|Since the beginning of January 2021 through the end of May 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. The highest number of home demolitions was carried out in the Palestinian neighborhood of Al-Issawiya. These figures demonstrate a slight drop from the amount of demolitions executed last year during the same period (total: 69 - Residential: 42, Non-residential: 27). The minor reduction in the number of demolitions could be due to the partial freeze of enforcement of Amendment 116 to the Planning and Building Law announced in November 2020 as a result of ongoing negotiations with Knesset Members of the Joint List. While the partial freeze of enforcement provides reprieve in certain circumstances of building offenses, it does not offer a sweeping suspension of the Amendment. It should be noted that the new government agreements between the Ra'am Party and Yesh Atid include extending the partial freeze of the Kaminitz Law until 2024.
Also known as the Kaminitz Law, Amendment 116 to the Planning and Building Law severely increased enforcement and penalization against unauthorized construction and imposed drastic limitations on judicial intervention in these cases. The amendment went fully into effect in 2019. As a result of the amendment, the amount of demolitions in East Jerusalem grew significantly over the past two years. In 2020, a total 144 housing units were demolished, marking a record number of home demolitions in East Jerusalem in the past decade. See here for Ir Amim's complete 2020 summary. The number of home demolitions in 2020 was nearly 75% higher than the annual average prior to enactment of the Kaminitz Law and approximately 40% higher than in 2019.
A direct result of the Kaminitz Law and a significant contribution to the high rate of demolitions is the unprecedented rise in the number of “self-demolitions,” a cruel phenomenon whereby families are driven to demolish their own homes to avoid steep fines or other penalties leveled against unpermitted construction. So far this year, self-demolitions account for 19 of the housing units demolished, constituting over half of the total number of home demolitions since January. This amount, however, is significantly lower than the number of self-demolitions carried out during the same period last year, which stood at 49.
Discriminatory Housing Policy
While the partial freeze of the Kaminitz Law appears to have slightly reduced the rate of demolitions thus far this year, the numbers are still higher than in the years prior to the enactment of Amendment 116. Likewise, it should be underscored that Israel's long-term policy of refusing to initiate or approve new detailed outline plans that would accommodate adequate residential development of Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem lies at the root of the issue. In 2019, for example, out of over 21,000 housing units advanced in detailed outline plans in Jerusalem just over 7% were designated for Palestinian neighborhoods of the city despite Palestinians comprising 38% of Jerusalem's population. This acute discrimination in Israel's planning and building policy directly contributes to the high rate of demolitions among Palestinians in East Jerusalem.
The Threat of Wide-scale Demolition - Al Bustan, Silwan
One example of an emerging crisis as a result of Israel's longstanding discriminatory housing policy is in Al Bustan, Silwan. The neighborhood is situated in the valley between the "City of David" settlement in Wadi Hilweh and Batan al-Hawa, Silwan where some 85 families are under threat of eviction by the Ateret Cohanim settler group. The location of Al Bustan makes it a prime target for government-backed settler projects. Al Bustan is home to some 1500 Palestinians and comprised of more than 100 houses, the vast majority of which are considered unauthorized by the Israeli authorities, subjecting the neighborhood to the threat of largescale demolition. Although the homes were constructed by residents on their own private land, they were unable to secure the required building permits due to the absence of a proper outline plan which would allow for residential construction. At least 68 of these homes have pending demolition orders as part of the "King's Garden" national park plan the Municipality has been promoting for the area over the past 15 years.
For more than a decade, local and international pressure combined with legal efforts to advance an outline plan for the neighborhood have prevented the Israeli authorities from executing the demolitions thus far.
However, as of June 7, two out of the 68 homes are now under imminent threat of demolition after the families unexpectedly received notices informing of the Jerusalem Municipality's intent to demolish their homes within 21 days. These two residential structures are among 20 demolition cases which have exhausted all legal remedies and have no stay of execution protecting the homes from demolition. The remaining 18 residential buildings could receive 21-day notices at any time.
As a result of public opposition, the Municipality over the past decade has consistently agreed to extend the stay of execution on the demolition orders to allow Al Bustan residents to advance an outline plan which would legalize building and enable proper residential development. Marking a sudden reversal in its agreement with the neighborhood, the Municipality filed an objection in February 2020 to the Local Affairs Court against the residents' request to extend the demolition freeze, which protected 68 homes from being razed.
Following submission of the residents' response, the court ruled in March 2020 to extend the stay of execution until August 15, 2021 on 48 demolition orders that were issued prior to the implementation of Amendment 116. The remaining 20 demolition cases were excluded from this extension since the demolition orders were issued after the amendment went fully into effect. The two housing structures which received the 21-day notice are among the 20 cases which were not granted an extension on the demolition freeze. Save for a government directive as a result of external engagement and opposition, there does not appear to be any further domestic remedy to prevent these demolitions from being carried out.