JERUSALEM (Ma’an) — A Palestinian family from the Old City in occupied East Jerusalem were forced on Wednesday to destroy their home with their own hands, in order to avoid punishment from Israel’s Jerusalem Municipality.
Nabih al-Basti and his family reportedly used “light tools” to demolish the house that he built 19 years ago.
Al-Basti, 53, told Ma’an that “one of the most difficult moments is for someone to demolish their own house – memories and dreams are demolished with the home.”
He added that over the course of the 19 years that him and his family had lived in the 60 square meter apartment, which sat on the third floor of a building, he had paid “thousands of shekels to maintain it.”
The Israeli municipality reportedly issued several demolition orders and gave al-Basti until September 20, 2016 to demolish his house.
Al-Basti said that during the last court session that took place in June, the municipality threatened to place him under house arrest, and impose additional fines on top of the standard demolition fine that Palestinians are forced to pay the Municipality if they do not destroy the home themselves, if he did not destroy his home within the given deadline.
An Israeli Jerusalem Municipality spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.
Demolitions in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem have seen an unprecedented surge in recent months, with the number of structures demolished in the first half of 2016 already well exceeding the total number of demolitions carried out in all of 2015.
Palestinian communities in the East Jerusalem area — within the municipal boundaries and also beyond the wall in the occupied West Bank — have been targeted in particular, as the Israeli government has undertaken a policy of “Judaization” across the city, constructing Jewish settlements and demolishing Palestinian homes.
In mid July, 43 Palestinians, including 25 children, were made homeless in less than 48 hours due to Israeli demolitions in Jabal al-Mukabbir and a Bedouin refugee community in Anata, according to the UN, and several demolitions have been carried out against residential and commercial structures in the Jerusalem area since.
Israel rarely grants Palestinians permits to build in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, although the estimated 550,000 Jewish Israeli settlers are more easily given building permits and allowed to expand their homes and properties.
The municipality, however, has claimed that they receive a disproportionately low number of permit applications from Palestinian communities, adding that “over the past five years, only 15 percent of building permit applications (1,864 of the 12,620) were filed by residents of predominantly Arab neighborhoods, less than half of their share in the city’s population.”
The municipality also claimed that when applications were submitted for building in Palestinian neighborhoods, they had a high rate of approval — at 87 percent.
However, according to the Applied Research Institute – Jerusalem (ARIJ), land prices are extremely high in Palestinian neighborhoods close to the Old City of East Jerusalem, while also being a prime location for Israeli settlements and the larger goal of “Judaizing” the area around the Old City.
Testimonies collected by ARIJ from Palestinians in the neighborhood of Silwan located near the Old City found that the procedures to apply for Israeli-issued building permits were lengthy, sometimes lasting for several years, while the application costs could reach up to 300,000 shekels ($79,180).
As a result, Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem tend to build without permits in order to accommodate the needs of their families, and only 7 percent of Jerusalem building permits go to Palestinian neighborhoods, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
According to Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the high price of the building permits are seen as one of several strategies the Israeli government uses to forcibly displace their communities for the benefit of Israeli settlers.
Haaretz reported in June that according to data collected in 2014, 82 percent of Palestinians in East Jerusalem live under the poverty line, making applying for costly building permits nearly impossible.
The United Nations reported in 2014 that 35 percent of land in East Jerusalem has been zoned for Israeli settlements, while only 13 percent of the land has been designated for Palestinian construction, most of which has already been built-up. The report also highlight that at least a third of all Palestinian homes in East Jerusalems lack Israeli-issued building permits, threatening more than 90,000 with potential displacement