An Israeli court order forced the natives of Silwan to demolish their own houses and commercial properties, sparking widespread outrage.
In the Silwan district of East Jerusalem, some Palestinians are demolishing their own houses and shops. Videos circulated online showing young men with hammers taking down the walls while children playing with the rubble in the Israeli occupied neighbourhood.
June 27th, Sunday, was the deadline set by an Israeli court for the demolition of houses of 13 Palestinian families. Pronouncing the houses illegal, the court also asked the Palestinian owners to leave their properties for Jewish settlers.
Here’s more about it.
What prompted the demolitions?
The end of the Sunday deadline meant that if Palestinians did not demolish their own houses, the Israeli municipality would knock them down and charge the families a fine of around 6000 USD (20,000 NIS).
This is not the first time Palestinians have razed their own homes. The homes that are being razed one by one are among 86 Palestinian homes that the Israeli court has marked for demolitions. In the past too, the Israeli government has subjected several Palestinian families in the occupied areas to similar diktats.
Although the current demolition orders are affecting 13 families in Silwan, the whole neighbourhood, home to 119 families residing in 88 buildings, feel vulnerable to meeting the same fate. With no support to fall back on, at least 1550 Palestinians are likely to be forcefully expelled and pushed onto the streets.
What are Israeli and Palestinian arguments?
Silwan came under the spotlight at a time when protests over similar expulsions began in East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in early May.
Twelve families in Sheikh Jarrah were ordered to leave their homes, sparking protests and daily sit-ins. They faced violence from both armed Jewish settlers, who want to usurp Palestinian homes, as well as Israeli security forces.
According to Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Saleh Higazi, “this is yet another illustration of Israel’s criminal policy of forced displacement of Palestinians in motion.”
The Israeli government says the contested homes were built illegally, a claim the families deny. Many rights groups have slammed the government for misusing Israeli courts to force the families out of East Jerusalem as part of its policy of changing the area's demography by building Jewish settlements. The ultimate aim is to make both east and west Jerusalem the capital of Israel.
The Jerusalem Municipality has already officially changed Silwan’s Al-Bustan neighbourhood’s name to Gan Hamelekh (The King’s Garden). Israel makes outlandish claims saying the area was a garden for Israelite kings thousands of years ago.
Palestinians meanwhile say, they have lived in these houses for decades and have inherited them from their grandparents, some of whom are older than the Israeli state founded in 1948.
More than 700,00,00 Palestinians were expelled from their lands that year, and thousands of them were displaced in 1967 when Israel occupied East Jerusalem during the Six-Day War.
By international law, Israeli settlements are deemed illegal as well as forced expulsions. But Palestinians can only object to these rulings in Israeli courts where these orders are being issued in the first place.
Israeli law is built around the idea that Jewish people have a divine right over the land and properties that belong to Palestinians.
While the Israeli law allows Jewish people to take over the Palestinians properties, it denies the same right to Palestinians who have been dispossessed of their assets ever since Israel came into being in 1948.
In practice, it means court appeals by Palestinians can only postpone the evictions or demolitions until further notice.