‘Demographic war’: Spike in Arab homes demolition in east Jerusalem slammed in new report

An Israeli border police officer stands guard as a Palestinian home is razed in East Jerusalem's Beit Hanina neighbourhood © Baz Ratner
Demolitions of Arab homes in east Jerusalem have increased in the first half of 2016, a recent report says, while accusing the Israeli authorities of waging a “geographical and demographic war” against the Arab community.

“During the first six months of this year, 72 homes were demolished in east Jerusalem, while 113 nonresidential structures were torn down by the government,” Suhail Khalilieh, head of the Settlement Monitoring Department at the Applied Research Institute – Jerusalem (ARIJ), who contributed to the report, told the Jerusalem Post. The group says it aims to promote “sustainable development in the occupied Palestinian territory.”

He added that the paper covers the demolitions of Arab homes which took place between January 1 and June 30 of this year.

The number of demolitions in the first half of 2016 is just a little less than that for the whole of 2015, which saw 97 residential demolitions and 65 nonresidential demolitions, the report says.

According to Khalilieh, the Israeli government and Jerusalem Municipality use “collective punishment” against Palestinians in east Jerusalem and “are using building permits as a pretext to block [Arab] construction and demolish their structures and homes.”

The ARIJ head said that Israeli authorities “know that they do not make it easy for Palestinians to build more homes as their population grows.”

READ MORE: 13,000 Palestinian buildings to be demolished in West Bank – UN report

“They’re practically driving them out of east Jerusalem, but make it sound like it is voluntary,” he said, adding that Tel Aviv, in fact, is waging a “geographical and demographic war” against Jerusalem’s Arab community.

“They make it much, much easier for Jews to live and build in Jerusalem by [amending] the building codes when it comes to the Israeli settlers. That’s why they are pushing Palestinians to leave.”

Khalilieh mentions the two Palestinian communities most popular for relocation – Kufr Aqad, the northernmost Palestinian Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem, and small Bir Onah near Bethlehem

“There are approximately 40,000 to 50,000 Palestinians with Jerusalem ID’s living in Kufr Aqad, and about 1,000 in Bir Onah, although the numbers are growing [in Bir Onah] because they just began to move there a few years ago.”

He added that it’s more likely that once “a wall is constructed around Jerusalem, that the government will reshape its boundaries again by taking many Palestinian communities outside of the city, and include settlement areas within the [municipal] boundaries.”

If the current situation doesn’t change, the Arab population in Jerusalem will drop from 37 percent to 15 percent within 10 years, Khalilieh stated.

READ MORE: Israeli court makes way for demolition of Palestinian village

“That is why the Israelis are leading this demographic war: just to say at the end of the day that the Palestinian existence in Jerusalem is minimal, and therefore there is nothing to negotiate about when we talk about Jerusalem.”

The Municipality of Jerusalem strongly criticized the report, claiming that “Jerusalem is a unified city, and all residents are entitled to live wherever they choose, as long as they do so in accordance with the law.”

“Contrary to the claims raised, demolitions in the eastern part of the city as a percentage of city-wide zoning enforcement have decreased compared to previous years,” the statement from the Municipality said.

ARIJ is not the first to note the spike in demolitions of Arab homes. The UN said in April that the average number of demolitions per month has soared by more than 200 percent, to 165, since January.