Meir Margalit: Home demolition in East Jerusalem
After the midday meal, Meir reviewed home demolition based on his extensive experience as a municipal official. East Jerusalem has about 270,000 Palestinians, who represent 33% of the municipality’s population, and pay 30% of the taxes, but receive only 10% of the municipal budget. Palestinians in East Jerusalem are included as residents but, unlike new Jewish immigrants, not citizens.
Why this discrimination? The “demographic phantom” – the fear that by 2015 or 2020, Palestinians in the Jerusalem municipality will outnumber Jewish Israelis and will therefore be able to elect the mayor, a terrifying prospect. So everything possible is done to encourage them to leave, including denial of building permits and demolition of houses.
The process of demolition begins with serving the demolition order. This doesn’t have to go into the hands of the owner – it’s sufficient to cello-tape it to the wall of the building. As we have seen, in this environment a piece of cello-tape is not necessarily going to hold a paper to the wall. It may drop off, blow away, whatever. Thus many whose houses are under a demolition order don’t find out until the soldiers come to demolish the house, perhaps years later.
There are about 1000 “illegal” houses built a year, but the demolition budget is only about $1,000,000 (4.6m NIS), not nearly enough to demolish them all, which is why they don’t do more.
Example: the little house we watched cost about 70,000NIS to destroy. They demolished several other houses that day and spent about $300,000.
Demolition orders never expire, so some families live in fear for years or even decades waiting for the blow to fall. Others are taken by surprise, never having seen the order, and when they ask are shown perhaps a 15-year-old piece of paper.
When the soldiers come for the demolition, they approach and surround the area – perhaps a whole village – usually at 4 or 5 in the morning. This leads to a period of terrific stress as they slowly close in: whose house will it be? Mine? My neighbour’s? My cousin’s…? Meir related the story of one woman who chose to terminate her pregnancy during this time of stress.
At last the soldiers arrive at the house. If ICAHD is informed, sometimes they can work quickly to find an error in the process or some other way and get a freeze order, postponing the demolition.
At such times, when the municipality tries to contact the demolition crew and let them know about the freeze order, often the cell phones of the demolition crew and other lines of communication suddenly stop working. Perhaps they’re in an area with no cell coverage, or there’s some network problem. Or the call doesn’t come until just after the demolition is over. Or they hurry up – before the furniture is removed, even – and get a couple of good bangs in against the house, and then afterwards the municipal engineers examine the house and declare it unsafe – so it has to be demolished anyway.