East Jerusalem residents brace for mass demolitions wave as world's attention fixed on Gaza
Mujahed Badran, along with his wife Um Emad and their two children, may soon lose their home in Silwan if the Israeli municipality of Jerusalem carries out its threat and demolishes the tiny flat they currently reside in.
The Badran family have lived in it for about four years. Mujahed, 27, said he built his flat on top of his parents just before he married.
"A week ago, municipal workers came and took measurements of my home", Mujahed explained. Surveilling a home slated for demolition is a standard procedure before a municipal crew is sent to carry out the destruction, which can happen any day now, according to Mujahed.
Mujahed isn't alone in this predicament. Israel has slated thousands of homes for demolition in occupied East Jerusalem, at least 20,000 watchdogs say. What makes Silwan unique, however, is the immense interest Israeli settlers have towards it.
For decades, Jewish settler groups have been coordinating closely with the government in order to seize Palestinian homes there to satiate messianic beliefs. Religious nationalist Jews, as a motivation, push the narrative that an ancient City of David is located in Silwan. Today, these ultra-nationalists have influential politicians in the government, such as Itamar Ben Gvir, Bezalel Smotrich, and Aryeh King, who actively support them in many ways.
According to B'tselem, Israel has demolished 187 homes so far in 2023 in East Jerusalem alone. Four hundred sixty-six have been displaced as a result.
Palestinians roughly comprise 40% of the city's approximately 1 million people.
"Most of East Jerusalem has no services. They're lucky if they get garbage collection or street cleaning, no parks, no pavements, they have cameras everywhere, so people feel they're always being surveilled", Angela Godfrey-Goldstein, an anti-occupation activist, told a group of diplomats and journalists during a brief she organised to warn of the looming demolition orders in Silwan in occupied East Jerusalem.
Jewish settlers, who wield significant influence over the Jerusalem municipality through the Elad organisation and the likes of deputy mayor Aryeh King and city councillor Yonatan Yosef, seek to demolish dozens of Palestinian homes in the al-Bustan neighbourhood in Silwan to make way for a biblical park.
The tale behind the biblical park is that al-Bustan was once, thousands of years ago, a garden for the biblical King David. This bizarre project has been around for quite some time. For years, the Palestinian residents of al-Bustan have been trying to compromise with the municipality in a way that would allow them to continue to retain part of the area in order to build new homes for themselves. Some residents even suggested that a deal was almost within reach, but the municipality rescinded after the war in Gaza began.
Fakhry Abu Diab, an ailing community leader and a passionate activist against the displacement of Palestinians from al-Bustan, told The New Arab that on 1 November the municipality informed his lawyer that they intended to demolish the entire neighbourhood if the residents did not agree to the city's terms.
Abu Diab believes it is Aryeh King who is behind the hardline position.
Abu Diab stated that the municipality relayed to the community lawyers that it would agree to delay the demolitions only if all the residents, numbering over 1500, agreed to a master plan tailored by the municipality.
The specifics of the master plan are vague and do not guarantee homes for all the residents of the al-Bustan, according to Abu Diab.
"We were negotiating with them about a plan that would leave us part of the neighbourhood in order to rebuild our homes in a way that meets our needs, but it is clear that the city has a political motive, and that is to expel us", Abu Diab told TNA.
The war on Gaza, many Palestinians argue, is being used by the Israeli government to expedite plans that would expand settlement projects throughout Silwan, from Wadi Hilweh down into Bustan and all neighbouring areas.
Group of international diplomats & journalists visited Al-Bustan, #Silwan. We listened to its inhabitants on the threats of #demolition of their houses. #Palestinians have the right to housing in their own lands. Housing=basic human right; it must be guaranteed by authorities. pic.twitter.com/ad3VHAoJKC— Pedro Blanco (@P_Blanco_P) December 14, 2023
"There has to be an end to this impunity. There has to be more than statements", Angela Godrey-Goldstein told the visiting diplomats.
Meanwhile, Mujahed and his family continue to live in fear and apprehension at the sight of an Israeli bulldozer, along with a police force armed to the teeth, showing up at their doorstep.