House Demolitions
The legal framework - Jerusalem
2014-12-18

Since its illegal occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, Israel used the planning laws as one of the means of limiting the number of Palestinians in Jerusalem. After the six days war, the Jordanian planning law of 1966 was annulled which left a legal vacuum in East Jerusalem. Eventually, the Israeli planning laws were implemented in East Jerusalem and they are used until this present day.

In the 1980s, the Jerusalem municipality designated vast areas of land in the Palestinian neighborhoods as "green land" - otherwise known as “open space land” where building is prohibited. And there is almost no chance to change the destination of a parcel of land from non-residential to residential. To reach a decision like this, the parcel must at first cover a minimum area of 10 dunams (10.000sqm). This means that land owners whose plots are less than 10 dunams in size - and this applies to nearly everyone - are unable to advance specific plans that would allow them to build on their land.

Also in the old city the municipality prevents Palestinians from building or even from maintaining their homes as the Israeli planning laws forbids the introducing of any alterations to the buildings or the building at all. But at the same time, the municipality sends orders to house owners to maintain their homes or else they will be criminally liable under the municipality rules and regulations.

Additionally the Israeli government asks for a proof of land ownership before issuing a building permit. Whereas Jewish land titles are documented and organized, East Jerusalem's land is mostly not regularized or recorded in the land registry. In 1967, when Israel took control of East Jerusalem, the state decided not to continue with the initiative of the British and then the Jordanian rule of registering lands in East Jerusalem. This left many landowners without proper proof of their ownership.

As a result of those various restrictions, indeed since 1967 more than 20,000 unauthorized housing units have been built in East Jerusalem, most of them during the 1980s and 1990s.

If a demolition order is issued usually the procedure was as follows: First an indictment under section 145, which forbids building without permission, is brought in the Municipal Court of Jerusalem, which is the court that has the jurisdiction to deal with this kind of matters.

In the vast majority the outcome of the trials is a fine accompanied with a postponed demolition order for normally one and a half years and a suspended term of imprisonment for the case that the defendant should build without a permit again. Should the defendant fail to acquire a building permit during the one and a half years term his home can be demolished by the municipality. But in most cases another indictment is brought against him for contempt of court under section 210 of the planning laws. This is followed by another fine; the demolition order is normally postponed for another six more months and a suspended prison term is imposed which is activated in case a second contempt case should be brought in.

Here must be mentioned that in few cases also an administrative demolition order under section 238(a) of the planning law can be issued against a building. In this case the building can be demolished within 24 hours of the date of the order if the owner does not appeal the order in the municipal court.

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