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Jerusalem Municipal Services for the Neighborhoods beyond the Wall: House Demolition

In July 2016, the Israeli authorities demolished 13 homes in the eastern section of Qalandia al-Balad, close to the Separation Barrier. In September, a demolition order was issued against another building in the area. This section of Qalandia al-Balad falls within Jerusalem city limits. Some of its residents hold Israeli identity cards, pay municipal taxes and National Insurance, and are entitled to receive services from the Jerusalem Municipality. Since Qalandia was isolated by the Separation Barrier it has faced worsening neglect, as have other neighborhoods within city limits but beyond the barrier. The Jerusalem Municipality does not provide services in these areas and rarely enforces building laws. Its planning policy, which denies Palestinians building permits in the neighborhoods inside the barrier, forces them to build without permits. Frequent enforcement operations by the municipality have exacerbated the serious housing crisis in these areas. As a result, the neighborhoods beyond the barrier have become attractive to Palestinians who hold Israeli identity cards. They can maintain their East Jerusalem residency status while living in these areas, and the virtual absence of enforcement enables them to establish homes.

A map of the Qalandia area. The area where the municipality demolished homes is marked red. Click to enlarge.
A map of the Qalandia area. The area where the municipality demolished homes is marked red. Click to enlarge.

On this occasion, however, the municipality has decided to depart from its usual policy and to provide services in this area. The service it has chosen to provide is the demolition of homes.

I took early retirement and received compensation… I decided to invest the money in building a home, because we were suffering from overcrowding. We wanted to leave ‘Anata because it’s very congested there and you can’t get any privacy. My wife inherited a plot of land in Qalandia from her family, so we decided to buy another plot there and combine them. We started building in March 2016. We went to the construction site every day. We spent a lot of time discussing the house and the internal division of space – here will be our bedroom, here will be our daughter’s room and our son’s room, and so on. We planned that when they grew up and got married we would add a new story for each of them and keep our home. That’s how we dreamed our lives would be… But on 28 June 2016, we found a cease work order hanging on our new home. Before we could even submit an appeal, a large Israeli force came to the town with bulldozers and they began to demolish homes in the neighborhood…

The forces withdrew in the early morning. I looked at our home and saw that it had been transformed into a pile of dust and concrete blocks. It was a chilling sight. I was in shock. In one instant, my joy had been taken away, a window of hope had collapsed, and happiness faded. Nothing remained of all the effort and all my life savings… We were so close to moving into our new home. And suddenly, within a single hour, it was turned into rubble that will remain like a memorial, reminding us constantly of our pain.

From the testimony of Salah ‘Ajalin, retired teacher

On 23 and 30 June 2016, Jerusalem Municipality inspectors came to Wadi al-‘Arayis, a neighborhood in the east of Qalandia within Jerusalem city limits. The inspectors posted cease work orders on 13 new buildings. Some if the orders were issued on the grounds of “construction without permit,” while others stated that the reason was construction on confiscated land. The orders were posted on the rear walls of the buildings late at night; they did not specify the owners’ names, but merely the geographical coordinates. On 24 July 2016, 13 administrative demolition orders were posted on the same buildings. The orders were issued by the Israeli Interior and Finance Ministries, and stated that the building would be demolished within 24 to 72 hours. The owners contacted the Palestinian Authority, which forwarded the matter to al-Quds Center, which provides legal representation in such cases.

On Monday, 25 July 2016, at 9:00 p.m., before most of the residents had managed to appeal the orders, bulldozers came to the neighborhood, accompanied by security forces. The forces demolished 13 homes and an agricultural fence, leaving53 residents homeless, including 27 minors, and causing serious distress to dozens more people who were due to move into the newly-constructed homes.

Ruins of the family home of Hisham Hussein with the Separation Barrier in the background. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem 27 July 2016.
Ruins of the family home of Hisham Hussein with the Separation Barrier in the background. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem 27 July 2016.

We moved into our new home on 24 June 2016. The night before, cease work orders were posted on 11 homes, including mine, on the grounds of construction without permits. They did not present us with the order in person, but stuck it on the rear wall of the house. We didn’t even know it was there. On the night of 24 July 2016, they again posted orders on the homes. We learned that it is very difficult to appeal these demolition orders, and within 24 hours the Israeli security forces came and demolished our home.

We didn’t have a chance to remove anything from the house. We started to take some furniture out, but within 10 minutes the security forces began to shoot stun and gas grenades into the stairwell. My brother Ibrahim and I dragged the fridge out, but we didn’t manage to get it downstairs. When we smelled the gas, we left the fridge on the stairs and ran out. Then they moved us away from the scene. We all went to my aunt’s home, which is nearby.

The bulldozers began to demolish the building. I felt like I was suffocating and couldn’t breathe properly, and I had a strong sense of frustration. My heart broke from the pain and the tears flowed down by themselves. I looked at my children and my heart broke. I’d worked all my life to save money so I could build my dream home- for me and for them.

From the testimony of Hisham Hussein, a resident of the neighborhood

Raafat ‘Awadallah’s building, Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem 27 July 2016
Raafat ‘Awadallah’s building, Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem 27 July 2016

On 19 September 2016, an official from the Israeli Ministry of Interior official, escorted by border police, arrived at another construction site in the neighborhood of al-Wa’ar, also in the eastern part of Qalandia and within Jerusalem city limits. The officers told the owner of the eight-story apartment building under construction at the site to cease work and informed him the building was slated for demolition.

Raafat ‘Awaddalh in front of his building. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem 27 July 2016.On 19 September, at 10:00 a.m. an official from the Israeli Ministry of Interior came to my construction site, accompanied by border police officers. They raided the site, took photos of the plot and the building and took measurements. The official told me: It’s over. Stop the work and let your workers go. You’ll save on costs because there’s going to be a demolition. I asked him what the reason for the demolition was, but he didn’t explain. Just said I’d receive notice in the mail. Then they left.

If the building is demolished, my future, my family’s future and the future of nine other families who bought apartments from me and are waiting for construction to be completed is ruined. These families spent all their savings, sold jewelry to buy these apartments. Imagine what happens to these people when the bulldozers drag put all their dreams to ruin. Ever sSince this happened I haven’t been able to rest during the day or sleep at night. I’m worried they’ll show up any minute to carry out the demolition. I’ve put my entire life into this project – everything I’ve saved in all my years of work.

From the testimony of Raafat Awadallah, building owner


Background

Qalandia al-Balad is a Palestinian town to the north of Jerusalem, in the al-Quds District of the Palestinian Authority. The disused Atarot Airport lies to the east of the town, while the Palestinian town of Rafat lies to the north. Some of the eastern neighborhoods of Qalandia are within the boundaries of the Jerusalem Municipality. According to the Palestinian Authority Central Bureau of Statistics, Qalandia al-Balad had a population of 1,378 in 2016, most of whom hold Palestinian Authority identity cards. A minority of around 10 percent of the residents, mainly in the eastern neighborhoods of the town, hold Israeli identity cards for East Jerusalem residents.

In 2006 Israel built a section of the Separation Barrier which disconnected Qalandia completely from East Jerusalem, and divided it from the Palestinian town of Rafat to the north. In 2012, Israel built another section of the Separation Barrier, which circled Qalandia from the east and cut it off from East Jerusalem. At the same time, the authorities installed an exit in the fence in the direction of Rafat. This is currently the only access point for residents of the town.

Al-Matar, one of the eastern neighborhoods of the town, was left outside the barrier, in a section between Qalandia and East Jerusalem. The Israeli authorities put up another fence around this neighborhood. This fence is not contiguous and is passable by fot or car. The military initially installed a gate in the section of the Separation Barrier running between Qalandia al-Balad and the neighborhood of al-Matar. It opened three times daily. The military closed the gate a year later, and ever since, residents of al-Matar access Qalandia al-Balad through the Qalandia checkpoint, which forces them to take a 5 kilometer detour around the Separation Fence (the Jerusalem-Ramallah road).

The erection of the Separation Barrier affected the lives of tens of thousands of people living in the neighborhoods that were left on its other side, including the northern neighborhoods of Kafr ‘Aqab, Samiramis and the eastern neighborhoods of Qalandia, including al-Matar, which remained to the west of the barrier, and the neighborhoods of Wadi al-‘Arayis, which remained to its east. These neighborhoods are all located within Jerusalem city limits. Their residents pay municipal taxes and National Insurance and are entitled to receive services from the municipality.

However, the Jerusalem Municipality and other Israeli authorities have almost entirely abandoned their responsibilities toward these residents. In July 2015, Ir Amim submitted a petition on the residents’ behalf demanding the repair of roads in these neighborhoods. The petition described the grave neglect facing the neighborhoods, and emphasized that the municipality provides virtually no services. The roads are in disrepair, sewage and electricity infrastructure is deficient, and there is a shortage of schools, sidewalks, and playgrounds. In addition, these neighborhoods are not equipped with vital facilities such as mother and child clinics, distribution of mail to homes, and fire-fighting services. The municipality does not provide cleaning services, and accordingly these are instead supplied by the Palestinian Authority.

Testimonies:

The ruins of the family home of Sharif ‘Awadallah. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem 27 July 2016.
The ruins of the family home of Sharif ‘Awadallah. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem 27 July 2016.

Sharif Mahmoud Ahmad ‘Awadallah, 74, resident of al-Matar neighborhood in Qalandia, stated in a testimony given on 27 July 2016 to B'Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad:

In 2012, the Separation Fence that cut us off from the rest of Qalandia al-Balad was put up, and we’ve lived in a short of cage ever since. We filed complaints on the matter through lawyers and human rights organizations, asking for a solution. At first, the military installed a small gate for us leading in the direction of the rest of the town. They opened the gate three times a day, morning, afternoon and evening. It was like the way prisoners are released into the yard. That arrangement continued for about a year. Then they closed the gate and gave us permits to leave and return through Qalandia Checkpoint. Since then, we have had to make a detour of at least five kilometers that takes us between 15 minutes and two hours, depending on the traffic jams at the checkpoint or along the road to Qalandia. We are even cut off from our own families, and this leads to serious social and psychological problems. Because of this situation, I decided we had to leave the neighborhood. I own a plot of land that I inherited from my father in Wadi al-‘Arayis, and I decided to build a home there. This land is about 200 meters from the fence, in an area that belongs to Jerusalem in administrative terms, alongside the main road of Qalandia. There is a small neighborhood there consisting of a few homes that were built with permits before 1967, and the area has electricity, water, and sewage services.

I submitted an application for a building permit to the local Palestinian authorities, but it turned out they do not have the legal authority to issue building permits – that authority rests with the Jerusalem Municipality. I didn’t submit a request for a building permit to the Jerusalem Municipality because it’s well known that they don’t give permits here.

I started building the house in 2013. It took us three years to complete the shell, and during all that time no-one gave me any warning or cease work order. On 30 June 2016 Jerusalem Municipality officials came, accompanied by security forces, and posted cease work orders on the building. The same day they also gave warnings to our neighbors in about 10 homes, some of which were already occupied.

The order stated that we must apply to the relevant offices in Beit El to receive building permits. I prepared the necessary plans and maps and submitted a request through Mahmoud ‘Ideh, a surveyor. The hearing in the application was postponed to 27 July 2016 due to a computer error, but on 25 July, two days before the scheduled date, Jerusalem Municipality officials came with security forces and demolished our home, without any additional warning.

The bulldozers demolished my dream and my family’s dream to live with our children and grandchildren. They threw away NIS 200,000 we had invested in the home.

Ruins  of the family home of Salah ‘Ajalin. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem 27 July 2016.
Ruins  of the family home of Salah ‘Ajalin. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem 27 July 2016.

Salah Musa Suliman ‘Ajalin, 54, resident of ‘Anata, stated in testimony given on 27 July 2016 to B'Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad:

My wife and I have four children and we live in ‘Anata in an apartment that belongs to my brother. Our family was uprooted from Khirbet al-‘Amarin in the Negev in 1948. Some of the family moved to the Hebron area and others were scattered around the Jerusalem area, in ‘Anata and other places. My wife and I worked as teachers all our lives. I took early retirement and received NIS 400,000 in compensation. I decided to invest the money in building a home, because we were suffering from overcrowding and also for the sake of our children in the future, when they want to get married. We wanted to leave ‘Anata, because it’s very congested and you can’t get any privacy.

My wife inherited a plot of land in Qalandia from her family, so we decided to buy another plot there and combine them. The plots are situated inside the Separation Barrier built around the town, but close to inhabited homes. We knew that it was difficult to get permits in the area, because although it is beyond the barrier, it belongs to the Jerusalem Municipality in administrative terms.

We started building in March 2016. We went to the construction site every, and supervised the work of the contractors and workers. We spent a lot of time discussing the house and the internal division of space – here will be our bedroom, here will be our daughter’s room and our son’s room, and so on. We planned that when they grew up and got married we would add a new story for each of them and keep our home. That’s how we dreamed our lives would be.

We didn’t submit an application for a building permit because we thought it would be a waste of time, effort, and money. We knew that it was doomed to failure from the outset. The whole town suffers from the fact that they don’t give building permits in the areas under Israeli control – not for the section under the responsibility of the municipality, and not for the section that is in Area C, under the authority of the Civil Administration in Beit El. By July, we had completed a two-story building. We finished the first floor and planned to move in on 30 July 2016, and then slowly finish construction on the second floor.

We could hardly contain our joy. Every hour and every day the children waited for us to move into the new home. All the time one of them would jump up and say, “Dad, when are we going to move into our new home? When will we live there?”

But on 28 June 2016, we found a cease work order hanging on our new home. It must have been posted there at night. The order claimed that the land on which it was had been confiscated and belonged to the state. I went to the office of the governor of the al-Quds district in the Palestinian Authority, with my lawyer, Husam Yusef. He began to deal with the matter with the relevant Israeli authorities. A few days later, they told us that there was no confiscation order, and confirmed that the land was registered in our names in the Land Registry and with the Land Registrar in Jerusalem.

On 21 July 2016, we received another warning, this time a cease work order on the grounds of construction without a permit. They demanded that we begin the permit process. The order’s heading had the Finance Ministry and the Interior Ministry on it.

We went again to the office of the governor of the al-Quds district in the PA. Like the previous time, they told us that they couldn’t help us and that our lawyer should handle the matter. We began to prepare the necessary documents to submit an application for a building permit to the relevant Israeli authorities. But before we could even submit the application, we received an administrative demolition order, which is very difficult to appeal. They posted it on our home late on the evening of Sunday, 24 July 2016.

We were given an extension of 24 to 72 hours. The next day, I contacted the lawyer, who referred me to another lawyer in Jerusalem who had also been contacted by people who had received orders together with us. The lawyer began to prepare an appeal, but the next day, before we managed to submit it, a large Israeli force came to the town with bulldozers and started demolishing homes in the neighborhood.

The forces withdrew in the early morning. I looked at our home and saw that it had been transformed into a pile of dust and concrete blocks. It was a chilling sight. I was in shock. In one instant my joy had been taken away, a window of hope had collapsed, and happiness faded. Nothing remained of all the effort and all my life savings.

We were so close to moving into our new home. And suddenly, within a single hour, it was turned into rubble that will remain like a memorial, reminding us constantly of our pain.

Hisham Mahmoud ‘Abd al-Ghani Hussein, 42, resident of Qalandia, stated in testimony given on 27 July 2016 to B'Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad:

Until about a month ago, I lived with my family in a rental in Qalandia. My wife and I decided to build a home that we could leave to our children, on land I inherited from my family close to other members of the family – uncles, aunts, and cousins – most of whose homes were built with permits before the Israeli occupation. I didn’t try to get a permit, because the Jerusalem Municipality and the Civil Administration in Beit El don’t give building permits in the area.

We moved into our new home on 24 June 2016. The night before cease work orders were posted on 11 homes, including mine, on the grounds of construction without permits. They did not present us with the order in person, but stuck it on the rear wall of the house. We didn’t even know it was there. On the night of 24 July 2016, they again posted orders on the homes. We learned that it is very difficult to appeal these demolition orders, and within 24 hours the Israeli security forces came and demolished our home.

We didn’t have a chance to remove anything from the house. We started to take some furniture out, but within 10 minutes the security forces began to shoot stun and gas grenades into the stairwell. My brother Ibrahim and I dragged the fridge out, but we didn’t manage to get it downstairs. When we smelled the gas, we left the fridge on the stairs and ran out. Then they moved us away from the scene. We all went to my aunt’s home, which is nearby. The bulldozers began to demolish the building. I felt like I was suffocating and couldn’t breathe properly, and I had a strong sense of frustration. My heart broke from the pain and the tears flowed down by themselves. I looked at my children and my heart broke. I’d worked all my life to save money so I could build my dream home- for me and for them.

They destroyed our dreams in front of my children – they were there and saw their house, their dream, destroyed by the security forces. These were very difficult moments. I don’t have the words to describe what we experienced. I lost over NIS 550,000 I had invested in the shell and the finishing work. Everything was lost and turned into rubble. Even the furniture was destroyed along with the house – the living room, sofas, mattresses, a television, a cooktop, the fridge, kitchen cabinets, bathroom cabinets – everything.

Raafat ‘Awadallah, 63, resident of Qalandia and the owner of a building, stated in testimony taken on 24 September 2016 by B'Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad:

On 19 September, at 10:00 a.m. an official from the Israeli Ministry of Interior came to my construction site. He introduced himself as Shimon and was accompanied by border police officers. They raided the site, took photos of the plot and the building, and took measurements. I asked Shimon what they were doing, and he told me that the building had been constructed illegally and must be demolished. He asked me about the ownership of the land and I showed him the document. He photographed the document and my identity card with his cell phone. He told me, “It’s over, stop the work and let your workers go. You’ll save on costs because there’s going to be a demolition .” He added that it would be better for me to demolish the building by myself, because otherwise I would have to pay NIS 400,000. I asked him what the reason for the demolition was, but he didn’t explain. Just said I’d receive notice in the mail. Then they left .

I contacted the legal desk in the Jerusalem District of the Palestinian Authority and asked them to help. They are still looking into it.

If the building is demolished, my future, my family’s future and the future of nine other families who bought apartments from me and are waiting for construction to be completed is ruined. In the final analysis, I will be fully liable for all the losses. Where will I find the money to repay the families who don’t get their apartments? These families spent all their savings, sold jewelry to buy these apartments. Everyone has aspirations and dreams for their future and their children’s future. Imagine what will happen to these people when the bulldozers put all their dreams to ruin.

Ever since this happened I haven’t been able to rest during the day or sleep at night. I’m worried they’ll show up any minute to carry out the demolition. I’ve put my entire life into this project – everything I’ve saved in all my years of work.