Jerusalem Munic. to Demolish Entire Palestinian Neighborhood

Wadi Yasul is a Palestinian neighborhood in occupied East Jerusalem situated between the neighborhoods of Abu Tur and Silwan, adjacent to the Peace Forest. Seventy-two families live in Wadi Yasul, more than 550 persons according to UN figures.

The Jerusalem Municipality has issued demolition orders for all the homes in neighborhood, meaning that all the families there face the threat of expulsion. In late April, 2019 the city already demolished two of the houses and displaced two of the families.

Wadi Yasul, a Palestinian neighborhood in occupied East Jerusalem, slated for demolition

Wadi Yasul, a Palestinian neighborhood in occupied East Jerusalem, slated for demolition (Photo: B’Tselem)

The residents of Wadi Yasul built it adjacent to a forest, also located on privately owned land that was expropriated from its Palestinian owners in 1970. In 1977, the Jerusalem Municipality designated as a “green space” (where construction is prohibited) the forest and the area where Wadi Yasul was later established. In 2004, the neighborhood’s residents submitted a detailed plan to the District Planning and Building Committee for retroactive authorization of their homes. The committee rejected the plan in 2008, citing incompatibility with the Jerusalem 2000 Outline Plan, which states that the area where the neighborhood was built must remain a green space.

At the same time, the municipality and the JNF (Jewish National Fund) – the body in charge of managing the forest – gave their approval to settler organization El-Ad to move forward with plans for group campgrounds, including building the longest recreational zipline in Israel. Some of the installations have already been built in the forest, without building permits. While the city did issue demolition orders against them, it has, until now, refrained implementing them.

In contrast, over the last decade, the city has filed indictments with the Court of Local Affairs against all Wadi Yasul homeowners. The court then issued demolition orders for all of the homes and imposed heavy fines, amounting to tens of thousands of shekels per family. Three of the families appealed these decisions with the District Court. The appeals were dismissed in April because “there are no clear and imminent planning prospects” for the approval of a plan that would see the appellants’ homes, or other homes in the neighborhood, approved. An appeal the families filed with the Supreme Court was also rejected. In late April, 47 other families filed a motion with the District Court seeking an interim injunction staying execution of the demolition orders. The court’s decision is still pending. Consequently, all of the homes in the neighborhood are still under immediate threat of demolition.

In its report on Wadi Yasul, B”Tselem has written that ever since the occupation of East Jerusalem 1967, “planning policy in Jerusalem has been geared toward establishing and maintaining a Jewish demographic majority in the city. Under this policy, it is nearly impossible to obtain a building permit in Palestinian neighborhoods. The outline plans the city has prepared for these neighborhoods are largely aimed at restricting and limiting building opportunities in Palestinian neighborhoods. One way the plans do so is by designating vast areas as open green spaces, thereby barring Palestinians from building there. The resulting housing shortage forces Palestinian residents to build without permits.” At the turn of the millennium, the city estimated that about 20,000 housing units had been built without a permit in East Jerusalem. This estimate was made before the Separation Barrier cut off Kafr Aqab and Shu’fat Refugee Camp from the city. Since that time, many high-rises have been built in those areas.

The justices who heard the appeals that residents filed against the demolition orders issued for their homes chose to follow in the footsteps of all previous Israeli courts, and ignore the blatantly callous and discriminatory nature of this policy, which has been applied openly for more than fifty years. Instead, they focused solely on the question of whether or not the residents had building permits. District Court Judge Chana Miriam Lomp held that, “the residents have no one to blame but themselves,” as they had chosen to build without a permit and did not wait for planning conditions to change. Supreme Court Justice Yosef Elron refused to consider the residents’ arguments regarding planning discrimination and the fact that the Jerusalem Municipality deliberately avoids promoting a plan that would regulate construction in the area, saying they were not pertinent “to a criminal proceeding hearing.”

Full report by B’Tselem: