UN officials join calls against East Jerusalem home demolitions

30-day warning period ends Thursday for 10 buildings in Palestinian-controlled part of Sur Baher neighborhood that Israel says are too close to security barrier

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)
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)

A day ahead of the possible demolition of 10 East Jerusalem buildings built near the security barrier, United Nations officials joined calls on Israel not to carry out the demolitions, saying they would displace 17 Palestinian residents and mean “massive property loss” for 350 more.

Israel says the structures facing demolition in the Sur Baher neighborhood, which straddles areas under Israeli and Palestinian Authority control, are in an area where construction is barred because of its proximity to the security barrier.

Palestinians have charged that the security concerns are a pretext to push them out of the Jerusalem area, and say it is nearly impossible to receive construction permits from Israeli authorities, resulting in a housing shortage in Arab neighborhoods in the city.

“Demolitions and forced evictions are some of the multiple pressures generating a risk of forcible transfer for many Palestinians in the West Bank,” the UN statement says. “Residents of East Jerusalem and adjacent areas have been particularly affected, with a significant rise in demolitions there in 2019.”

The letter warns that “displacement, particularly for the most vulnerable, is traumatic and has lasting consequences. We join others in the international community in calling on Israel to halt plans to demolish these and other structures and to implement fair planning policies that allow Palestinian residents of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the ability to meet their housing and development needs, in line with its obligations as an occupying power.”

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)

Demolition of unauthorized Palestinian-owned structures in East Jerusalem is not unusual. However, the homes slated for demolition, some of which are still under construction, are located in the Palestinian Authority-controlled Area A of the West Bank.

A High Court of Justice ruling last month dismissed a petition by Palestinian residents requesting the cancellation of a military order prohibiting construction in the 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 the area known as Wadi al-Hummus, citing its close proximity to the security barrier.

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

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 demolished, from the village of Dar Salah near Beit Sahur in the West Bank on July 16, 2019. (Hazem Bader/AFP)

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

On Tuesday, Palestinian Authority officials took diplomats from some 20 mostly European countries on a tour of the area and urged them to pressure Israel not to carry out the demolitions.

“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 during the visit.

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

Illustrative: Israeli police stand near an excavator as it demolishes a Palestinian home in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sur Baher on April 7, 2009. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

“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.”

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

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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