Sunday, May 6, 2007

Israel's House Demolition Policies - Part 4

Rabbi's for Human Rights

Today is Day 14,267 of the Maintenance of the Immoral (and Illegal) West Bank Settlements and almost the 40th anniversary of the start of the immoral (and illegal) occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Micah.6:8 “He has told you, O man, Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God

United Nations International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination Signed by Israel 7 March 1966: Ratified by Israel: 3 January 1979In compliance with the fundamental obligations laid down in article 2 of this Convention, (Israel) undertakes to prohibit and to eliminate racial discrimination in all its forms and to guarantee the right of everyone, without distinction as to race, colour, or national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law, notably in the enjoyment of the following rights:The right to equal treatment before the tribunals and all other organs administering justice;The right to own property alone as well as in association with others;The right to housing.

Again, as I have read over the years about the government of Israel not only not allowing Palestinians to build houses in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem but in actually destroying and demolishing houses unrelated to security issues but simply for administrative reasons such as not being able to obtain a building permit, I continue to be disgusted with what the government of Israel is doing.

Here is some additional material related to this deplorable policy of house demolition. For more detailed material you can visit the websites of some extraordinarily courageous human rights groups such as the Rabbis for Human Rights, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, B’Tselem and Bustan.


Q. How many Palestinian homes are demolished in East Jerusalem?A. In recent years before 2004, 25-50 homes per year in East Jerusalem were destroyed. Demolitions took a huge leap this past year. From January through mid-December of 2004, 150 structures were demolished in East Jerusalem, an all-time high. Over seventy of these were family homes.

Q. Why are homes in East Jerusalem demolished?A. Typically because they were built or enlarged without a valid permit.

Q. But WHY would Palestinians who want to build or expand their house not get a permit?A. Because permits are so hard to get. This past year the Municipality granted 59 building permits to Arab Jerusalemites. By the Municipality's own estimate there is a present shortfall of 1,000 units of Arab housing. Other widely-accepted estimates show a vastly-greater shortfall, of 20,000 to 25,000 units. Permits are also very expensive. To build a 200 square meter home -- smallish for Palestinian families-- on a plot of ? dunam, fees for a permit will total NIS 107,392. These figures are equal for Jews and Palestinians. However, the socioeconomic status of Palestinians is usually much lower. And typically when housing is built for Jews, the State pays for at least some of the zoning process, and large private developers absorb the rest. In a Palestinian neighborhood, by contrast, the entire expense is carried by the builder, usually a single family.

Q. WHY are permits so hard for Palestinians to get, anyhow?A. For a whole host of reasons, such as:
* Palestinians are not allowed to build on land that has been zoned "shetach nof patuach" (open space,) "shetach yarok" (green space) etc. This land is often later expropriated for building settlements.
* Many Palestinian areas in East Jerusalem haven't yet received their "Detailed Zone Plan," even if an overall zoning plan has been approved by the Municipality. If there is no Detailed Zoning Plan, no permits are issued. The Municipality produces figures showing that some 28,000 units can be built in East Jerusalem; these figures don't disclose that almost none of them can be built at the moment. Beit Hanina, where a home was demolished on November 30, 2004, still doesn't have a completed Detailed Zoning Plan.
* Palestinians are only allowed to "infill" existing housing boundaries (less than 9% of East Jerusalem, mostly already built up.) They cannot build housing in an area, such as the outskirts of a village, where housing did not already exist. This is not the case for Jewish developments.
* Palestinians are not allowed in many places to build as densely on an individual plot of land as are Jews. So, for example, housing in the Jewish settlement of Har Homa can fill 90%-120% of the plot. (Figures over 100% refer to multi-storey homes.). In the neighboring Palestinian neighborhood of Tzur Baher, a house may cover only 35%-50% of a plot. So in many cases Palestinian landowners have already maximized the use of their piece of land and are not allowed to enlarge or to build a second unit.
* If a plot of land has several owners, such as family members, and any one of them is not a legal resident of Jerusalem (e.g. lives in the West Bank) then a permit will virtually never be issued, according to Amnesty International.

Q. How does this picture compare with Jewish building in East Jerusalem?A. Today approximately 197,000 Jews live in settlements in East Jerusalem built with the support of the Jerusalem Municipality. By contrast, only 500 units of municipally-supported units of housing for Arabs have been built since 1967, all in a single development, the Nusseibah Housing Project in Beit Hanina. Private building by Arabs is severely restricted, as described above.

Q. What about land expropriation?A. Since 1967 35% of all of Jerusalem has been taken by the government for various "public needs." The burden of these seizures has fallen disproportionately on Palestinians: 80% from Palestinians and 20% from Jews. Some of this land was seized from "absentee" owners who fled in 1967. But the great majority was confiscated using a law allowing expropriation for such "public" needs as a minister might decide. In practice, almost 100% of this land has been used for building exclusively Jewish settlements and for amenities to support the settlements. Not a single house has been built for an Arab on expropriated land since 1967.

Q. If a Jewish homeowner in Jerusalem builds without a permit, won't his or her house be demolished just like an Arab's house?A. Amnesty International confirms that an approximately equal number of Jewish structures receive demolition orders each year. But Palestinian homes are typically completely demolished, whereas AI's investigators could not find a single Jewish home that was demolished completely between 1967 and 1999. If a demolition actually takes place, most typically illegal porches, sheds and entryways are destroyed. Deputy Mayor Haim Miller was quoted in 1998 saying, "I don't sign demolition orders for Jewish homes, only for Arabs." (Yediot Acharonot 2/7/98)

Q. How does the municipality respond to these charges?A. When challenged about this discrepancy today, the Municipality will point out that it did remove (not demolish) an illegally-built prefab synagogue several years ago. Six or seven years ago they did demolish a Jewish-owned restaurant. They also claim that Jews in fact commit fewer serious building violations than do Arab builders. We might remember that the Versailles Wedding Hall, whose collapse killed many in a Jewish neighborhood, was never cited for building violations.

Q. WHY? Why the disparity between Jewish and Palestinian housing in East Jerusalem? A. Israeli policy has aimed actively both to bring more Jews to East Jerusalem and to curtail Arab population growth there. One way to accomplish both aims is by limiting Palestinians' access to housing while expanding the housing stock for Jews. It has been widely documented that an explicit demographic quota system has been in place for Jerusalem at least since 1973, fixing the ratio of Palestinians to Jewish residents. In the most recent Jerusalem master plan currently being prepared, this is again listed as an official policy goal to be achieved via building and zoning regulations.

Amir Cheshin, who served as Mayor Teddy Kollek's advisor on Arab affairs from 1984 to 1993, writes: "Israel saw the adoption of strict zoning plans as a way of limiting the number of new homes built in Arab neighborhoods, and thereby ensuring that the Arab percentage of the city's population --28.8% in 1967 -- did not grow beyond this level. Allowing 'too many' new homes in Arab neighborhoods would mean 'too many' Arab residents in the city. The idea was to move as many Jews as possible into East Jerusalem and move as many Arabs as possible out of the city entirely." (Cheshin et al. Separate and Unequal)

Q. Is this disparity legal?A. Not according to international law. Israel is a signer of various United Nations international human rights standards which prohibit racial discrimination and require equal protection for all subjects of a government (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Article 2(1) and others.) Israel's demolition of Arab homes for permit violations (and also for security violations) has been condemned under this Covenant. The Fourth Geneva Convention specifically prohibits destruction of real or personal property by an occupying power. (Article 53.)

Israeli law is more complex. The separate procedures and regulations for Jewish and Arab housing development in Jerusalem are based on a welter of laws from different periods, including Jordanian law, regulations from the period of the British Mandate and the laws of the State of Israel. Israel's Supreme Court has upheld the policy of allowing Jewish-only neighborhoods, saying that homogenous neighborhoods were "a historic reality in Jerusalem." Cheshin points out, however, that when Jewish activists in groups such as Ateret Cohanim went to purchase homes in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, the courts looked the other way.

Deutoronomy 16:20 – “Justice, justice shall you pursue that you may live and inherit the land which God gave you” and the footnote in the 1980 Hertz Edition “(T)here is international justice, which demands respect for the personality of every national group, and proclaims that no people can of right be robbed of its national life or territory, its language or spiritual heritage.

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