homes — have demolition orders in effect. The municipality has marked another 80 homes for demolition, but those orders are currently being fought in the courts.
“We’ve had the shop since 2010. We tried everything, bringing every form they asked for, but they just don’t want us here,” said Harbi al-Rajabi, whose son Nidal operates the butcher shop. Harbi said his home also has a demolition order pending in Jerusalem courts.
According to a former Jerusalem municipality official, al-Bustan’s Palestinian residents have rejected numerous offers by the city to accept compromises that would leave most of the homes in place.
“Every year, we would go to the courts to update them on the negotiations with residents, and ask for an extension of the freeze [in demolitions]. At a certain point, the court decided that these were going nowhere,” said the former official.
The Palestinian Red Crescent said 13 Palestinians were wounded during the clashes, including six who were struck by sponge-tipped bullets.
The Jerusalem municipality has contended that it demolishes structures when Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem build illegally.
“To remove all doubt — orders against illegal construction are enforced throughout the city on a daily basis, in both the west and east of the city.,” the municipality said in a statement.
Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967 and annexed it in 1980, in a move not recognized by the international community. Most East Jerusalemites are Palestinians with Israeli residency. The 358,000 Palestinians living there now constitute around 40% of the capital’s population.
قوات الاحتلال تهدم محلاً تجارياً في حي البستان بسلوان تعود ملكيته لعائلة الرجبي pic.twitter.com/ooOO8KemNU
— AlQastal القسطل (@AlQastalps) June 29, 2021
Silwan residents do not deny that the homes were built illegally, but argue that the Jerusalem municipality does not issue permits to East Jerusalem Palestinians.
According to the left-wing Ir Amim nonprofit, over 21,000 housing units were allocated in outline plans for Jerusalem in 2019, but less than 8% were in Palestinian neighborhoods — even though Palestinians make up 38% of the capital’s population.
“The municipality, for political reasons, has decided not to issue permits to allow construction in this area,” said local activist Fakhri Abu Diab, who serves as a spokesperson for the al-Bustan community.
A 2017 law introduced stiffer sanctions against illegal construction, where residents can be charged not only for the demolition, but also receive additional fines over the construction. The law also reduced legal recourse for those whose homes are threatened with demolition.
For years, the Jerusalem municipality sought to advance a plan in the al-Bustan area to create an expansive tourist park known as the King’s Garden. The al-Rajabis’ shop was not part of the area once slated to become part of the attraction, said the former municipality official.
Al-Bustan residents say they sought to advance a housing plan, in tandem with the Jerusalem municipality, which would legalize their homes and fend off the demolitions. Around three months ago, the municipality decided not to go forward with the proposal.
“The plan was accepted by the municipality’s technical planning team, but the political leadership couldn’t accept it,” said Abu Diab.
The Jerusalem municipality, however, blamed the intransigence of local residents for refusing to compromise.
“The residents’ representatives did not comply with the agreements reached with the municipality and rejected all the compromises presented to them,” the municipality said.
Evictions and home demolitions in East Jerusalem have seized global attention in recent months. The Hamas terror group has said one of the reasons it fired rockets toward Jerusalem in early May, setting off an 11-day conflict, was in response to planned evictions of Palestinians in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
Since the round of fighting between Israel and Hamas, the terror group has sought to link the building in Jerusalem and the situation in Gaza, which it calls “the new equation” created by last month’s hostilities.
As reports of the Tuesday demolition — with more potentially on the way — hit Palestinian media, Hamas threatened repercussions for Israel should further demolitions go forward in the East Jerusalem neighborhood.
“The continuation of this extremist racism, creating repeated crises for our people, will create ‘explosive storms,'” Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhum said on Tuesday.
Islamic Jihad, another Gaza-based terror group, also threatened that continued demolitions in Silwan could lead to renewed fighting between Israel and the Palestinians.
“The resistance is watching the Zionist escalation in Jerusalem, as it threatens the rules of engagement. It could lead the situation to explode and the region to burst aflame,” the Al-Quds Brigades, Islamic Jihad’s armed wing, said in a statement.
According to the former official, the Jerusalem municipality will likely not advance a widespread campaign of demolitions in the near future.
“Contrary to what some think, neither the police nor the municipality want to inflame tensions, or spark a war in Jerusalem. They understand that if they advance such a procedure, it will end badly,” the former official said.