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From the field

House demolitions in Silwan, East Jerusalem

Last Wednesday [5 November], the Jerusalem Municipality demolished one house and an addition to another house, both in the Bustan section in the center of Silwan, a neighborhood in East Jerusalem. Dozens of local residents protested the action, some of them throwing stones at police and Border Police forces, who responded by firing tear gas and in one case, fired a shot of live ammunition at a balcony on which stone-throwers were standing. During the course of removing the occupants of the houses intended for destruction, one policeman assaulted two residents of the neighborhood. That same day, the Municipality demolished an events hall in Beit Hanina and a residential dwelling Shua'fat.

The Bustan section of Silwan contains some ninety houses, which are home to about one thousand persons. Most of the houses were built in the 1980s and 1990s. A few were built prior to Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem, in 1967. In the 1990s, the Municipality demolished four homes in the neighborhood. In November 2004, the city engineer at the time, Uri Shitreet, directed the head of the Municipality's building supervision department to demolish all houses in the neighborhood to enable expansion of the King's Valley archeological park, which surrounds the Old City. In early 2005, the Municipality began to carry out the directive, and residents of the neighborhood began to receive demolition orders and charges were filed against them for building without a permit. At the time, the Municipality demolished two houses in al-Bustan.

Local residents requested the attorney general to prevent the destruction of the neighborhood. Also, international pressure was brought to cancel the plan. Subsequently, Mayor Uri Lupoliansky stated, in 2005, that he retracted the plan and that the residents would be allowed to propose a plan that meets their development needs. In August 2008, the residents presented their plan. The city engineer, Shlomo Eshkol, informed them that the plan would not be considered in the immediate future, and that the Municipality was proceeding with the plan to build a national park on the site.

If the Municipality carries out its plan to demolish the houses in al-Bustan, it would be the most massive demolition action carried out by the Municipality since the demolition of the Mugrabi section of the Old City, in 1967, to build the expanse in front of the Western Wall.

The Municipality's outline plan for the Old City, drafted in 1977, marked the existing structures in al-Bustan, while classifying the neighborhood open, public space. Although more than thirty years have passed since then, the Municipality has refused to issue building permits or approve existing construction, except in isolated cases. Indeed, choking development of the neighborhood is characteristic of the Municipality's planning and building policy in East Jerusalem since 1967.

This policy is especially problematic in that, in Silwan, plans are being advanced to develop the compound run by the settler non-profit societies Elad and Ateret Cohanim, and build the City of David National Park, operated by Elad, which is being constructed between Palestinian houses surrounding al-Bustan. In addition, these societies are building institutions and parking lots, and archeological excavations are being conducted, close to Palestinian houses in Silwan. The Municipality also refrains from demolishing a large structure that Ateret Cohanim built without a permit in Silwan.

Destruction of the neighborhood denies its residents the right to housing, which is derived from the right to an adequate standard of living as it is defined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In addition, the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits the occupying state to destroy the property of residents of occupied territory, who benefit from the status of protected persons, “except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military actions.” The Convention further states that “extensive destruction . . . of property not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly” constitutes a grave breach of the Convention.

B'Tselem calls on the Jerusalem Municipality to cancel its plan to demolish houses in al-Bustan, to change its discriminatory and illegal policy, and to cooperate with residents of the neighborhood to develop an outline plan that will meet their needs.