Silwan, occupied East Jerusalem – Nearly 120 Palestinian families face the destruction of their homes to make way for an Israeli religious theme park where Israelis believe King David had a garden in Biblical times.
Around 1,500 people living in more than 100 buildings in the al-Bustan neighborhood of Silwan in occupied East Jerusalem are at risk.
On Monday, Jerusalem Municipality inspectors, accompanied by Israeli forces, handed over demolition notices of at least 13 of those homes and structures within 21 days, after an Israeli court earlier ruled that they had. been built without a building permit.
“To state that the orders have been delivered is somewhat inaccurate,” said social activist Angela Godfrey-Goldstein, co-director of the organization Jahalin Solidarity.
“When inspectors deliver orders to Palestinians, they do not give them in person or even affix them to the affected gates despite notices saying ‘demolition within 21 days of receipt’,” Godfrey-Goldstein told Al Jazeera .
Opinions have often not been received, fly away and sometimes end up on the ground, she said.
“As a result, many Palestinians don’t know their homes are about to be demolished when they wake up to the sound of smashed doors or the day before when inspectors come to photograph their target,” said Goldfrey-Goldstein, a former member of the Israeli army. Committee Against House Demolitions, which fights against the destruction of Palestinian homes in the territories occupied by Israel.
The Jerusalem Municipality very rarely approves Palestinian building permits in its continued efforts to Judaize the eastern part of the city, including facilitating the construction of illegal Jewish settlements, the forced eviction of Palestinian residents to make way for Jewish settlers and the planned destruction of hundreds of Palestinian homes. .
The deputy mayors of Jerusalem, Arieh King and Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, recently confirmed that the state’s goal is to limit Palestinian construction in East Jerusalem as a deliberate policy favoring Jews to protect Israel’s character. , claiming that Israel was a Jewish state.
Three generations, over 30 people, live in the homes of Fakhri Abu Diab and his brother, Nader Abu Diab. Nader’s building is expected to be demolished in the coming weeks.
The families’ appeals against the 2019 Israeli court ruling allowing the demolitions were dismissed in 2020. The injunctions were issued in March this year and the final notice was issued on Monday.
“My family has lived in this house for decades, long before Israel occupied East Jerusalem,” said Fakhri Abu Diab, an accountant by profession and spokesperson for the Silwan Land Defense Committee.
“When I got married in 1988, I tried for almost three years to get a building permit to expand my house as my family grew.
“I have been to the Jerusalem Municipality dozens of times, sometimes accompanied by a lawyer and an engineer, but I have been told repeatedly that building permits would not be issued for al-Bustan because he was to be turned into a Jewish theme park, ”Abu Diab told Al Jazeera.
“No concrete action”
He said he had been involved in numerous appeals for help from foreign diplomats, NGOs, the United Nations and journalists to prevent families from becoming homeless.
“French and American diplomats told me they would pressure the Israeli government not to carry out the demolitions, which the French say violate international law.
“We get a lot of verbal support, but no concrete action. Where is the UN, where is the international community? We desperately need an international intervention now before the demolitions take place, not afterwards, when we are already on the streets and then we receive tents and food from humanitarian organizations, ”he said. said Abu Diab.
The Jerusalem Municipality’s plan to build Gan Hamelech (King’s Garden) Park on the lands of al-Bustan, and connect it to the nearby city of David, is only part of the story of Judaization which applies to the entire Israeli-occupied West Bank, in particular Zone C, comprising 60 percent of the territory.
“In April, the Israeli authorities demolished, forced people to demolish or seized 23 structures belonging to Palestinians across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem,” said the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA ) in its May report.
“All the structures were in Area C of East Jerusalem and were targeted due to a lack of building permits, which are almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain. “
In April, OCHA reported on numerous demolitions in March, which, in addition to Palestinian family homes, included buildings that housed or were supported by NGOs. Sixteen structures that were demolished were initially funded by international humanitarian donations, while 29 other donor-funded structures, worth nearly 86,000 euros ($ 105,000), received demolition orders.
“One of Israel’s main long-term goals in Jerusalem is to transform the Old City Basin from what it is today – a dense Palestinian urban area, which is also home to some of the most popular places. holiest of the three Abrahamic religions – in a place where Jewish nationalist and religious identity is above all dominant, ”Aviv Tatarsky, researcher for the Israeli NGO Ir Amim, wrote in the Jerusalem Post.
“To this end, the Israeli government – aided by settler organizations – is evicting Palestinian families to neighborhoods such as Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah. “
“Nowhere else to go”
While Abu Diab’s entire house will be demolished, the second floor of his brother Nader’s family home will also be destroyed.
Like Fakhri, when Nader got married, he too built extra rooms after failing to get a building permit.
The immaculate home, built in the overcrowded and poverty stricken neighborhood, was obviously built with pride with every added room tastefully decorated. But as the countdown to the demolition of their homes draws closer, Nader’s wife Itedal has swallowed back tears.
“I’m afraid for my children and grandchildren,” she told Al Jazeera calmly, despite her obvious desperation.
When asked if she started packing and moving her things after receiving the demolition notice, Itedal said she was too traumatized to start packing – and neither was she ready to go.
“I have lived in this house for 37 years. We have nowhere else to go. “
Fakhri Abu Diab added that Israeli actions were not only aimed at leaving Palestinians homeless.
“They are trying to destroy our culture, our way of life and our hope for the future.”
Godfrey-Goldstein said that rather than seeking peace with the Palestinians, the Israelis were doing the opposite.
“Instead, we teach people to hate us. “