Israel levels Catholic Church property in E. Jerusalem amid ‘massive demolition’ plan
Last week Israeli security forces arrived with bulldozers at a piece of property owned by the Catholic Church in east Jerusalem, close to the West Bank city of Bethlehem. They said it had been built without a permit and proceeded to destroy it.
This provoked a backlash from the head of the Catholic Church in Israel who said the demolition was carried out without any prior warning.
“This act is against the law, against justice and humanity, against any ideology upon which peace can be built and increases segregation and hate,” Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Faud Tawwal told AFP at the site of the demolition on Tuesday. The property had been standing before Israel annexed the area after the 1967 Six-Day War, he said.
This comes amid rumors of Israel mulling its biggest demolition plans in years, as over 15,000 Palestinian flats in east Jerusalem are under threat.
The demolition of flats in the Ras Hamis area, which is next to the Shuafat refugee camp, was announced by posters put up on the apartment buildings themselves last week.
Israel says the homes are illegal and were built without the correct 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 municipality.
She insisted that the destruction of the homes did not constitute a new policy and the timing of the announcement was purely to do with court rulings.
Sprung said that the proposed demolition was for 11 buildings, but the Palestinians said a far larger number were to be destroyed. The flats are located beyond Israel’s West Bank separation barrier but within an area annexed by Israel after the Arab-Israeli war of 1967.
Yehudit Oppenheimer, the director of the Ir Amin, a left wing Israeli non-profit organization, which promotes peace in Jerusalem between Jews and Arabs, said that construction had been severely restricted in other Arab areas of East Jerusalem and as a result the municipality had forced people to move into the high rises now threatened with demolition.
She added that it would be very difficult to demolish the flats “without causing a disaster” since they involved high-rise buildings that are very close together. She said she thought that the demolition order was meant to “threaten” residents.
If the buildings are destroyed then most of the people living in them won’t have anywhere else to go.
“People don’t have money for another home. If our home is destroyed we can only buy a tent,” Issam Mohammed Ali, a civil engineer, who lives in one the doomed buildings, told the Independent.
Ali said that it wasn’t the first time he had lost him home to the Israelis and that he was ready to die for his home.
Daoud Sabha, who used to be a maintenance worker at the Jerusalem Post, used all his redundancy pay and went into debt to buy his apartment.
“This is racism against poor people, who need their homes,” he said.
The demolition order is also casting a shadow over the peace negotiations, which began in July but in actuality, have so far achieved nothing and appear to have been completely fruitless.
To add insult to injury, Israel recently disclosed plans for thousands more settler homes to be built in East Jerusalem and on the occupied West Bank, which sends a clear message that there is one rule for them and another for the Palestinians.
The planned destruction of the Palestinian apartments also threatens to negatively affect a visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry, who is due to meet Israeli Prime Minister Banjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday in an attempt to kick start reconciliation between the two sides.
“Israel is destroying every chance for peacemaking. The demolition orders are a slap in the face for Kerry and go against all his efforts to revive the peace process,” said Abdullah Abdullah, the deputy commissioner for international relations in the moderate Fatah movement, to which president Abbas belongs.