Israeli authorities have announced a temporary freeze on home demolitions in occupied East Jerusalem, following legal pressure amidst a rise in the demolition of Palestinian homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, the Israeli government will be freezing demolitions “across the country,” a move that the government had reportedly taken at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis back in March.
After COVID-19 death rates declined inside Israel during the summer months, Adalah noted that Israel “amped” its demolitions of Palestinian homes back up.
Following a letter to Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, sent by Adalah Attorney Suhad Bishara, “demanding an immediate halt to Israel’s accelerated policy of home demolitions” in East Jerusalem, the Israeli Justice Ministry announced it would “adjust” the policy to reflect the actions taken back in March.
“After re-examining things – and given the restrictions recently imposed by the government following the further spread of COVID-19 –it has been decided at this stage, to adjust the enforcement policy of planning and construction offenses to align with the state of emergency, similar to the policy decided upon in March 2020,” the ministry said.
The Attorney General’s office added that a “new policy would be examined later” as the COVID-19 crisis develops, saying the new policy would include the following measures:
The issuance of administrative demolition orders will be reduced and orders will be issued only in relation to new “illegal construction”, particularly that which has taken advantage of the state of emergency;
As a general rule, in an emergency, demolition orders for residential buildings will not be enforced;
Warning notices regarding demolition orders will also be kept to a minimum.
Just last week, a group of Palestinians who were forced to demolish their own homes in East Jerusalem made headlines.
According to UN documentation, in the months of July and August alone, Israeli authorities demolished 31 buildings in occupied East Jerusalem, leaving around 96 Palestinians homeless.
For the first eight months of 2020 Israel has demolished 112 Palestinian buildings in East Jerusalem, resulting in the displacement of 261 Palestinians, including children, while 467 people were “harmed as a result of partial demolitions of structures by Israeli authorities.” Adalah noted.
“Although Israel’s halt of its demolition of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem is an immediate necessary step, it should not be conditional on restrictions imposed by the government in response to COVID-19,” Attorney Suhad Bishara said in a statement.
“As long as we are facing this emergency, the freeze on home demolitions must remain in force. Within the wider context, Israel must end its restrictive measures imposed to prevent the development of Palestinian residential areas in illegally-annexed East Jerusalem and refrain from criminalizing and penalizing those forced to build or expand their homes without permits.”
While the temporary freeze applies to East Jerusalem, it makes no mention of the occupied West Bank, where Israeli demolitions are commonplace in Area C — the more than 60% of the territory under full Israeli control.