"The notion of a united city does not exist anymore," he said.
ONE gray morning last November, scores of Israeli police officers converged on a bluff in East Jerusalem, surrounded a modest home and escorted a bulldozer crew to the door.
Kamil Saou, a 43-year-old Palestinian landscaper, had built the home without a permit. That gave the government the legal right to demolish the home. As Saou raced off to seek a court injunction, a policewoman ordered his wife, Suad, to collect her valuables and led her to the street. The bulldozer tore through the three-room stone house, Suad said, and crushed most of their 300 olive, almond, apricot and lemon seedlings.
The couple's five children came home from school that afternoon to a pile of rubble. Their new house was a tent the Red Cross had pitched on the lawn.
On average, such scenes play out twice a week in East Jerusalem.
Since the 1980s, Israeli authorities have fought a largely unsuccessful battle to stop the growth of Palestinian neighborhoods. City officials acknowledge that more than a third of all Palestinian homes were built without permits. Palestinians say zoning and building restrictions are so severe that they have no choice but to build illegally.
Along with 26 neighbors in the Beit Hanina district, the Saous built on land they owned.
But the government had designated it a "green area," off-limits to Palestinian construction. Successive Israeli governments have made such designations, planted trees, and later cut them down to build homes for Jews.
The city threatened to demolish all 27 of the Beit Hanina homes, but then backed down and agreed to consider the community's appeal.
Osnat Post, acting city engineer, said her office had taken a more lenient approach in recent years to accommodate Palestinians' need for housing. However, the city is often at cross purposes with Israel's Interior Ministry, which is concerned primarily with law enforcement. It was the ministry's bulldozer that tore down the Saous' home, leaving the rest of the neighborhood standing, after the family missed a deadline for renewing its permit application.
That wasn't the end of the story. Kamil Saou assembled a building crew and worked day and night for three weeks. They had nearly finished a slightly larger house when the ministry returned in late December and posted a new demolition order.
The Saous got to court in time to win a temporary reprieve.
"The Jews can build anything they want," Suad Saou said, pointing out her kitchen window as earthmoving equipment carved new lots for the Jewish neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo across the valley. "On our land they only want to destroy."
Yet the family's resilience underscores another reality: Palestinians are building faster than the Israelis can demolish. Adding to the boom now are Palestinians moving back into Jerusalem because they fear being shut out by the barrier Israel is building.
According to Meir Margalit, a former Jerusalem city councilman who opposes demolitions, Palestinians have constructed more than 1,000 homes a year in East Jerusalem in this decade, more than 90% of them without permits. The most torn down in a single year was 152.
Palestinians have fended off the bulldozers with Israeli help.
Israeli courts routinely delay demolition orders. The Israeli press has given sympathetic coverage to Palestinian protests, such as a peaceful sit-in two years ago that forced the city to call off plans to destroy 88 homes in one neighborhood. Many Israelis oppose the demolitions on humanitarian grounds or object to the diversion of large numbers of police to protect the wrecking crews.
The policy of limiting Palestinian communities "has not worked," said Daniel Seidemann, a Jerusalem lawyer and critic of land-use policy in the city. "You have anarchic growth in East Jerusalem. The city has lost control."