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Monday, May 04, 2009

The United Nations, the World Media and Jerusalem's zoning laws

The United Nations issued a report [pdf link] on Friday that claimed that as many as 60,000 'Palestinian' homes in the eastern half of Jerusalem may have been built illegally in violation of Jerusalem's zoning laws. That - according to the United Nations - would be as many as one quarter of the Arab homes (forget that there is no such thing as a 'Palestinian' - Arabs in the eastern half of Jerusalem are entitled to Israeli citizenship) in the eastern half of the City.

The impetus for the report was the announcement that the City of Jerusalem would demolish 90 homes that were built on land designated for a national park just outside Jerusalem's Old City, and the criticism leveled at Israel by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton because of those demolitions (which have not yet taken place).

The world's anti-Israel media has lapped up the story. This is the Washington Post:
So far, home demolitions have occurred on a far smaller scale, averaging about 75 a year between 2000 and 2008. But the problem continues to mount because the number of building permits issued to Palestinians in East Jerusalem has remained stable at about 100 to 150 per year, providing about 1,100 fewer housing units than needed annually to keep up with Palestinian population growth, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs concludes in its study, which calls for a freeze on demolitions in East Jerusalem.

"Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem find themselves confronting a serious housing shortage caused by Israel's failure to provide Palestinian neighborhoods with adequate planning," the OCHA report says. "Because of the difficulties trying to obtain building permits from the Israeli authorities, and due to the lack of feasible alternatives, many Palestinians risk building on their land without a permit."
This is the New York Times:
The United Nations is calling on Israel to freeze all pending demolition orders against Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem in a new report that reflects growing international concern over developments in the contested city. The report also urges Israel to provide solutions to the housing crisis there.

Scores [note how the Washington Post article quoted above said 75 - that sure sounds like less than 'scores.' CiJ] of Palestinian-owned structures are demolished every year by the Israeli authorities on the grounds that they were built without the required permits. But many Palestinians say Israel limits construction to push them out of East Jerusalem, which they claim as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

The report states that only 13 percent of East Jerusalem land is currently zoned by the Israeli authorities for Palestinian construction, and much of that is already built up, severely restricting the possibility of obtaining a permit. More than a third of East Jerusalem, meanwhile, has been expropriated for Israeli construction since 1967, according to the report, while 22 percent is zoned for green areas and public infrastructure and 30 percent remains “unplanned.”
And this is al-Guardian.
The UN said that of the 70.5 sq km of East Jerusalem and the West Bank annexed by Israel, only 13% was zoned for Palestinian construction and this was mostly already built up. At the same time 35% had been expropriated for Israeli settlements, even though all settlements on occupied land are illegal under international law.

As a result Palestinians in East Jerusalem had found it increasingly difficult to obtain planning permits and many had built without them, risking fines and eventual demolition, the UN said. As many as 28% of all Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem were built in violation of Israeli planning rules.

"Throughout its occupation, Israel has significantly restricted Palestinian development in East Jerusalem," the UN report said. It said 673 Palestinian structures had been demolished in the east between 2000 and 2008 [An average of about 74 per year. Scores? CiJ]. Last year alone 90 structures were demolished, leaving 400 Palestinians displaced, the highest number of demolitions for four years. Similar demolitions are carried out regularly by the Israeli military across the West Bank.

The UN said it was particularly concerned about areas facing mass demolition, including Bustan in Silwan, just south of the old city, where the threatened destruction of 90 houses would lead to the displacement of 1,000 Palestinians.

Families who lose their homes are faced with the choice of moving into crowded apartments with relatives or renting new homes. They face "significant hardships", including having their property destroyed and struggling with debts from fines and legal fees, the UN said. [It's funny how no one worried about the 'significant hardships' faced - and still faced - by the Jews whose homes in Gush Katif were destroyed in 2005. Those homes were built with the permission of the lawfully constituted sovereign in Gaza at the time: The State of Israel. But no one at the UN cared about that. Sounds like a double standard to me. CiJ]
The UN has a long and painful history of bias against Israel that I hope that everyone who reads this blog can accept as fact. And yet, we all know that Arab (and Jewish!) homes in Jerusalem and in other major cities throughout the world are demolished when they are built illegally. So what's really going on in Jerusalem?

Human rights lawyer Justus Reid Weiner has actually written a book about this issue. You can order the book from the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, +972-2-561-9281, for $50 + postage ($10 airmail to North America; $6 airmail to Europe; $2 surface mail in Israel) (if anyone wants to buy me one, drop me a note and I will send you my P.O. Box number - I don't own the book either). Here are some of the highlights of Weiner's findings.
In the Jewish neighborhoods, illegal construction typically takes the form of additions to existing legal structures - such as closing a balcony or hollowing out under a building to create an extra room. In the Arab sector, however, illegal construction often takes the form of entire multi-floor buildings with 4 to 25 living units, built with the financial assistance of the Palestinian Authority on land that is not owned by the builder.
Illegal construction has reached epidemic proportions. A senior Palestinian official boasted that they have built 6,000 homes without permits during the last 4 years, of which less than 200 were demolished by the city.
This frantic pace of illegal construction continues despite the fact that the city has authorized more than 36,000 permits for new housing units in the Arab sector, more than enough to meet the needs of Arab residents through legal construction until 2020.

Arab residents who wish to build legally may consult urban plans translated into Arabic for their convenience and receive individual assistance from Arabic-speaking city employees.

Both Arabs and Jews typically wait 4-6 weeks for permit approval, enjoy a similar rate of application approvals, and pay an identical fee ($3,600) for water and sewage hook-ups on the same size living unit.

The same procedures for administrative demolition orders apply to both Jews and Arabs in all parts of the city, as a final backstop to remove structures built illegally on roadbeds or land designated for schools, clinics, and the like.
The Palestinian Authority and Arab governments have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in an intentional campaign to subsidize and encourage massive illegal construction in the Arab sector, seeing this as part of their "demographic war" against Israel.

Many large, multi-story, luxury structures have been built by criminals on land they do not own, frequently land belonging to Palestinian Christians living abroad.

This epidemic of illegal construction is similar to illegal building that troubles cities in scores of countries worldwide and where the authorities utilize the law to demolish the structures.

More than any single factor, the 35-year-long boycott of municipal politics by the Palestinian leadership has resulted in the continued imbalance in municipal services in Arab neighborhoods vis-a-vis Jewish neighborhoods.

Despite frequent accusations that the city's planning policy seeks to "Judaize" Jerusalem, the Arab population of the city has increased since 1967 from 27% to 32%. Moreover, since 1967 new Arab construction has outpaced Jewish construction.
So whom do you believe? A 21-page report from the Jew-hating United Nations that was written recently, or a 172-page book that was written over the course of years by a human rights lawyer who actually lives here?


At 12:38 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Carl - I believe YOUR report. You actually live there. If you had the time or the inclination, you could publish a better report on what is actually happening in Jerusalem than the United Nations has done. To put it all in perspective, if Israel's rule over Jerusalem was so horrible, the Arab population wouldn't have increased to the extent it has. And that's something you're not going to find mentioned in the UN's study or in the many foreign media reports about the city.

At 10:38 PM, Blogger Soccer Dad said...

What bugged me about the WaPo's report, is that nothing in the article suggested that anywhere near 60,000 people would be affected and yet that's the number that appeared in the headline.

At 6:41 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

Soccer Dad and Carl - the Jerusalem Municipality just announced approval for building 23,000 more homes for Jerusalem Arabs. It makes the reports of excessive demolitions look ridiculous. Then again, truth or fairness doesn't seem to be applied when looking at the overall picture of Israel's rule over a united Jerusalem - the longest period of calm the city has known in its entire history.


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