The number of demolitions of Palestinian homes and other structures by Israeli authorities in occupied East Jerusalem is almost as high as 2016, which saw the highest number of demolitions since 2000, according to a new UN report.
“Recent developments in East Jerusalem highlight the coercive environment affecting many Palestinian residents of the city,” the UN OCHA monthly bulletin states, citing evictions and planned evictions in neighbourhoods like Sheikh Jarrah.
At least 260 Palestinians living in 24 residential buildings in the area are under threat of eviction in cases “brought against them by Israeli settler organisations, the General Custodian and/or Israeli individuals”.
UN OCHA notes that, whether by demolition or eviction, displacement generates substantial humanitarian needs, “it deprives people of their homes, disrupts their livelihoods and access to services, and often has a devastating psychosocial impact, particularly among children”.
Israeli settlers are “targeting densely populated Palestinian residential areas of East Jerusalem,” reports the UN agency, “in particular the Muslim and Christian quarters of the Old City, Silwan, Sheikh Jarrah, At-Tur (Mount of Olives), Wadi Joz, Ras Al-Amud and Jabal Mukabbir.”
More than 3,000 Israeli settlers now live in these areas, “either in houses expropriated using the Absentee Property Law on the basis of alleged prior Jewish ownership, in buildings purchased from Palestinian owners, or in residences custom built and financed by settler organisations”.
Expanding on the use of the courts by settlers to pursue the eviction of Palestinian families, UN OCHA notes how such methods are “based on claims the properties had been owned by Jewish individuals or associations prior to 1948”.
A 1970 Israeli law acknowledges such claims “despite the fact that Jews who lost their properties during 1948 received compensation and alternative housing, primarily in neighbourhoods previously inhabited by Palestinians,” UN OCHA states.
The law “does not permit Palestinians who owned land or property in areas before 1948 that are now part of the State of Israel and were declared ‘absentees’ to regain their former possessions.”
For Palestinians, the impact of intense settler activity includes “restrictions on public space, residential growth and freedom of movement, along with increased friction and violence”, as well as, “in the most severe cases”, “loss of property and the eviction of long-term Palestinian residents”.
In 2017 to date, up to and including August, Israeli authorities have demolished 107 structures in occupied East Jerusalem due to the lack of (“nearly impossible to obtain”) building permits. The demolitions have resulted in the displacement of 179 people, including 107 children.
Four neighbourhoods, in particular, were “most heavily affected” – Jabal Mukabbir, Beit Hanina, Al Issawiya and Silwan – and, combined, accounted for 75 per cent of “demolition incidents documented this year and 70 per cent of all structures demolished” in 2017 to date.
The average number of people displaced in 2017 as a result of demolitions in East Jerusalem has slightly increased compared with the monthly average in 2016 (22.3 vs 21.2).