Israel steps up Jerusalem home demolitions as violence rises

Israel steps up Jerusalem home demolitions as violence rises
Girls from the Matar family sit near the rubble of their home that housed 11 people before it was demolished by Israeli authorities in the Jabal Mukaber neighborhood of east Jerusalem (AP)
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Updated 08 February 2023

Israel steps up Jerusalem home demolitions as violence rises

Israel steps up Jerusalem home demolitions as violence rises
  • National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir called for the immediate demolition of dozens of Palestinian homes built without permits in east Jerusalem
  • For many Palestinians the pace of home demolitions is part of the new ultranationalist government’s broader battle for control of east Jerusalem

JERUSALEM: Ratib Matar’s family was growing. They needed more space.
Before his granddaughters, now 4 and 5, were born, he built three apartments on an eastern slope overlooking Jerusalem’s ancient landscape. The 50-year-old construction contractor moved in with his brother, son, divorced daughter and their young kids — 11 people in all, plus a few geese.
But Matar was never at ease. At any moment, the Israeli code-enforcement officers could knock on his door and take everything away.
That moment came on Jan. 29, days after a Palestinian gunman killed seven people in east Jerusalem, the deadliest attack in the contested capital since 2008. Israel’s new far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir called not only for the sealing of the assailant’s family home, but also the immediate demolition of dozens of Palestinian homes built without permits in east Jerusalem, among other punitive steps.
Mere hours after Ben-Gvir’s comments, the first bulldozers rumbled into Matar’s neighborhood of Jabal Mukaber.
For many Palestinians, the gathering pace of home demolitions is part of the new ultranationalist government’s broader battle for control of east Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war and claimed by the Palestinians as the capital of a future independent state.
The battle is waged with building permits and demolition orders — and it is one the Palestinians feel they cannot win. Israel says it is simply enforcing building regulations.
“Our construction is under siege from Israel,” Matar said. His brothers and sons lingered beside the ruins of their home, drinking bitter coffee and receiving visitors as though in mourning. “We try really hard to build, but in vain,” he said.
Last month, Israel demolished 39 Palestinian homes, structures and businesses in east Jerusalem, displacing over 50 people, according to the United Nations. That was more than a quarter of the total number of demolitions in 2022. Ben-Gvir posted a photo on Twitter of the bulldozers clawing at Matar’s home.
“We will fight terrorism with all the means at our disposal,” he wrote, though Matar’s home had nothing to do with the Palestinian shooting attacks.
Most Palestinian apartments in east Jerusalem were built without hard-to-get permits. A 2017 study by the UN described it as “virtually impossible” to secure them.
The Israeli municipality allocates scant land for Palestinian development, the report said, while facilitating the expansion of Israeli settlements. Little Palestinian property was registered before Israel annexed east Jerusalem in 1967, a move not internationally recognized.
Matar said the city rejected his building permit application twice because his area is not zoned for residential development. He’s now trying a third time.
The penalty for unauthorized building is often demolition. If families don’t tear their houses down themselves, the government charges them for the job. Matar is dreading his bill — he knows neighbors who paid over $20,000 to have their houses razed.
Now homeless, Matar and his family are staying with relatives. He vows to build again on land he inherited from his grandparents, though he has no faith in the Israeli legal system.
“They don’t want a single Palestinian in all of Jerusalem,” Matar said. Uphill, in the heart of his neighborhood, Israeli flags fluttered from dozens of apartments recently built for religious Jews.
Since 1967, the government has built 58,000 homes for Israelis in the eastern part of the city, and fewer than 600 for Palestinians, said Daniel Seidemann, an Israeli lawyer specializing in the geopolitics of Jerusalem, citing the government’s statistics bureau and his own analysis. In that time, the city’s Palestinian population has soared by 400 percent.
“The planning regime is dictated by the calculus of national struggle,” Seidemann said.
Israel’s city plans show state parks encircling the Old City, with some 60 percent of Jabal Mukaber zoned as green space, off-limits to Palestinian development. At least 20,000 Palestinian homes in east Jerusalem are now slated for demolition, watchdogs say.
Matar and his neighbors face an agonizing choice: Build illegally and live under constant threat of demolition, or leave their birthplace for the occupied West Bank, sacrificing Jerusalem residency rights that allow them to work and travel relatively freely throughout Israel.
While there are no reliable figures for permit approvals, the Israeli municipality set aside just over 7 percent of its 21,000 housing plans for Palestinian homes in 2019, reported Ir Amim, an anti-settlement advocacy group. Palestinians are nearly 40 percent of the city’s roughly 1 million people.
“This is the purpose of this policy,” said Aviv Tatarsky, a researcher at Ir Amim. “Palestinians are forced to leave Jerusalem.”
Arieh King, a Jerusalem deputy mayor and settler leader, acknowledged that demolitions help Israel entrench control over east Jerusalem, home to the city’s most important religious sites.
“It’s part of enforcing sovereignty,” King said. “I’m happy that at last we have a minister that understands,” he added, referring to Ben-Gvir.
Ben-Gvir is now pushing for the destruction of an apartment tower housing 100 people. Trying to lower tensions, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delayed the eviction that was planned for Tuesday, Israeli media reported.
King contended it was possible for Palestinians to secure permits and accused them of building without authorization to avoid an expensive bureaucracy.
When the Al-Abasi family in east Jerusalem found a demolition order plastered on their new breeze-block home last month, they contemplated their options. The government had knocked down their last apartment, built on the same lot, eight years ago. This time, Jaafar Al-Abasi decided, he would tear it down himself.
Al-Abasi hired a tractor and invited his relatives and neighbors to join. The destruction took three days, with breaks for hummus and soda. His three sons borrowed pickaxes and jackhammers, angrily hacking away at the walls they had decorated with colored plates just last month.
“This place is like a ticking time bomb,” said his brother in law, 48-year-old Mustafa Samhouri, who helped them out.
Protests over the demolitions have roiled east Jerusalem in recent days. Two weekends ago, Samhouri said, the family’s 13-year-old cousin opened fire at Jewish settlers in the neighborhood of Silwan just across the valley, wounding two people before being shot and arrested.
“The pressure just grows more and more,” Samhouri said. “And at last, boom.”


British MPs call for stronger UAE ties, trade deal

British MPs call for stronger UAE ties, trade deal
Updated 6 min 36 sec ago

British MPs call for stronger UAE ties, trade deal

British MPs call for stronger UAE ties, trade deal
  • Parliamentary delegation visited Gulf state last month
  • Bilateral relations ‘are good and strong, but the UK is guilty of taking that for granted’

LONDON: Britain must stop taking its relationship with the UAE for granted and become more proactive in fostering stronger ties, according to a parliamentary delegation that visited the Gulf state last month.

Speaking on Wednesday at an event reflecting on the visit and hosted by The Emirates Society, former UK MP and lifetime peer John Woodcock said the UAE has “seized” its opportunity to be a more collaborative player on the world stage.

“The UAE has shown that it wants to participate in addressing the major concerns facing the world today, as evidenced by its decision to host this year’s COP28,” he added.

“It’s absolutely incumbent on the UK government to lean into this and embrace the UAE’s desire for change and collaboration.

“Our trip evidenced their commitment to this, showing a consensus of opinion going beyond the West’s when it came to addressing the environment.”

Woodcock said it is not only the issue of climate change that the UK can learn from, but the general sense of collaboration sought and offered by the UAE in its international relations.

Noting that the “days of the British Empire” are long past, he added that the UK has to show greater determination in wanting to build partnerships with other countries, rather than relying on its past. The UK, he said, must “fight for its place at the table.”

Steve McCabe, an MP with Britain’s main opposition Labour Party who was also on the trip, said: “Relations between the UK and UAE are good and strong, but the UK is guilty of taking that for granted.

“The level of understanding from parliamentarians on the UAE is so, so low, so our outreach is vital.

“We need to become more proactive as there are immense opportunities for the UK if it burnishes its relationship with the UAE.”

McCabe and Woodcock said there exists cross-party support for improving ties to the UAE. This, Woodcock said, is “unsurprising given the shared goals on climate, trade and other things.”

But McCabe said what is holding improvements back is the absence of “high-level contact,” adding that there is one thing the British government has to prioritize. “The UK needs to … crack on with pursuing a bilateral trade deal with the UAE,” he stressed.

“This is the message that will shift things. It will step us beyond the old conventional way of thinking.

“The focus initially will be on trade, but at some stage it will move beyond this and will show we too are seeking a collaborator.”

Questioned on how the trade deal would look, both McCabe and Woodcock said they had not been able “to get into its guts,” and the UAE first needs proof of a fully engaged partner.  

Woodcock was, however, able to state that both parties would be looking for a more “granular” — or comprehensive — deal, and that once the UK has shown sincerity in its decision to pursue an agreement, the Emiratis would get it done quickly.


Jordanian MPs vote to expel Israeli envoy in Amman over Palestine denial speech

Jordanian MPs vote to expel Israeli envoy in Amman over Palestine denial speech
Updated 53 min 24 sec ago

Jordanian MPs vote to expel Israeli envoy in Amman over Palestine denial speech

Jordanian MPs vote to expel Israeli envoy in Amman over Palestine denial speech
  • Bezalel Smotrich dismissed existence of Palestinian people, used map of Israel including occupied West Bank, Gaza, Jordan
  • Finance minister’s behavior reflected ‘Israeli arrogance, disrespect of international treaties, conventions’: Jordan MPs

AMMAN: The Jordanian Parliament’s Lower House has voted to expel Israel’s ambassador in Amman in protest over Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s reference to a map of Israel that included the occupied West Bank, Gaza, and Jordan.

During a speech in Paris on Sunday, Smotrich claimed the notion of a Palestinian people was artificial.

He said: “There is no such thing as a Palestinian nation. There is no Palestinian history. There is no Palestinian language.”

The minister was speaking at a memorial event for a French Israeli right-wing activist who had denied the existence of a Palestinian nation and advocated annexation of the West Bank.

During the Jordan Parliament session on Wednesday, MPs described Smotrich’s words as reflecting “an Israeli arrogance and disrespect of international treaties and conventions,” the Jordan News Agency reported.

Lower House speaker, Ahmed Safadi, called on Jordan’s government to take proactive measures against Smotrich’s statements and behavior.
 


Benjamin Netanyahu: Israel will not revive settlements evacuated in 2005

Benjamin Netanyahu: Israel will not revive settlements evacuated in 2005
Updated 22 March 2023

Benjamin Netanyahu: Israel will not revive settlements evacuated in 2005

Benjamin Netanyahu: Israel will not revive settlements evacuated in 2005
  • Lawmakers earlier voted to annul part of a law banning Israelis from living in areas of the occupied West Bank the government evacuated in 2005

JERUSALEM: Israel has “no intention” of reviving West Bank settlements evacuated nearly two decades ago, the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday, after a parliamentary vote sparked US ire.
Lawmakers voted Tuesday to annul part of a law banning Israelis from living in areas of the occupied West Bank the government evacuated in 2005.
That year Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip and removed Jewish settlers from the coastal territory, as well as from four settlements in the northern West Bank.
Netanyahu’s office said the parliamentary vote scraps “a discriminatory and humiliating law, that prohibited Jews from living in areas in northern Samaria, which is part of our historic homeland,” using the biblical name for the northern West Bank.
“Having said that, the government has no intention of establishing new communities in these areas,” the statement added.
Netanyahu returned to power in December and vowed to expand settlements across the West Bank, which are deemed illegal under international law.
His assertion that the government will not formally allow settlers to return to the four sites evacuated in 2005 comes after Washington said it was “extremely troubled” by the parliamentary vote.
“The legislative changes announced today are particularly provocative,” State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters Tuesday.
Patel said the move was in “clear contradiction” of promises made by prime minister Ariel Sharon to US president George W. Bush, as well as assurances given just two days ago by the Netanyahu administration.
The decision by lawmakers was heralded by Israel’s settler movement which has made one of the sites — Homesh — a symbol of their cause.
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, himself a far-right settler, tweeted that it marked a step toward regularizing the Israeli presence at Homesh.
A small group of activists returned to the site in 2009 and set up a Jewish seminary, which was cleared repeatedly by Israeli troops before the military eventually allowed them to stay.


Tear gas, clashes as Lebanon protesters try to storm government HQ

Tear gas, clashes as Lebanon protesters try to storm government HQ
Updated 22 March 2023

Tear gas, clashes as Lebanon protesters try to storm government HQ

Tear gas, clashes as Lebanon protesters try to storm government HQ
  • The retired soldiers demanding better pay were clashing with riot police and troops

BEIRUT: Lebanese security forces fired tear gas on Wednesday to disperse hundreds of protesters, mainly retired soldiers, who tried to break through the fence leading to the government headquarters in downtown Beirut.
The violence came amid widespread anger over the harsh economic conditions in the country, where mismanagement by the ruling class has been rampant for years, preceding the economic meltdown that started in late 2019.
The retired soldiers demanding better pay were clashing with riot police and troops. Several people suffered breathing problems from the tear gas. The protesters hurled stones at the officers protecting the government headquarters and repeatedly tried to break through the fence.
The Lebanese pound hit a new low on Tuesday, selling for more than 143,000 pounds to the dollar before making some gains. The pound has lost more than 96 percent of its value over the past three years.
“My monthly salary is $40. How can I survive,” screamed a retired army officer.
Lebanon, a small Mediterranean nation of 6 million people, is in the grips of the worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history, rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement by a political class that has ruled the country since the end of the 1975-90 civil war.
The political class has also resisted the implementation of reforms demanded by the international community. Since the economic meltdown began, three-quarters of the population, which includes 1 million Syrian refugees, now lives in poverty and inflation is soaring.
Lebanon has also stalled on reforms agreed to with the International Monetary Fund to enable access to $3 billion in a bailout package and unlock funds in development aid to make the economy viable again.


Building collapse in Qatar’s capital kills 1, search ongoing

Building collapse in Qatar’s capital kills 1, search ongoing
Updated 22 March 2023

Building collapse in Qatar’s capital kills 1, search ongoing

Building collapse in Qatar’s capital kills 1, search ongoing

DOHA: A building collapsed Wednesday in Qatar’s capital, killing at least one person as searchers clawed through the rubble to check for survivors, authorities said.
Qatar’s Interior Ministry described the building as a four-story structure in Doha’s Bin Durham neighborhood. It said rescuers found seven survivors, while the one person killed had been inside the building at the time of the collapse.
Authorities offered no immediate explanation for the building’s collapse. Online video showed car alarms sounding after the collapse, with one part of the building falling into another nearby.
Civil defense and police surrounded the site after the 8 a.m. collapse, with multiple ambulances and an excavator at the scene. Residents were asked to evacuate for their safety.
Qatar hosted the FIFA World Cup last year.