RAMALLAH Eight-months pregnant Shireen Abu Sbeh, 20, mother of a 2-year-old,
lives with eight other people in a two-bedroom apartment that is on a list
of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem to be demolished by the Israeli authorities.
"I am struggling to sleep at night. I have nightmares that we are on
the streets and I am homeless with my newborn baby and my toddler," says
Shireen. Israel plans to demolish 88 homes in the Bustan neighborhood of Palestinian
East Jerusalem to make way for a new Israeli archaeological theme park.
"We don't have any family to take us in, as they live in Bustan, too,
and will also lose their homes. I'm afraid the stress of being homeless is
affecting my unborn child," Shireen told IPS.
Anaya Abu Sbeh, 44, Shireen's mother-in-law, said Shireen often breaks down
crying. "I don't know where we will go or what we can do, we are hoping
that international pressure will force Israel to abandon the mass demolitions,"
she told IPS.
The planned demolitions will leave approximately 1,500 Palestinians homeless.
They inherited the homes from their parents and grandparents, and most have
nowhere to go.
Jerusalem authorities say the houses were built illegally, without zoning
and construction permits. Palestinians and human rights organizations argue
that Israel makes it almost impossible for Palestinians to get the requisite
permits, as a part of a deliberate policy to Judaize the eastern part of the
Under international law, including UN Security Council resolutions, East Jerusalem
belongs to Palestinians and is occupied by Israel illegally.
The EU released a confidential report in December that accused Israel of "actively
pursuing the illegal annexation" of East Jerusalem, according to the British
newspaper the Guardian.
The EU heads of mission report on East Jerusalem reportedly stated that Israel
was using settlement expansion, the security barrier in the West Bank, Palestinian
house demolitions, and discriminatory housing policies to gain control over
The EU report further accused Israel of accelerating its plans for East Jerusalem
and undermining the credibility of the Palestinian Authority (PA), and thereby
weakening the peace process.
"Israel's actions in and around Jerusalem constitute one of the most
acute challenges to Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking," the report was quoted
According to the Guardian, the EU expressed particular concern about
the Old City, where Israel plan to build 35 new housing units in the Muslim
quarter, as well as expansion plans for Silwan area in East Jerusalem.
Israel's continued policy of house demolitions and the withholding of building
permits has led to a chronic shortage of housing for Palestinians. Jeff Halper
from the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) said there is
currently a housing shortage of more than 25,000 units in East Jerusalem, and
fewer homes means higher prices.
"Despite the housing shortage, Jerusalem municipality grants Palestinians
only around 150 to 350 building permits a year, yet demolishes 150 or more
existing homes at the same time," said Halper.
Israeli rights organization B'Tselem said that both Israelis and Palestinians
build illegally, but that the response of the authorities is not equal. Palestinians
account for about 20 percent of illegal construction, yet more than 75 percent
of the demolitions are carried out on Palestinian homes.
B'Tselem said more than 400 Palestinian homes have been demolished in East
Jerusalem since 2004.
The Jerusalem municipality has simultaneously encouraged extremist right-wing
Israeli settlers to move into East Jerusalem to change the demographic facts
on the ground in favor of the desired Jewish majority.
This has sparked numerous clashes between Palestinians and the Israeli settlers,
who are supported by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).
Silwan is considered an especially sensitive area because it lies just outside
the Old City and is the Arab neighborhood closest to the al-Aqsa mosque, one
of Islam's holiest shrines.
Palestinian residents of Silwan have decided to fight back in a nonviolent
manner. The Committee of Bustan has set up a huge, black mourning tent by a
popular tourist road to draw attention to the forthcoming demolitions.
Committee member Abed Shahoude says they have spent more than $200,000 over
the last four years engaging legal and engineering advice to meet municipality
requirements and thereby render the homes legal.
"We eventually reached an agreement with the Jerusalem municipality that
the homes would not be destroyed, but this was never put in writing, and we
trusted them," Shahoude told IPS. "Then we were told that the demolitions
were going ahead and that the matter had been handed over to the Israeli Interior
Meanwhile, Israeli human rights organization Peace Now has reported that the
Israeli government is building an additional 73,300 illegal housing units in
the West Bank. The report says this would double the number of Israeli settlers
in the area.
The report says 5,722 of the planned housing units are in East Jerusalem,
and some 9,000 units have already been built.
PA negotiating officials have threatened to break off peace talks with Israel
if the settlement expansions and home demolitions continue. PA governor for
Jerusalem Adnan Husseini has warned that Israel's continued policy of home
demolitions could spark a third Intifada (uprising).
U.S. Secretary of State of State Hillary Clinton criticized the home demolitions
and settlement expansion plans as "unhelpful" during her recent visit
The new administration of U.S. President Barack Obama has sent four complaints
to the Israeli authorities during the last month over various issues related
to the West Bank settlements.
(Inter Press Service)