Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images
Palestinian Motasem Farrah (center) and a friend tear down Farrah's home in an Arab neighborhood in east Jerusalem, March 12. Israel often tells Palestinians who build without permits that they must tear down the house themselves or they will be charged by Israel for the cost of knocking it down.
Israel has dramatically increased its demolitions of unauthorized Palestinian homes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, according to a recent United Nations report.
Last year, 1,100 Palestinians — more than half of them children — were displaced, an 80 percent increase from the previous year. And demolitions this year continue at a high rate, NPR reports.
For Sami Idriss, the Israeli bulldozers came while the 26-year-old Palestinian was at work.
"I came back and they were already tearing my house down," he says. Idriss says he pleaded with the workers, saying he hadn't received any notice or warning. He says they pushed him out of the building and continued to demolish his home.
Idriss says all of his savings went into the building. He was hoping to get married in three months but now he says he can't, because there is no place to take his bride.
Many buildings, in various stages of construction, surround the now empty lot in the predominantly Arab neighborhood of east Jerusalem where Idriss' house once stood.
A group of Palestinian men who are laying sewage pipes nearby say just as in Idriss' case, none of the other homes in the area have permits either.
They decline to give their names for fear of reprisals.
The men say it's almost impossible to get a permit for a new building from the Israeli authorities.
The United Nations has come to a similar conclusion. It says more than 94 percent of all Palestinian permit applications have been rejected in recent years.
A Demographic War
Thousands of Arab homes have demolition orders against them in east Jerusalem and the West Bank's Area C — the Israeli-controlled portion of the territory that makes up more than 60 percent of the land.
The Israeli military recently handed over demolition orders to an entire Palestinian village in the Hebron hills. Among the 50 buildings slated for destruction is a school.
Yigal Palmor, an Israeli government spokesman, says Israel has the right to demolish illegal structures.
"There has been an increase because there has been an increase in illegal building," Palmor says. "In any state where there is an urban authority around the world, you can't just build wherever you like, whenever you like. You need a permit. If, at the end of the road, you don't follow the necessary legal procedures, then inevitably there will be demolition."
Palmor says Palestinians are entitled to permits, and that they probably don't get as many because they are too afraid to ask.
"What is true is that they may feel less comfortable with the Israeli authorities, in the psychological realm," he says. "That may very well be the case and maybe this is why they resort to building without permits."
Ziad Hamouri, the head of the Palestinian Jerusalem Center for Socio-Economic Rights, disputes the Israeli narrative.
He says you only have to see how quickly Jewish settlements are expanding and how rapidly Palestinian homes are being destroyed to see there is an agenda.
"What we are facing is a real war. It's a demographic war against the Palestinians," Hamouri says. "[The Israelis] want to control east Jerusalem; [the Palestinians] are losing east Jerusalem."
Homes Destroyed By The Owner's Hands
Across town in the neighborhood of Sur Baher, another Palestinian home has been reduced to a pile of twisted metal and crumbled concrete. But this was not done by Israeli bulldozers.
Walid Adnan Bkairate is a construction worker building Jewish homes in Israel. After saving his money, he decided to use his know-how to build a small place for himself and his family on his father's land.
He says he tried to get a permit, but to no avail. With nowhere to live, he took a risk and built a home anyway.
The Israeli authorities took him to court, he says, and gave him an ultimatum: Either demolish his home himself or they would do it. If the Israelis did it, they would charge him nearly $40,000.
It's a sum he wouldn't have been able to pay, so after building his home, Bkairate says, he tore it down, brick by brick.
Bkairate says all he wanted was a home for his family. Now, even though he destroyed what he had built, the Israeli municipal authorities are still taking him to court over penalty fees. He says he has no money left and no way to pay them.