Demolising Hopes, Evicting Peace: As the Knesset Pursues a Course That Uses House Demolitions and Forced Evictions as Part of Its Urban and Rural Planning Policy, It Risks the Possibilities for a Sustainable Peace in the Region and Threatens Its Own Economy
Hutchinson, Kerry, The Middle East
THERE IS A SMALL SUBURB IN EAST JERUSALEM called Silwan. Predominantly Palestinian, but with a small Jewish settler enclave, it came under Israeli municipal control in 1967. Underneath Silwan are allegedly the remains of part of 'The City of David', and Jerusalem's Mayor Barkat wants to create an attractive archaeological tourist park there, to be known as the 'Garden of the King'. But to do so, some 20 Palestinian homes must be demolished. The justification is that these homes were built illegally, that is, without planning permission. And by the time you read this, the bulldozers may have already moved in.
The problem with this kind of draconian approach is that it is entirely one-sided--Palestinian homes built without planning permission are demolished, yet dwellings built illegally by Jews, are not.
Many buildings were erected without planning permission in Silwan, yet are not slated for demolition. Take for example the seven-storey Beit Yehonatan building, which is home to several Jewish families. This was built without planning permission by the Zionist resettlement organisation Ateret Cohanim in 2003. Rather than being demolished however, the Israeli authorities granted retrospective planning permisson, a facility which is never offered to Palestinian homes, which are routinely demolished.
The Israeli NGO Rabbis for Human Rights accuses such Zionist settler organisations of forcibly evicting Palestinian families from their homes in and around Silwan, then declaring them 'empty'--and moving in under dubious use of the Absentee Property Law. Thus, Silwan is a microcosm of the frictions caused by a politically-motivated urban and rural planning regime that favours incoming Jews over long-term resident Palestinians.
In urban and rural planning terms in most developed countries, no structure can be built without planning permission. And there are many cases in western democracies whereby the constituent authorities have demolished houses built illegaly. But only as a last resort, and then only after due process in the courts, following the rule of law. But there are glaring differences between the internationally accepted norm and the way the planning process operates in Israel and its 'administered territories'.
For a start, according to EU and UN reports, it is virtually impossible for a Palestinian to obtain planning permission from the Israeli municipal authorities to build a family home. The application process for Palestinians is labyrinthine and expensive to discourage the applicant from even trying in the first place. And because of this, many Palestinians don't. Added to that, are the issues of where you want to build. Just as for Israeli citizens, Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, annexed by Israel in 1967, can only obtain construction permits for building homes in areas the Israeli authorities have earmarked, or 'zoned' for such construction.
While Palestinians account for some 70% of the total population of East Jerusalem, the Israeli authorities have allocated only about 10% of that area for Palestinian construction. Meanwhile, it has designated some 35% of East Jerusalem for house building for Jewish settlers. So, even if a Palestinian can wriggle through the tortuous and expensive procedures to get planning permission to build a home--he is constrained to an already densely built-up area of East Jerusalem. Most Palestinians don't, in any case, have money to waste on a planning system designed to encourage Jewish applicants and discourage Palestinians. So they use what money they have to build a family home without permission.
The UN estimates that some 60,000 Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, do so in homes that the Israeli Municipal Authority has declared illegal. Such dwellings could be served with demolition orders at any time.
Israel has been accused of pursuing an urban and rural planning policy deliberately designed to increase the Jewish population in and around East Jerusalem in order to seal it off from the Palestinian West Bank. …