WEST BANK: Home demolitions cause severe problems, U.N. official says

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After visiting the site of a Palestinian home that Jerusalem municipal workers demolished on Tuesday, a United Nations official said that such demolitions ‘have a severe social and economic impact on the lives and welfare of Palestinians.”

Maxwell Gaylard, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory, Wednesday called on Israel to cease demolition of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Mousa Subuh put together three shipping containers on his property to make a modest home for his and his son’s families -- a total of 13 people -- in the Ras el-Amoud neighborhood of East Jerusalem after the municipality refused to give him a permit to build a regular home.

He thought that living in shipping containers on his land would not violate building codes in Jerusalem since they are not permanent structures. Subuh must have learned this tactic from Jewish settlers who, when they want to start a new settlement on some West Bank land, put a couple of containers on that land and a couple of families in them to create a de-facto home.


If the government does not remove them, the containers eventually become a full fledged settlement with permanent stone homes. The only difference between Subuh and the Jewish settlers is that Subuh put the shipping container on his land while the settlers put theirs on someone else’s land. But Subuh is not allowed to keep the containers as a home, while no one attempts to remove the settlers.

The Jerusalem municipality must have also learned from the Jewish settlers who start with containers. Officials thought if they allowed Subuh to keep the containers, they would become de facto homes.

This is why less than two years after Subuh put the shipping containers on his land the municipality sent its bulldozers to remove them.

Subuh was only informed a day before the bulldozers arrived at his home that if he did not take apart his makeshift home on his own, the municipality would do it for him and send him a bill of about $50,000 to cover the costs.

Knowing that he would not be able to fight the municipality on this matter and end up having to pay the costs, plus interest plus and fines even if he goes to prison for several years, he decided to destroy his home with his own hands.

But that did not spare him having to pay about $7,000 to the municipality just for sending the crew to demolish his home.

Subuh said he does not understand why he had to pay so much money for a bulldozer and few workers to come to demolish his home. The municipality sets the price and he will have no choice but to pay it.

Palestinians say Israel does not give them permits to build, hoping that they will eventually move out of Jerusalem to keep a 4-to-1 ratio of Jews to Palestinians in the Holy City. They say while hundreds of new housing units are built daily for Jews in and around East Jerusalem, including in the neighborhood of Ras el-Amoud where a former police station has been turned into a settlement for Jews, they are not allowed to build even one house. So they build without permits.

Israel has housed more than 200,000 Jews in East Jerusalem since its occupation in June 1967, with plans to house thousands more to offset the demographic balance in the city. There are currently 250,000 Palestinians living in East Jerusalem.

According to the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator’s office, Israel has demolished 396 Palestinian homes in 2010 in East Jerusalem and other areas of the West Bank, which are still under full Israeli control, displacing 561 people, including 280 children. This was an increase of 45% from last year, when Israel demolished 275 homes.

“The position of the United Nations remains that the Government of Israel must take immediate steps to cease demolitions and evictions in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem,” said Gaylard. “The destruction of this home and the displacement of these people raise serious concerns with regard to Israel’s obligations under international law,” he said.

-- Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank