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Palestinians outraged at demolition of East Jerusalem homes

From Kareem Khadder, CNN
  • Group: The demolition of an inhabited home is the first this year
  • One woman fainted on the scene of the demolition
  • Jerusalem officials say the homes were built without proper permits
  • Jerusalem
  • Israel

Jerusalem (CNN) -- Jerusalem municipal officials Tuesday defended the demolition of three Palestinian homes -- including one that was inhabited -- in two East Jerusalem neighborhoods, saying they were built without legal permits and the demolitions were court-ordered.

However, Palestinians expressed outrage at the actions, with a member of the Fatah revolutionary council calling Monday's demolitions "a clear statement" from the Israeli government on the Mideast peace process.

The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions group said one of the homes, in the Beit Hanina area, was inhabited, although the family was not home at the time. The demolition is the first this year of an inhabited home, according to group spokeswoman Sahar Varbi, and four of the six people who lived there are children.

In the Issawaieh village, two uninhabited homes under construction and a shed were razed. One house was being built by a single mother of five, who fainted on the scene of the demolition and was taken to a local hospital.

"I have been building this house since 16 years ago," Bassem Abu Rimaileh, who owned one of the other demolished Issawaieh homes, said Tuesday.

"I was saving money slowly to build this house and live with my family," he said. "I was surprised when the municipality workers and border police showed up this morning without a prior warning except 10 days ago, saying that I had [a] demolition order and demolished the house. I did not have enough time to resort to [the] legal process to stop this demolition order. I am a father of six children and have been saving all my life to live in this house."

Such demolitions typically feature a large number of border police and special forces officers and use bulldozers to raze the structures.

The Beit Hanina home was built on the rubble of previous construction, demolished in January 2008, according to Stephan Miller, spokesman for Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. The former mayor had signed the administrative demolition order, and regional courts denied requests to delay it, Miller said.

All the Issawaieh structures were being built in an area where construction is not allowed, Miller said. A regional court denied a request to stay the demolition of one, he said.

Housing in East Jerusalem has become a hot-button issue in the Mideast peace process. In March, the Israeli government announced the construction of 1,600 housing units in East Jerusalem as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was visiting the Jewish state. The announcement outraged the Obama administration and led to the Palestinian withdrawal from agreed-upon indirect negotiations with Israel.

In a visit later that month to the United States, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was presented with a set of concessions that the White House wanted to see Israel make in an effort to restart negotiations with the Palestinians. Neither government detailed what the exact nature of the concessions were, but sources on both sides said a halt in East Jerusalem construction was among the demands from the Obama administration. However, Netanyahu has said there will be no freeze on building in East Jerusalem.

Israel seized East Jerusalem from Jordan during the Six-Day War in 1967 and considers it part of its sovereign capital -- a claim not recognized by the international community. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the future capital of their state.

The demolitions come a day after Jerusalem municipal officials announced the construction of 32 settlement units in East Jerusalem.

Fatah revolutionary council member Dimitri Dilani said the demolitions are taking place shortly before the visit of U.S. President Barack Obama's Mideast envoy, George Mitchell, and are "a clear statement from the right-wing Israeli government vis-a-vis the peace process, the indirect talks."

He said he also believes that the demolitions come as a result of the meeting between Obama and Netanyahu "in which, obviously, Prime Minister Netanyahu has received some leeway in breaking international law and violating our rights as people under occupation in East Jerusalem," Dilani said.

CNN's Michal Zippori contributed to this report.