By Joan Mas Autonell
Jerusalem, Mar 3 (EFE).- Palestinian families watching on as bulldozers guarded by police demolish their homes has long been a common sight in East Jerusalem, but the frequency of forceful evictions has risen sharply since the right-wing Israeli government took power last year.
That is what happened to Rateb Mater, a 50-year-old Palestinian who a few weeks ago saw the demolition of the house where he lived with 10 members of his family in Jabal Mukaber, one of occupied East Jerusalem’s neighborhoods that has been most affected by an old Israeli policy that has intensified since Benjamin Netanyahu and his far-right partners took office.
“Our life collapsed,” Mater tells Efe, looking on at the ruins of his house while the children play on the remains of a two-story building that was reduced to rubble.
The new National Security Minister, Itamar Ben Gvir, has been pushing for increased demolitions as part of a heavy-handed campaign to “restore order in East Jerusalem” in the wake of a spate of Palestinian attacks in Israel.
This is the second time Israel has demolished Mater’s home – his first house was also destroyed in the 1990s for not having a building permit, making it “illegal” in the eyes of Israel, which regularly demolishes such structures.
Israel has already destroyed 67 Palestinian buildings in the city this year, including more than 20 homes, leaving 107 people homeless, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
“There is a trend of increasing demolitions since 2019,” a spokeswoman for the Israeli NGO Ir Amim tells Efe, but with the arrival of the most right-wing government in Israel’s history, the rate has accelerated, reflecting the ideology of the coalition, which wants to increase Jewish settlements in Palestinian territory.
If the pattern continues, analysts warn, many other people’s homes could be at risk.
The developments come amid a sharp upturn in violence over the past year, with demolishing the homes of Palestinian perpetrators of attacks on Israelis one of the punitive measures that the government is increasingly using to crack down on the unrest.
PERMITS IN DRIBS AND DRABS
The specter of demolition looms over tens of thousands of Palestinians in the eastern part of Jerusalem – which was occupied by Israel in 1967 and annexed in 1980 – who for years have been building their homes without permits because they are so hard to obtain.
Many have been trying to secure licenses to formally register their homes for years, but they are delivered in dribs and drabs and the municipality “imposes so many obstacles that it becomes almost impossible to build legally,” Meir Margalit, a former councilman in the municipality for the leftist Meretz party who participated in a group against demolitions, told Efe.
Mater had been trying to get a license since 2005, but was unsuccessful. He has now seen his home torn down, leaving his family and his grandchildren, who are minors, homeless.
“We have nowhere else to go,” he says from inside a brick shack where he now sleeps with some relatives.
This system “is part of a racist and discriminatory legal system” that “wants to make life impossible so that Palestinians leave the city,” Margalit says.
Israel “wants to prevent (the Palestinian community in East Jerusalem’s) demographic growth” to maintain a majority Israeli Jewish population in the Holy City, the former councilor says, calling the process “urbanicide” against the 350,000 Palestinians who make up 40% of the city’s population.
Most of them do not have citizenship, and hold only a permanent residence permit that Israel can withdraw relatively easily.
GROWING SETTLER POPULATION
According to Ir Amim, around half of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem might have been built without permits, while Israel builds and expands Jewish settlements with legal permits, leading to some 200,000 settlers living in the occupied area of the city.
But most Palestinians do not want to leave Jerusalem. “They can have their house demolished or be denied permits, but they don’t leave the city even if they have to live in a tent afterwards,” Margalit remarks.
For Mater, who continues to clear the ruins of what is left of his home, there is no alternative. “We’re not going anywhere,” he says, his thoughts turning to building another house.
“We won’t be able to build a house like the one that was demolished, it costs a lot of money and we have nothing left, but we’ll see if we can build something small so that we can live,” he says. EFE