Imagine that you were Jewish and living in a state in which you were the minority and had very few rights. Your ancestors have lived in this place for generations, but in the present, you were subject to the whims and dictates of right-wing governments, who cared little about how you lived and whether you had a roof over your head or not, and who constantly threatened you with the destruction of your home. At the same time, they made it virtually impossible for you to get a permit to build your home. How would you feel?
That is exactly what is happening right now to Palestinians all over East Jerusalem and in many parts of the West Bank. In the first half of this year, 2021, there have been a total of 61 demolitions in East Jerusalem, 33 of which were housing units and 28 of which were non-residential structures.
In fact, it happened just a few days ago, in a village which is actually a suburb of Western Jerusalem, known as Walajeh, very close the Biblical Zoo and new public parks in that pastoral area of Jerusalem. It happened every early in the morning, with no advance notice. A home with an extended family was destroyed because it didn’t have the permit which is virtually impossible to obtain.
According to a document prepared by two prominent Jerusalem-based Israeli NGO’s which follow this situation closely—Ir Amim and Bimkom—the residents of the northern part of Walajeh, located on the southern perimeter of East Jerusalem are constantly under acute threat of being forcibly uprooted from their village, where they have lived and cultivated the land for decades. One of the main reasons for this is that the Israeli authorities have neglected to prepare an overall outline plan for this area, which precludes the possibility of obtaining building permits. As a result, many families have no choice, but to build without permits, thereby placing their homes at risk of demolition.
What is the background to this?
After being uprooted from its lands on the Israeli side of the Green Line in 1948, al-Walajeh was rebuilt on village lands which remained on the West Bank side of the Green Line. In 1967, the northern section of the village was annexed to Israel and absorbed into Jerusalem. Today, this part of the village is a small community of roughly 150 homes, which were mostly built after 1967 and considered illegal by the Israeli authorities, due to the impossibility of procuring building permits. Over the years, dozens of homes have been razed in the annexed part of the village. Since 2016, there has been a significant rise in the number of home demolitions in this area of Walajeh as a result of increased enforcement and penalization of building offenses in Palestinian residential areas in Jerusalem.
More than 20 houses have been demolished in the villagein the past five years. Many more homes are currently face pending demolition orders, many others are at risk of receiving them, subjecting nearly the entire community to the threat of widespread demolition and displacement.
According to the Ir Amim and Bimkom document, for more than a decade, the Jerusalem District Planning Committee refused to discuss an overall plan initiated by the residents. However, as a result of a recent Supreme Court decision (from May 2020), following a petition filed by the annexed portion of the village, the committee was obligated to hold a discussion of the plan.The committee not only rejected the plan outright, but it also placed severe restrictions regarding any future planning attempt in the area.In its decision, the committee depicted this area of al-Walajeh not as a Jerusalem neighborhood devoid of proper planning and development by the Israeli authorities, but rather as an ancient agricultural area in need of environmental conservation and conversion into a park.Moreover, according to the decision, only structures built before 1967 and additions made to them can be legalized, hence paving the way for wide-scale demolitions in the village.
Although the planning committee dismissed the village’s plan for the purpose of ostensibly promoting nature conservation, plans for Israeli settlement construction in the same area on lands confiscated from al-Walajeh have all been advanced. In other words, parts of the village are being handed over to Jewish settlers. Furthermore, the committee’s claim that the area’s traditional and historical agricultural assets must be preserved explicitly overlooks the village’s essential role in this centuries-old preservation. Continued cultivation of the land and conservation of the surrounding landscape is inextricably tied to the existence of the village and the close proximity of their homes to their agricultural lands.
The report by Ir Amim and Bimkom also explains that this section of Walajeh has for years been at risk of being uprooted (for a second time) as a result of combined Israeli measures carried out in the past decade. Israel has been gradually confiscating Walajeh lands and detaching it from the Palestinian space around it. While its northern segment is situated within the Jerusalem municipal borders, the construction of the Separation Barrier between 2010 and 2017 around three sides of the village turned it into a nearly isolated enclave. The barrier severed it from the rest of the city, while likewise separating it from some 1200 dunams of the village’s agricultural lands now located on the Israeli side of the barrier.
This policy of home demolitions is wrong-headed, unfair, and immoral. It neglects the human rights of people in the Jerusalem area, who should not have to be faced with such destruction and devastation of their physical and psychological lives. It is done in a Kafkaesque fashion, where Palestinian appeals usually fail, even in courts that are supposed to render “justice” in Israel, and where bulldozers simply come in the night and destroy one’s home!
This misguided policy only serves to create more hostility and hatred among Palestinians towards Israel. It creates more refugees, people who will be living in exile once again, in their own land. It also contributes to feelings of desperation, which could lead to acts of violence, which the Israeli military will then have to respond to with brute force. The whole thing is politically unbalanced and counter-productive.
Furthermore, going back to where I began this post, the demolition of homes of innocent Palestinians is blatantly immoral. If it were happening to Jews, Jewish organizations and “leaders” would be raising a loud and clear voice against this. But where are their voices now? I don’t hear them. They are apparently too busy with other pressing issues.
This is a fundamentally ethical issue, which relates to the kind of Jewish state we are developing in Israel. Why is it that only Palestinian homes which are built without permits (that cannot be obtained!) are destroyed? And Jews, who violate the same law of building without a permit, only receive fines? Will it be a state that is based on principles of justice, freedom and peace, as envisioned in Israel’s Declaration of Independence of 1948? Will we have here a Jewish society which cares for the stranger, the minority, because we Jews of all people should know what it means to be a stranger since “we were strangers in the land of Egypt”? Or will we care only for ourselves, only for one segment of the population of Israel, for our tribe, while ignoring and destroying the hopes and dreams of normal life for so many others?
A Jewish moral voice must be critical of this unfair policy of demolition of homes against innocent and poorly protected civilians. It is outrageous and unconscionable, and should not be allowed to continue any more.
Rabbi Hillel said: ‘If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And being only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?’