Amidst a spike in the Israeli government’s demolition of Palestinian homes in occupied East Jerusalem, UN officials are calling for an immediate halt to the practice, which they condemned as a “discriminatory” violation of international law.
According to the UN, more Palestinians have been displaced in East Jerusalem in the first four months of 2019 than in all of 2018: 193 displaced persons, compared to 176.
In a statement Friday, Jamie McGoldrick, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian Territories, noted that demolitions in East Jerusalem “have increased at a staggering pace over the last month.” He said the actions displaced tens of Palestinians, causing them to “have lost their livelihoods overnight.”
“This must stop,” he said.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Israeli forces destroyed 111 Palestinian structures in East Jerusalem between January 1st and April 30th, 2019, either through direct demolition, or ordering Palestinians to demolish their own homes.
The total number of demolitions for 2019 in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, OCHA said, had reached 214.
In the cases of self-demolition, OCHA noted that Palestinian homeowners resorted to destroying their houses themselves to avoid hefty demolition fees they would incur had the Jerusalem municipality conducted the demolition.
The group added that of the 111 demolitions, more than half (63 out of 111) took place in April. On April 29th alone, 31 structures were demolished, marking the highest number of demolitions in a single day since OCHA began its documentation work in 2009.
OCHA highlighted that they were particularly concerned about a series of demolitions on April 30th, during which forces destroyed four homes and forcibly evicted 11 Palestinian refugees, including seven children, in the Wadi Yasul area of Silwan.
According to the statement, five Palestinians were seriously injured after Israeli forces “used beatings, stun grenades and sponge-covered bullets as residents tried to retrieve belongings prior to the demolitions.”
The situation in the Silwan neighborhood, and Wadi Yasul in particular, is a dire one, according to the UN.
“Nearly all structures in Wadi Yasul face a heightened risk of demolition following the near complete exhaustion of efforts to protect homes in the area,” Friday’s statement said, adding that more than 550 Palestinians, a quarter of whom are refugees from 1948, face the threat of displacement.
Gwyn Lewis, Director of West Bank Operations for UNRWA, described the situation in Wadi Yasul as a “cycle of loss” that is being perpetuated against generations of refugees.
“As we have seen from the numerous cases UNRWA has responded to in the past, displacement, particularly for the most vulnerable, such as the elderly and children, is extremely traumatic, destroys livelihoods, and separates families from their communities,” Lewis said.
James Heenan, head of OHCHR in the occupied Palestinian territories, called on Israel “as the occupying power” to fulfill its obligations to “ensure the welfare and well-being of the local Palestinian population.”
“The implementation of the discriminatory Israeli zoning and planning regime cannot be invoked by Israel to justify any violation of international law,” he said.
There are some 350,000 Palestinians living in East Jerusalem as “permanent residents” of the city. Despite the fact they make up 40% of Jerusalem’s population, Israel’s Jerusalem Municipality has zoned only 15% of the land in East Jerusalem for residential use.
According to UN documentation, at least a third of all Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem lack an Israeli-issued building permit, placing over 100,000 Palestinians at risk of displacement.