Alarming Spike in Demolitions in East Jerusalem

August 20, 2020

Over the last couple of months, we have been witnessing a constant and alarming acceleration in home demolitions. These occurrences have spiked in the first two weeks of August; since the beginning of the month, 23 housing units were demolished in East Jerusalem. This brings the total number of residential units demolished since the beginning of the year to 89. In addition, 45 other units (shops, store rooms etc.) were demolished during the same period.

The spike in demolitions is largely due to an unprecedented increase in "self-demolitions" where families have to demolish their own homes for fear of the penalties leveled against unpermitted construction. Self-demolitions account for 58 of the housing units demolished since the beginning of the year. This is due to recent legislation – Amendment 116 to the Planning and Building Law, also known as the Kaminitz Law - which increases enforcement and penalties against unpermitted construction and also limits the court's ability to intervene on behalf of families who try and legalize their  homes. The Kaminitz Law (named after Erez Kaminitz, the deputy state attorney who led the drafting of the bill) came into full effect at the very end of 2018. And indeed, 2019 saw a sharp rise to a yearly total of 40 self-demolitions of housing units in comparison to 10-15 housing units in previous years. Now, in less than a year since January 2020, this record has already been passed by nearly 50%. For more details regarding Amendment 116 please see towards the end of this alert.

Home demolitions in East Jerusalem have increased since 2016 and at this rate 2020 threatens to be a new record year of home demolitions:

Year Total Residential Units Demolished Number of Residential Units in Self-Demolitions
2016 123  No data
2017 86 11
2018 72 14
2019* 104** 40
Until August 18, 2020 89 58
* 2019 is the first year when the Amendment 116 to the Planning and Building Law came into full effect.
** This figure does not include the 54 housing units demolished in Wadi Hummus in the West Bank but located on the Israeli side of the Separation Barrier just outside Jerusalem.

On March 24, the Israeli authorities announced a freeze on home demolitions due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 epidemic. On May 25, the freeze was revoked and demolitions resumed in when Israeli authorities declared they had succeeded in curbing the spread of the virus. Since then Israel has seen a renewed outbreak but, despite that, home demolitions have not been refrozen and are actually being carried out at a heightened pace than before.

Israel's long term policy of refusing to initiate or approve new detailed outline plans for Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem lies at the root of unpermitted construction. Last year, for example, out of over 21,000 housing units advanced in detailed outline plans in Jerusalem less than 8% were for Palestinian neighborhoods of the city (Palestinians comprise 38% of Jerusalem's population). The combined impact of discrimination in Planning and increased home demolitions has been described and analyzed in Ir Amim's report on home demolitions in East Jerusalem during 2019.

More on Amendment 116 to the Planning and Building Law

As explained above a significant contribution to the high rate of demolitions is the rise in the number of “self-demolitions,” a harsh phenomenon in which families are driven to demolish their own homes to avoid the imposition of steep fines or other punitive measures. This was brought about through amendment 116 to the Planning and Building Law

Also known as the Kaminitz Law (after Erez Kaminitz, the deputy state attorney who led the legislation process), Amendment 116 to the Planning and Building Law, which was enacted in 2017, went fully into effect at the end of 2018. Intended to increase enforcement and penalization of building violations, the amendment was initiated by right-wing factions in the Knesset in reaction to the allocation of government funds to promote outline plans for building in Arab communities within the Green Line. Needless to say, the swift implementation of Amendment 116 outpaced the much slower progress in government allocations for planning, which have yet to overcome the longstanding and systematic discrimination in the building and planning policies applied in Arab towns.

In East Jerusalem, this amendment created an even graver situation. While the Kaminitz Law is being applied in Palestinian neighborhoods in the city, the allocation of state funding to resolve discrimination in the field of planning and building is intended for Arab towns inside the Green Line and does not include East Jerusalem. In 2018, the government announced a decision to invest approximately 2 billion NIS in order to reduce socio-economic gaps and improve services for East Jerusalem residents. However, the decision completely omits the issue of planning and building. Despite the fact that the most pressing issue and significant financial burden for East Jerusalem residents is the inability to obtain building permits, there are no budgetary allocations for the preparation of detailed outline plans, which are a prerequisite for the issuance of these permits.

The amendment, which significantly modified the Planning and Building Law, stipulates rigorous punitive measures for building violations, including an acute increase in fines and periods of imprisonment. It likewise expands administrative enforcement and imposes drastic limitations in the right to pursue legal recourse against demolition orders. Reducing legal remedies has provided an opening for the increase in demolitions, while many homeowners have demolished their own homes in order to avoid paying steep demolition fees or fines in the event the demolition is carried out by the authorities.5 Therefore, the increase of enforcement mechanisms included in 2 Deputy Attorney General Erez Kaminitz headed a committee whose recommendations guided the legislation, and he led the subsequent legislative process. 3 Tamar Kaplansky, This Was Supposed to be a Law Only for Arabs, Ynet 11.9.2019 (Hebrew). 4 Government Decision 3790 of May 13, 2018: Narrowing Socio-economic Gaps and Promoting Economic Development in East Jerusalem (Hebrew). 5 For more on Amendment 116, see the joint report by Ir Amim and Bimkom – Planners for Planning Rights (Hebrew only). Amendment 116 has been applied in East Jerusalem without promoting a parallel effort to alleviate the planning and building crisis within Palestinians

For a full explanation of amendment 116 please see Ir Amim's and BIMKOM's report


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