Palestinian man forced to demolish east Jerusalem home after Israeli threats

Palestinian man forced to demolish east Jerusalem home after Israeli threats
Ibrahim Derbas was forced to tear down his 120 square metre home, rendering his family homeless, following threats from Israeli authorities.
3 min read
31 May, 2024
The UN says that 116 Palestinian homes are under imminent threat of demolition by Israeli authorities in East Jerusalem [Getty]

A Palestinian man was forced to demolish his house in occupied east Jerusalem on Thursday, after Israeli authorities threatened to destroy it, demanding penalty fees, in the latest affront to Palestinian housing rights.

Ibrahim Derbas from al-Issawiya neighbourhood of east Jerusalem told Palestinian news agency Wafa that he was forced to tear down his 120-square metere apartment after he was told it was built without a license.

He added that he had no option but to demolish his home to avoid paying a huge fine if the municipality of Jerusalem demolished the structure instead.

Derbas said his nine-member family has now been rendered homeless.

Palestinians in east Jerusalem and parts of the occupied West Bank have to apply for building permits to Israel, but Israel routinely denies permits.

Israel rarely grants Palestinians permits and as a result many families are left with little option but to build a home without a permit, which are then regarded as ‘illegal’ in the eyes of Israeli authorities. 

Expanding settlements 

It comes as British foreign secretary David Cameron expressed concern on Thursday over the Israeli government's refusal to handover tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority (PA), the governing body in the West Bank.

Cameron said he was "concerned" to see plans from Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich to expand settlements in the West Bank and control PA finances.

"Such measures would harm chances for peace, security and stability," he said in a post on X.

The Derbas' in East Jerusalem are one of many families who have lost homes over the past year and are facing increasing intimidation and aggression from Israeli forces and extremist groups.

In 2023, Israeli authorities demolished 229 Palestinian-owned buildings which included 138 homes and displaced 635 Palestinians, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

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It marked the highest numbers since the UN began documenting demolitions in 2009, and it was an alarming year-on-year increase from 2022, when 138 Palestinian homes were destroyed.

Israel has occupied east Jerusalem since the 1967 war and has imposed its own discriminatory laws against Palestinians in east Jerusalem and the West Bank– a move deemed illegal under international humanitarian law.

Following the start of the Gaza war in October 2023, the number of Palestinians forcibly displaced  in east Jerusalem and the West Bank increased by 30 percent compared to the previous nine months, according to a March report from the UN Human Rights Office.

Demolitions are a leading cause of the ongoing displacement of families and typically affect low-income groups.

In east Jerusalem, Palestinians are classed as ‘residents’ rather than citizens whereas Israelis living in the area have citizenship. If they are absent for a few years, residency can be revoked.

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Israel’s far-right coalition government has sought to accelerate home demolition and the expansion of Jewish settlements in 'Area C' of the West Bank – Palestinian land under tight Israeli control where Palestinians villages face regular attacks from settler groups.

In March, Israel's planning committee in the West Bank advanced plans for the construction of 3,400 new homes in settlements, including in Maale Adumin an expansive and developed Jewish town east of Jerusalem.

At the time, far-right finance minister and staunch settler advocate Smotrich said Israel would continue to build "in this land", despite such actions regarded as illegal under international law.

Smotrich and other senior government ministers have openly expressed their advocacy for further Jewish towns in the West Bank and even in Gaza, where Israelis lived in 21 settlements until 2005.