Israeli occupation forces on home demolition rampage throughout the West Bank
A Palestinian child holds a national flag as she walks past the rubble of Palestinian homes destroyed by Israeli authorities on July 29, 2016. (AFP/File)
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Israeli authorities carried out a large number of demolitions in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank on Tuesday, destroying two family apartment buildings, a classroom, a restaurant, four water cisterns, and parts of a home in the latest instances of a policy which rights groups have said has increased drastically in past months.
Three buildings demolished in East Jerusalem
Sixteen Palestinians, including a number of children, were left homeless on Tuesday after bulldozers escorted by Israeli police and Jerusalem municipality inspectors demolished two houses in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of al-Tur in the middle of the night.
The two residential buildings, which each housed two 180-square-meter apartments each, belonged to brothers Taysir, Jasir, and Ahmad Abu al-Hawa.
Taysir Abu al-Hawa told Ma'an that Israeli forces arrived at 3 a.m. and forcibly evacuated the families from their apartments without letting them retrieve their belongings.
The Abu al-Hawas has tried and failed to obtain construction permits from the Jerusalem municipality since 2010, Taysir said, forcing them to built the two residences without licenses.
He added that the family was already paying off a 280,000 shekel ($74,645.80) fine imposed to the Jerusalem municipality for the lack of permits before the homes were destroyed.
Abu al-Hawa added that the operation came unexpectedly as the family's lawyer had obtained a six-month deferment of the demolition two months earlier.
A court hearing had been scheduled to take place on Tuesday morning regarding the case.
Meanwhile, in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Safafa, Israeli municipalities demolished a restaurant without prior notice, the owner said.
Imad Burqan told Ma'an that he had tried and failed to obtain a construction license from the municipality, and had built the "Mediterranean Restaurant" without a permit more than 20 years ago.
A spokesperson for the Jerusalem municipality told Ma'an on Tuesday that "the Jerusalem Zoning Authority enforced court orders by demolishing illegal structures in the al-Tur and Beit Safafa neighborhoods."
The spokesperson confirmed that permits weren't granted and that appeals were rejected in both cases, claiming that the Abu al-Hawa homes were built "on an area zoned for a public structure," while the restaurant in Beit Safafa "was constructed on an area zoned for a road serving the neighborhood."
While the municipality vowed in its statement to "continue to enforce the law equally, in all parts of the city, preserving public areas and ensuring accessibility for the benefit of local communities," in practice Israel very rarely grants Palestinians permits to build in the occupied Palestinian territory, forcing most Palestinians to build illegally.
According to the Applied Research Institute - Jerusalem (ARIJ), procedures to apply for Israeli-issued building permits in East Jerusalem are 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 -- some 82 percent of whom live under the poverty line -- 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 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.
The summer has seen a large-scale demolition campaign targeting Palestinian communities across Jerusalem on an unprecedented scale. In less than 24 hours in late July, 30 Palestinian families were left homeless after Israel destroyed homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Issawiya and Ras al-Amoud, and in the village of Qalandiya in the West Bank district of Jerusalem.
Demolished classroom in E1 Bedouin community
Meanwhile, Israeli authorities reportedly demolished a classroom Tuesday morning in a school in the Bedouin community of Abu Nuwwar -- part of the contentious "E1 corridor" located just east of Jerusalem municipal boundaries.
Abu Nuwwar community spokesperson Dawoud al-Jahalin told Ma'an that "Israeli occupation bulldozers" demolished a classroom that was used to serve 15 third-graders in the Abu Nuwwar coeducational school, and also leveled the school's yard.
The school was a movable structure made of wood and tin sheets donated by the European Commission.
A spokesperson for COGAT, the Israeli agency responsible for implementing Israeli policies in Palestinian territory, told Ma'an in response to a request for comment that 'enforcement measures were carried out against an illegal structure that was built without the required permits in Abu Nuwwar."
"The structures were demolished after the enforcement measures were carried out and the relevant orders were issued. It is important to note that the structure was built a few days ago in the same place where there was an additional illegal structure. "
Israel has come under repeated international condemnation over demolitions of EU-funded structures, with some accusing the Israeli government of demolishing Palestinian structures in retaliation for the EU's decision in November to enforce labeling laws that would indicate if a product was produced in one of Israel's 196 illegal settlements.
UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Palestine Robert Piper warned last month of the heightened risk of forcible transfer for the Abu Nuwwar community, one of several Bedouin villages facing forced relocation due to plans by Israeli authorities to build thousands of homes for Jewish-only settlements in the E1 corridor.
The "E1 corridor," a contentious zone set up by the Israeli government to link annexed East Jerusalem with the mega settlement of Maale Adumim, would virtually cut the occupied West Bank in half, making the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state impossible.
A school in the Bedouin community of Khan al-Ahmar, also located in E1, which was partially funded by an Italian organization and the Italian government, has long been slated for demolition by the Israeli government.
In response to the most recent demolition order against the school, Jamal Dajani, director of strategic communications at the Palestinian prime minister's office said that Israeli authorities used "every excuse in the book to prevent the advancement of Palestinian communities in Area C," adding that Israel "should not be allowed to deprive our children of educational opportunities."
"Is Palestinian education a threat to Israel?" Dajani asked in the statement.
Home partially demolished near Bethlehem
Israeli forces on Tuesday also demolished three rooms, including the kitchen, of a home in the village of Beit Jala in the southern occupied West Bank district of Bethlehem, claiming they were built without an Israeli-issued building license.
Local sources told Ma'an that Israeli bulldozers demolished part of the home, which is located near the Tunnels checkpoint southeast of Jerusalem.
When contacted for comment on the case, a COGAT spokesperson told Ma'an that Beit Jala did not fall under its jurisdiction but under that of the Jerusalem municipality -- despite Beit Jala being located in the West Bank.
Last month, an Israeli-enforced demolition left an estimated 20 Palestinians homeless in Beit Jala's Bir Ouna neighborhood, on a day when a total of some 70 Palestinians were displaced by demolitions across the occupied territory.
Meanwhile, Israel has come under harsh criticism for a spike in illegal settlement activity in area, and recently approved plans to construct 770 out of 1,200 settlement units between the illegal settlement of Gilo and Beit Jala in July.
The demolition in Beit Jala came as Israeli troops demolished four wells used to provide water for sheep and crops in agricultural lands in the Jurat al-Kheil area east of Sair in the southern West Bank district of Hebron.
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.
Nearly all Palestinian applications for building permits in Area C -- the 60 percent of the West Bank under full Israeli military control -- are denied by the Israeli authorities, forcing communities to build illegally.
Demolitions in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem have seen an unprecedented surge in recent months, as Israeli authorities demolished 769 Palestinian structures so far this year, in a large increase from 531 in all of 2015, according to UN documentation.
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