On Tuesday morning this week, the Israeli authorities began the demolition of Palestinian homes in the Bustan neighbourhood of the Salwan district of Occupied East Jerusalem.
The 21-day grace period that the Israeli-run Jerusalem municipality had given dozens of families in Bustan ended on Sunday. During that period, the municipality had offered the residents a choice: either they could demolish their own homes with their own hands or they could let Israeli demolition teams do it and then pay them for it.
The first building to be targeted was a shop belonging to local Palestinian resident Nadal Al-Rajabi. Israel military and police patrols, escorting a bulldozer, raided the quarter on Tuesday morning and cordonned it off. The bulldozer then razed the structure and awaited orders to move on to others. According to the Palestinian News Agency (WAFA), the demolition of the shop was to facilitate access to homes slated for demolition.
Residents and supporters clashed with the Israeli military, which beat them with truncheons, wounding several. Other protesters were arrested and taken in for questioning.
The approximately 70 donum (18 acre) Bustan neighbourhood is inhabited by approximately 1,550 native Jerusalemites. Nearly half of them are members of the 86 families who face violent eviction from their homes for the benefit of Ateret Cohanim, a Jewish settler society working to promote the Judaisation of Arab neighbourhoods in the occupied city.
The municipality claims that the homes it wants to destroy were constructed without a permit in 2004, a year in which it demolished the homes of dozens of Palestinian families in the same area. This time, some of the dispossessed family homes will be demolished to make way for a tourist attraction.
In 2021, the municipality presented plans to create an archaeological park called Gan Hamelekh (The King’s Garden), claiming that the area was the site of a garden that belonged to Israelite kings a few thousand years ago. Initially, over 22 homes were identified for demolition for this purpose.
However, soon afterwards, the Palestinian residents were notified that their whole neighbourhood was to be torn down, and the order led to the ongoing protests. According to WAFA, Palestinian families in Jerusalem face over 33,000 demolition rulings, while the Israeli government issues construction permits for hundreds of thousands of illegal settler units. Successive Israeli governments have prohibited Palestinians from building on 86 per cent of the land in Salwan, a neighbourhood covering around seven square km (6,540 donums / 1,600 acres) in Occupied East Jerusalem.
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry has appealed to the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Karim Khan, to prioritise cases the Palestinian government has brought before the ICC, underscoring the urgency of commencing investigations into the crimes perpetrated by the Israeli occupation against Occupied East Jerusalem in the light of the immediate plight of the hundreds of families in the Sheikh Jarrah and Salwan districts facing forced displacement.
Palestinian missions in New York and Geneva are submitting periodic reports to the UN secretary-general, the chairs of the UN Security Council and General Assembly, and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to keep them updated on developments and discuss the best means to implement the recent UN Security Council Resolution calling for the creation of a permanent commission of inquiry to monitor and report on rights violations perpetrated by Israel.
In a statement, the Palestinian Foreign Ministry stressed that the state of Palestine was fully prepared to cooperate with the UN Human Rights Council. It also urged UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to act to protect Palestinians threatened by eviction. It warned that the Israeli occupation was exerting extreme pressure on the lives and well-being of Palestinian residents in Jerusalem in order to break down their resistance, preparatory to displacing them from their homes for the benefit of Jewish extremist groups and settler societies.
The arbitrary home demolitions in Sheikh Jarrah and Salwan are part and parcel of the Judaisation of the Holy City and the evacuation of native Jerusalemites, the ministry said, adding that the Israeli government must bear full responsibility for the consequences of the home demolitions, forced displacement of the Palestinian inhabitants of Jerusalem and the ongoing process of ethnic cleansing which is punishable under international law.
According to Ahmed Al-Ruweidi, an adviser to the office of the Palestinian president, Israel has accelerated its plans for the Bustan neighbourhood. He warned that the Israeli occupation plans to clear native residents from the Old City and replace them with Jewish settlements that will form part of the settlement ring encircling Jerusalem.
“We have asked the ICC, which has jurisdiction over the illegal settlement question, to speed up its investigatory processes.” Al-Ruweidi said. “It is unacceptable that people have to face demolition and displacement on their doorsteps while the ICC has not even begun the steps to initiate investigations of the crimes that fall under its responsibility.”
Meanwhile, residents in Bustan have erected tents for a sit-in to protest against the impending destruction of their homes. Large groups of Palestinian and foreign supporters have begun to rally in an attempt to focus attention on Israeli practices in the area.
Initially, the new government in Israel seemed caught between its commitment to Israeli settler plans in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and other occupied territories and its desire to ward off international and, above all, American anger. However, it soon yielded to the pressures of the extreme right and pressed ahead with steps initiated and encouraged by the former government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Palestinian group Hamas in Gaza described the occupation power’s actions against Palestinians in Jerusalem as “flagrant aggression” and an attempt to toy with dangerous and unpredictable issues. “The resistance is vigilant and alert to what the occupation is doing in Jerusalem,” a Hamas official statement said. “It will not allow the occupier to persist in the policy of gnawing away at Jerusalem bit by bit in order to complete the process of Judaisation. The resistance’s options for retaliation against the occupation are open.”
Israeli actions in Salwan in Occupied East Jerusalem present a new challenge to the durability of the current truce between the Palestinian factions in Gaza and Israel. The latter has been manoeuvring to evade its commitments under the ceasefire agreement and dragging its feet on lifting the blockade on Gaza.
The situation in Salwan is adding to the powder keg that threatens to disrupt the current calm, just as the Israeli attacks on the Al-Aqsa Mosque precinct and the Israeli violations in Sheikh Jarrah generated the sparks that ignited the last war between the Palestinian factions and Israel in May.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 1 July, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly