This is a story of a woman who has lost her home twice. After her house in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina was demolished by Israeli authorities about 16 years ago, In’am Shweiki moved into a bus which was bought by her son and set up in place of the demolished house. This past Wednesday the bus was impounded by the Municipality, once again displacing the 72-year old woman.
The tale of this Palestinian woman, subjected repeatedly to the injustice meted out by the Jerusalem Municipality, brings to mind the timeless parable laid out by the biblical prophet Nathan to King David. The poor man in this story, the prophet recounted, had nothing save one little ewe lamb and yet the rich man took the lamb and cooked it for his guest. King David, according to the Biblical account, was furious at the actions of the rich man, “because he had no pity” (2 Samuel 12:6).
Indeed, it is a pitiless municipal leadership that would displace an elderly woman and then deny her even a makeshift home. It is a heartless system that subjects the Palestinians of East Jerusalem to ongoing house demolitions on grounds of unlicensed construction, while denying them the option to build legally. Far from searching for ways to enable Palestinian residents to build homes for themselves in Jerusalem and live there in peace, the Municipality has only stepped up the pace of demolitions. While in the years 2011-2015 there was an average of 84 demolitions in East Jerusalem (both residential and non-residential), in the past two years the number has risen dramatically to 203 demolitions in 2016 and 173 in 2017.
One might ask, why don’t the Palestinians just build with a permit? As documented in an Ir Amim report, the planning process is skewed heavily against the Palestinian population, and the city has failed to prepare detailed outline plans – the only means for obtaining building permits – for Palestinian neighborhoods. Even when the residents take matters into their own hands and present detailed plans funded from their own pockets to the Municipality, they are met with an insurmountable wall of bureaucracy and blocked from implementing their plans. In recent years, only 8% of the building permits in Jerusalem were issued in Palestinian neighborhoods.
The cruel treatment of In’am Shweiki captures in a nutshell the systematic mistreatment of Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents by Israeli authorities, through measures such as house demolitions, evictions and discriminatory allocation of resources. The relentless demolition policy must give way to an equitable planning process that takes into account the needs of 37% of the city’s population and is implemented in consultation with them. Rather than razing homes, the Municipality and the government must manage the city in a way that acknowledges the fact that Jerusalem is the home and future capital of two peoples, both of which have a right to live peacefully in the city.