Housing and furthermore adequate housing is fundamental to human dignity and – and thus is recognized in UN and international human rights law and charters a basic human right. Yet in East Jerusalem alone around 60,000 Palestinians live under the threat of home demolition by the Israeli authority, with 1,600 demolition orders pending. It is almost impossible under the current legal situation to obtain a building permit in East Jerusalem.
In 1969 following the occupation of the west bank and the annexation of East Jerusalem and the surrounding Palestinian villages to it, Israel confiscated over more than a third of the annexed lands, which were privately owned by Palestinians, and designated them either as new neighborhoods for the Jewish population, or as “green areas”, meaning a no building zone. No new neighborhoods for the Palestinian residents of the city were established since then.
For many years, no new plans and building schemes were put in place for the Arab neighborhoods in the city, leading to a situation where building permits could not be obtained, yet, the population grew and with it the need for more housing units.
In some areas though, plans were put in place allowing for legalizing already esisting buildings, and allowing for further housing units, which soon got inhabited and the plans were outdated again, given they did not take into consideration the growing needs of the population.
According to human rights ORGANISATIONS data numbers of B’tselem and the Israeli Committee again House Demolitions (ICAHD) from 2004 to 2009 almost 500 houses in East Jerusalem were destroyed by the Israeli authorities.
In East Jerusalem most of the demolition orders were issued because of so called “illegal” constructions, what means that the building was constructed without a permit by the Israeli authorities.
But building permits for Palestinians living in Jerusalem are nearly impossible to obtain. Permits are needed in order to build on one’s land or in order to add a floor or extension to an already existing home. Statistically only five percent of all permit requests by Palestinians are approved by the aothorities and the average time period for approval is 5-10 years. This, when compared with the fact that building permits for settlers are approved at a rate of 90-100 percent, reflect the severity of the situation. Additionally financial hurdles are put in place; permits typically cost around 30,000 US dollars (mostly administrative fees). This amount must be put in perspective; salaries are low and almost 70% of the Palestinian population in East Jerusalem lives below the poverty line.
The only solution for Palestinians has therefore been to build illegally on land which they legally own, in order to accommodate their growing residential needs. The demand of housing units is more than urgent: The Palestinian population in East Jerusalem grew from 60,000 in 1967 to around 200,000 nowadays.