Bringing Down the House: Home Demolitions in East Jerusalem
By Jennifer Urgilez for MIFTAH
September 01, 2009

In the immediate aftermath of the 1967 War culminating in Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel unilaterally annexed 70.5km˛ of the occupied area into Israel proper, extending the boundaries of east Jerusalem. In contravention of United Nations Security Council Resolution 252 “reaffirming that acquisition of territory by military conquest is inadmissible,” Israel expropriated these lands into the Jerusalem municipality for the purpose of expanding the Jewish presence in the city.

Of the seized lands, 35% or 24.5km˛ has been earmarked for Israeli settlement development, also in breach of international humanitarian law, specifically Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War prohibiting Israel from transferring fragments of its civilian population into its occupied territories. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), as of the end of 2008, over 195,000 Israeli settlers inhabited settlements in east Jerusalem. Of further interest, 35% or 24.7% of the expropriated area retains master plans approved by the Jerusalem District Committee, whereas the lingering 30% or 21.3km˛ continues to remain unplanned since 1967. Yet, 63% or 15.5km˛ of the lands that are planned have been denoted as non-constructible or public-purpose-serving regions--“green areas.” The remaining 9.2 km˛--13% of east Jerusalem’s totality--is all that is at Palestinians’ disposal for construction in east Jerusalem, and thus, triggering a housing crisis on lands which have already largely been built upon.

I. Following Palestinians’ Footsteps in Obtaining a Building Permit:

Construction is only permissible on lands that are not designated as green areas and reside within the 24.7km˛ retaining master plans.

Prior to commencing construction, a comprehensive plan of the area must be founded and approved.

A lack of sufficient public infrastructure--roads, water, and sewage--often impedes authorization for new construction. Building permits will not be granted for construction in areas with deficient public infrastructure, even if the plans had been approved.

Strict zoning laws further limit Palestinians’ ability to build in east Jerusalem even when construction permits are granted. Limitations on Palestinian construction density is quite harsh, often reducing their plot ratios to half, or even less, of what is permissible for Israelis in neighboring settlements in east Jerusalem. The end result: harsher plot ratio restrictions leads to fewer housing units for Palestinians in comparison to Israelis, despite the higher population growth rate of Palestinians.

As if the aforementioned limitations were not enough, the applicable fees for obtaining a permit are quite high, and often, prohibitive, especially when considering that 2/3 of the non-Jewish population of Jerusalem lives below the poverty line. According to OCHA’s Special Focus of April 2009, the cost for a permit to erect a small 100m˛ building on a 500m˛ area of land will roughly total NIS 74,000 or USD 17,620. Note that these fees pertain only to the obtainment of a permit, not the costs accompanying actual construction.

Jennifer Urgilez is a Writer for the Media and Information Program at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at

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