Israel is planning to destroy hundreds of Palestinian apartments in occupied East Jerusalem in the single largest proposed demolition there since it annexed the area after the 1967 war.
The proposed demolition of structures deemed illegal in the Ras Hamis area, adjoining Shuafat refugee camp, was announced in posters put up on apartment buildings last week.
Standing in front of the 11-storey building where he lives, which sits on a dusty, unpaved street with no pavement in Ras Hamis, Issam Mohammed Ali, a civil engineer, said that 44 families in the block stood to lose their homes. “People don’t have money for another home. If our home is destroyed we can only buy a tent,” said Mr Ali, who is married with two children.
A descendant of refugees from one of the villages destroyed during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Mr Ali said that if the demolition went ahead, it would not be the first time his family had lost its home to Israel. “We are ready to die for our home,” he added.
A friend of Mr Ali, who also stands to lose his flat, asked a reporter if the demolitions really would take place, adding: “Who will stop them? Obama? Cameron? Of course not. They do whatever they want.”
Daoud Sabha, who has been a maintenance worker at the Jerusalem Post for 19 years, said he had used all of his severance pay and gone into debt for four years to buy his flat in Ras Hamis. “This is racism against poor people who need their homes,” he said.
Israel says the homes are illegal and were built without permits. “The municipality has a clear policy against building illegally whether done by Arabs or Jews in every part of Jerusalem,” said Brachie Sprung, a spokeswoman for the local authority. She stressed that the demolition plans did not constitute a “new policy” and the timing of the orders was dictated by court rulings.
The demolition orders add to Israeli-Palestinian distrust that threatens to impinge on a visit by the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, who is due to meet separately with the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, today in an attempt to encourage reconciliation between the two sides.
They have been engaged in what appear to have been fruitless negotiations since peace talks were revived in July. Israel also recently disclosed plans for thousands of new settler housing units to be built in East Jerusalem, where Palestinians hope to establish their capital, and in the West Bank.
“Israel is destroying every chance for peacemaking,” said Abdullah Abdullah, the deputy commissioner for international relations of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement. “The demolition orders are a slap in the face of Kerry and go against all his efforts to revive the peace process.”
Mark Regev, a spokesman for Mr Netanyahu, took issue with that assessment. “The Palestinian leadership is being disingenuous. This round of peace talks is based on understandings which Israel is keeping scrupulously. The Palestinians knew that settlement building would continue [during the negotiations],” he said.
Ms Sprung said the demolition orders were for 11 high-rise buildings, but Palestinians said a larger number had been issued. The blocks of flats lie beyond Israel’s West Bank separation barrier but within territory annexed to the Jerusalem municipality in after the Arab-Israeli war of 1967.
Yehudit Oppenheimer, the director of the peaceable Ir Amim group, said that in recent years the municipality had forced people to relocate to the new high-rises by severely restricting construction in other Arab areas of Jerusalem.
She said the demolition orders would be virtually impossible to implement “without causing a disaster” since they involved high-rises that are close to one another.
Instead, Ms Oppenheimer said, the orders were probably meant to “threaten” residents.