Israeli security forces injured at least 13 Palestinians and arrested three others while cracking down on demonstrations against illegal demolitions of residential and commercial structures in the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, multiple reports quoted the Palestinian Red Crescent as saying on Tuesday, June 29.
Israeli forces, accompanied by local municipality bulldozers, began the demolitions in the morning by bringing down a Palestinian-owned butcher shop in the Al-Bustan area of Silwan. The shop belonged to Nidal Al-Rajabi, who was also physically assaulted by the Israeli forces. This was among the 17 Palestinian-owned establishments which received demolition orders issued by the Israeli-run Jerusalem municipality on June 7. Later in the evening, municipality officials demolished a Palestinian-owned third-floor residential apartment belonging to Fadel Abasi after forcing his family of four, including two children, out of their home.
The orders instructed the Palestinian owners to either demolish their homes and establishments on their own within 21 days, or the Israeli authorities would carry them out at a steep cost of USD 6,000 as fine. The demolitions of the 17 structures in question, mainly homes, will affect 13 Palestinian families consisting of around 130 people in al-Bustan.
Local Palestinian representatives have warned that Israeli authorities plan to demolish close to 100 Palestinian homes in the al-Bustan area citing illegal construction and lack of mandatory Israeli building permits. The Israeli authorities reportedly plan to construct in their place a religious-themed ‘King’s Garden’ national park, signifying the historical Jewish ties of the land to the reign of Biblical King David. The plan is for the benefit of illegal Israeli Jewish settlers living in East Jerusalem settlements.
The larger demolition plan is likely to displace over 1,500 Palestinian residents of al-Bustan. Approximately 33,000 Palestinians in the whole Silwan neighborhood are also under constant threat of Israeli authorities demolishing and confiscating their homes, property and lands.
The demonstrations and sit-in protests on Tuesday which began in al-Bustan spread to other parts of Silwan like Batn al-Hawa and Bir Ayoub. Local mosques in the area warned residents about the imminent Israeli demolitions and asked people to prepare to protect their homes. Hundreds of residents and activists started the demonstrations to resist the Israeli forces and prevent them from carrying out the demolitions. The protests were met with excessive force by the Israeli forces and riot police, who used tear gas, stun grenades, metal batons, and rubber-coated metal bullets to suppress them. The unarmed demonstrators tried to defend themselves by throwing stones, leading to clashes with the Israelis forces. One Palestinian demonstrator had to be taken to hospital for further medical treatment, according to reports.
Palestinians assert that the demolition orders by Israeli courts citing illegal construction are a ploy to ethnically cleanse the area of Palestinians and take over all of the land to transfer it to Jewish settlers. This would change the current demography of the area in East Jerusalem from being Palestinian-majority to Jewish-majority or Jewish-only. Extremist Israeli settler organizations claim all of Silwan, referring to it by its Hebrew name, and the whole of occupied East Jerusalem based on the belief that the city of Jerusalem was originally built approximately 3,000 years ago by the Biblical King David. Palestinians have time and again highlighted the fact that Israel does not consider any proof of residency presented by them as valid, despite some of it dating back to Ottoman times. At the same time, Israeli building permits are almost impossible to obtain for the Palestinians. There is a massive discrepancy in the number of building permits issued to Israeli Jews, numbering in the tens of thousands, in comparison to those issued to Palestinians.
Human rights groups and Palestinian activists have regularly expressed concern about the blatantly discriminatory Israeli law which states that Israeli Jews can lay claim and request a ‘return’ of their property if they can prove that their forefathers were living in homes in East Jerusalem before the state of Israel was founded in 1948. No such equivalent law exists for the Palestinians to reclaim their property even after over 750,000 were displaced from their homes, villages and towns in historic Palestine during the Nakba (catastrophe) in 1947-48. This was the time when the state of Israel was being created with massive violence, killings and massacres taking place.
Under current international law, the demolition of homes and confiscation of property and lands in occupied territories by the occupying power to transfer its own citizens is strictly prohibited and considered a war crime. Silwan is not the only Palestinian-majority neighborhood being targeted by Israeli settler groups and authorities. The adjoining neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah recently saw sustained violence and raids by the Israeli security forces, attempting to expel the Palestinian residents and take over their property to make way for Jewish settlers. Palestinian resistance in Sheikh Jarrah was met with violence and repeated crackdowns by Israeli forces, which spread across East Jerusalem and included raids inside the Al-Aqsa mosque compound. Israel also attacked Gaza in May, launching airstrikes for 11 straight days after Palestinian resistance groups fired rockets inside Israel. At least 257 Palestinians, including 65 children, died in Gaza and close to 2,000 others were wounded.