Israel began blowing up buildings under construction in the Palestinian village of Sur Baher in East Jerusalem on the evening of July 22, saying the structures were knowingly built too close to its security barrier with the West Bank. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images)

Israel Demolishes Palestinian Buildings in East Jerusalem

Government says structures, near barrier, posed security risk, declares area closed military zone

Israeli security forces began demolishing several buildings – most still under construction — in the Palestinian neighborhood of Sur Baher in southeastern Jerusalem early Monday morning.

Israel said the buildings needed to be demolished because they presented a risk by being so close to the West Bank security barrier.

Last month, the Israeli High Court of Justice rejected a petition by residents of the Wadi Hummus area of Sur Baher to stop the demolitions. It also rejected an appeal by the residents’ lawyers on Sunday for an injunction until legal proceedings could be completed, paving the way for Monday’s activity.

The demolitions displaced three families consisting of 17 persons, including nine children.

Before dawn on Monday, personnel from Israel’s Border Police moved in with bulldozers to begin the demolition work. Videos show them entering homes and removing residents amid the screaming and crying of women and children. Residents of other buildings cried from their windows as they watched.

The demolitions “constitute a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention [relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War], as well as war crimes pursuant to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court,” said PLO chief negotiator Saeb Erekat.

“The Israeli judicial system has repeatedly shown its complicity in Israel’s illegal colonial-settlement enterprise. It is, therefore, the responsibility of the international community to immediately intervene to halt the demolitions in Sur Baher and hold Israel to account for its repeated violations of international law,” he said.

Haitham Khatib, an attorney for the residents, said that 10 buildings with a total of 45 apartments were demolished on Monday, seven totally and three partially, and that the three families evicted lived in three of the structures.

“Honestly, the army’s interest in this area is a bit strange. It is not in a strategic area. It is not between the middle of a desert [and] between Jericho. It is in Sur Baher and [near] the [barrier]. There is nothing there. But the desire to demolish is still there,” Khatib told The Media Line.

The Palestinian President’s Office condemned the demolitions and said in a statement that it held the Israeli government “fully responsible for this crime.”

The Wadi Hummus structures were located within 1,300 feet (400 meters) of the barrier, something prohibited by a 2011 Israeli law.

“All these structures were built near the security [barrier] and as such present a security danger,” Nizar Amer, acting spokesman of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, told The Media Line.

“Being so close to the [barrier], these buildings can provide cover to terrorists hiding among the civilian population, endangering lives of civilians and military alike,” Amer said. “The militants and terrorists do not ask [local residents] for permission [to enter their homes]. Hamas uses civilians as human shields, taking over their residences. That is our experience.”

He added that everyone who built a home near the barrier did so knowing that construction in the area was prohibited. He emphasized that buildings built without permits but not within proximity of the barrier were not slated for demolition.

Sur Baher is home to 24,000 Palestinians, the majority of whom hold Israeli permanent residency rights and Jerusalem identity cards. The village was annexed into Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries following the 1967 Arab-Israeli war but grew eastward across the city line into the West Bank.

As a result of the 1995 Oslo II Interim Agreement, the West Bank was divided into areas A, B and C. The PA gained complete control over Area A and administrative control over Area B, with Israel retaining security control in Area B and complete control over Area C.

The Wadi Hummus neighborhood of Sur Baher is officially in Area A. When the barrier was rerouted, it remained on the Jerusalem side, which Israel says puts it de facto under Israeli jurisdiction.

According to Mohammed Abu Teir, 43, whose half-constructed building was among those being demolished, construction began in 2015. He said the residents believed they had acted according to the law because they had permits from the PA.

He said that his building was meant to provide apartments for several of his siblings and cousins, adding that, all told, the demolitions could affect 100 families.

Like most men who live in the neighborhood, Abu Teir works in construction in Israel, but he said that in recent days, it had been too emotionally difficult to go to work. Starting on Sunday night, he sat in vigil with other residents, waiting for the Israeli forces to appear.

He added that Israel had expropriated the majority of his family’s lands from the Jabal Abu Ghenim area outside the Palestinian village of Beit Sahour, just east of Bethlehem, for construction of the Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa,  which, like Sur Bahir, is in territory it captured in 1967.

“They did not leave us any land there… so we came to the Wadi Hummus area because [there was] building permission from the Palestinian Authority,” Abu Teir told The Media Line.

“We put all our money into these buildings and we took loans out for them. This is very difficult and has put us under a lot of tension. We don’t know what… we will do. A lot of people who have apartments here don’t have other places to live. Maybe we will end up on the side of the road in a tent,” he said.

“All the people here want to live in peace,” he went on. “They just want to live in quiet and are not looking for problems. If a person lives in a country and the government deals with him as if he is the enemy, it is very hard.”

Later, Abu Teir was arrested for refusing to leave, the Israel Defense Forces having declared the area a closed military zone until July 24. Released on bail and sounding weary, the father of four told The Media Line that he would not be allowed to return to Wadi Hummus until Thursday.

“I don’t know what is left there. They are putting explosives in my building to demolish it,” he said from the police station.

Israeli security forces distributed flyers warning area residents that all the structures to be demolished would be blown up on Monday evening. Explosives were indeed detonated in controlled demolitions starting near sundown.

The Israeli High Court is scheduled to hear an appeal against the slated demolition of four more buildings in Wadi Hummus in November, according to attorney Khatib.

Following an emergency meeting of the PLO Executive Committee led by PA President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday afternoon, Erekat announced at a press conference that the PA would put in motion a mechanism to cancel all agreements with Israel. He also called on Palestinians to halt dealings with Israeli “occupation” courts.

Abbas himself instructed the Palestinian representative to the United Nations to call for an emergency meeting of the Security Council, warning that if the US objected to the move, the PA would turn to the General Assembly.

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry also presented an “annex” proposal on the demolition of the structures to the International Criminal Court in The Hague and called for an emergency court session there.

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