‘The year 2019 has seen a significant increase in the number of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem who have had to demolish their own home, or part of it, after having built it without a permit. The residents elect this path in order to avoid paying the city thousands of dollars they would have been billed, had municipal authorities carried out the demolition. Fifteen residential homes were demolished by their owners in East Jerusalem from the beginning of the year until 31 March 2019, along with parts of two other homes, a store, and a car repair shop. The demolitions left 69 people, 40 of them minors, homeless.
The prevalence of construction without permits in East Jerusalem is a direct result of the policies pursued by all Israeli authorities, which have deliberately created an acute construction crisis for the city’s Palestinian population, while Jewish neighborhoods enjoy massive development and substantial funding. As part of this policy, Israel has expropriated more than a third of the land it annexed from the West Bank and has built 11 neighborhoods exclusively for Jews (under international law, the status of these neighborhoods is the same as the Israeli settlements throughout the West Bank).
When it comes to the Palestinian population, Israel has done the opposite – canceling all Jordanian master plans for the annexed area. It was not until the 1980s that the Jerusalem Municipality drew up master plans for all Palestinian neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city, plans that were chiefly designed to limit construction in these neighborhoods. The most striking feature of these plans was the designation of huge swathes of land as “open scenic areas” where development is forbidden. In 2014, these “scenic areas” made up about 30% of the land in Palestinian neighborhoods. Only some 15% of the land area in East Jerusalem (about 8.5% of Jerusalem’s municipal jurisdiction) is zoned for residential use by Palestinians under these plans, although they currently account for some 40% of the city’s population. Another measure Israel has employed to limit the amount of land available to Palestinians is declaring national parks where construction and urban development are almost entirely forbidden.
Given this reality, Palestinians have no choice but to build without permits. The Jerusalem Municipality estimates that 15,000 to 20,000 homes have been built without a permit in East Jerusalem in the past few years. Thousands of Palestinians in the city are living under constant threat to their homes and businesses; in many cases, the authorities follow through on this threat or force residents to demolish the structures themselves. From 2004 through March 2019, the Jerusalem Municipality demolished 830 residential units, and 120 more were demolished by their owners on the municipality’s orders. As a result, the municipality deliberately left 2,927 people homeless, 1,574 of them minors.’