East Jerusalem – Fakhri Abu Diab, 59, may soon have to decide whether to hire a crew to demolish his family’s building.
Diab is a community activist and one of several Palestinian residents of the Al-Bustan neighborhood in Silwan, which occupied East Jerusalem and was served demolition orders in December by Jerusalem’s Israeli-run community.
He built his property – in which 13 family members live in three residential units – without permission after he had been denied permission four times since his first application in 1987.
If the community follows the abandonment order served on December 9th, the cost could be $ 30,000.
Diab says that if he loses his home, “I have no choice but to pitch a tent right now”.
In December alone, 21 demolition orders were placed in Al-Bustan.
Homeowners and observers fear that, with the support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the community is preparing to demolish significant numbers of Palestinian homes in the city in the coming weeks.
New Israeli parliamentary elections in March and the final days of outgoing US President Donald Trump in the White House could accelerate such a move.
“Both in the city and at the national level there is a lot of pressure from the extreme right to use the remaining time,” Laura Wharton, city councilor in Jerusalem with the Israeli left-wing party Meretz, told Al Jazeera.
Wharton estimates the number of permanent demolition jobs in East Jerusalem at 30,000. However, it does not believe that all of them are at immediate risk.
In 2020 alone, the United Nations recorded 170 destruction in East Jerusalem and 644 demolitions in Area C of the occupied West Bank.
The figures show that this is the second highest number of destruction after 2016 since the UN began recording destruction in the Occupied Palestinian Territories in 2009.
A freeze on the demolition of inhabited houses in East Jerusalem went into effect October 1 to help contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
But the Jerusalem church abruptly ended the freeze on November 11th.
When Al Jazeera contacted the city council of Jerusalem about their response to the new demolition orders, they did not address the problem, but stated: “Jerusalem is one of the leading cities in the world when it comes to the needs of its people, all of it Residents to enter. especially in this difficult time. “
Silwan, which lies south of the city walls, has long been a target of ultra-nationalist religious settlers who often exercise influence over the Jerusalem community, Wharton said.
“It’s a problem when there are extremists, both within the community and nationally, trying to prove themselves,” Wharton told Al Jazeera.
Fight for Silwan
About 30,000 Palestinians live in Silwan, many of them in inferior houses with poor infrastructure.
Approximately 500 Jewish settlers live in scattered settlements across Silwan.
The City of David Foundation, an Israeli NGO commonly known as El-Ad (the Hebrew acronym for “To the City of David”), was founded in 1986 primarily to advance territorial claims through archeology and housing for settlers in Silwan.
About 30,000 Palestinians and 500 Israeli settlers live in Silwan [Ibrahim Husseini/Al Jazeera]In the mid-1990s, it was commissioned to operate the City of David Park, which it plans to expand from Wadi Hilweh near Al-Bustan.
The plan calls for nearly 90 Palestinian houses to be demolished to make way for a national park and a new housing estate for settlers.
The Jerusalem Congregation officially changed the name of Al-Bustan to Gan Hamelekh (King’s Garden) on the assumption that it was a garden for Israelite kings thousands of years ago.
The Palestinian residents of Al-Bustan had repeated applications for building permits that were rejected by the community because it is considered an “open landscape area” under a program called The King’s Valley.
“My house is destroyed”
“I’ve been hurt in so many ways. My home has been destroyed … my wife and children are separated from me now, ”28-year-old Kazem Abu Shafe’a told Al Jazeera.
Abu Shafe’a needed a home for his family of four. As a caregiver for the elderly on a modest income, however, he could not afford to move out of Silwan.
Therefore, in August he decided to build a house for his family on his mother’s house – also before a demolition warrant – without applying for a permit.
They moved to the expanded property in early November, but city officials issued a demolition order to Abu Shafe’a on November 17.
He consulted a lawyer, but told him that he could not lift the order.
Abu Shafe’a began to rescue furniture, the woman took the children and lived with their parents until they found a place to rent. Abu Shafe’a stayed at home with his mother.
On December 22nd, the demolition team arrived with the police and city workers.
“It was around noon and there was no prior notice,” said Abu Shafe’a.
“About 30 police officers dispersed in the neighborhood and the destruction was carried out,” he said.
Prevention of a Palestinian capital
Al-Bustan is not the only neighborhood in Silwan that is being pressured by the Israeli authorities.
Residents of Baten el-Hawa, in the heart of Silwan, face eviction orders after settler organizations successfully asserted property claims in Israeli courts.
Peace Now, an Israeli settlement monitoring group, says the settlers’ lawsuits will uproot an entire community in East Jerusalem based on the exercise of the “right of return” law that Israel grants only to its Jewish citizens.
Al-Bustan will bring the settlers closer to three locations. The city of David Park on the edge of Wadi Hilweh and Baten el-Hawa in the east.
“The vision is to connect the dots between all settlements in Palestinian neighborhoods,” Hagit Ofran, researcher and spokesman for Peace Now, told Al Jazeera. “To surround the old city, to prevent a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem.”
In sharp contrast to the demolition policy of the city of Jerusalem against Palestinians, a six-story building in Batn el-Hawa, which is inhabited by Jewish settlers, has stood since 2004.
The Yonatan House, named after Jonathan Pollard, an American intelligence analyst who spied on Israel, was built two decades ago without a permit. However, the community ignored a court order to evacuate and seal the building and left the house intact.
The 50-year-old Zuheir Rajabi and his family of six live in Batn el-Hawa, just a few meters from Yonatan House.
An Israeli court ruled that the family must leave their homes after the settler group Ateret Cohanim established ownership of land through the Israeli absentee custodian on behalf of a trust that is said to benefit poor Jewish Yemeni immigrants over a century ago.
Today there are 87 eviction orders against the Palestinian residents in Batn el-Hawa based on Ateret Cohanim’s complaints.
Rajabi told Al Jazeera there will be a strong response from residents once they start the demolitions.
“If all families are united in the face of this policy, we can stop the execution of the orders,” said Rajabi.