Two Months Before the End of the Year, 2020 is Already the Record Year for Home Demolitions in East Jerusalem

October 28, 2020
This week, Israeli authorities caused several demolitions in East Jerusalem bringing the total number of housing units demolished since the beginning of the year to 125. Thus, with still two months left in the year, 2020 is the worst year in terms of demolition of housing units. Previously, 2016 was the year with the highest number of housing units demolished in East Jerusalem at 123.

Along with the 125 housing units, 64 other units (shops, storerooms etc.) have also been demolished.

This record number of home demolitions was reached despite the fact that Israeli authorities froze demolitions for three months earlier during 2020. The freeze only happened after persistent demands from human rights organizations pointing to the significant risk that displaced families face during the COVID19 crisis. The freeze on demolitions took place during the two periods of lockdown in Israel: From March 24 to May 25 and from September 18 to October 18. Still, the record number of demolitions demonstrates that the Israeli authorities chose not to take the necessary steps in order to prevent families from losing their homes during the pandemic.

The main reason for the spike in demolitions is the full enactment of Amendment 116 to the Planning and Building Law which resulted in an unprecedented number of 84 housing units (and 30 other units), out of the 125, being self-demolished by the families who owned them.
Amendment 116 increases enforcement and penalties against unpermitted construction and also limits the court's ability to intervene on behalf of families who try and legalize their homes. The amendment came into full effect at the very end of 2018. And indeed, 2019 saw a sharp rise to a yearly total of 40 self-demolitions of housing units in comparison to 10-15 housing units in previous years. Now, in less than a year since January 2020, this record number has more than doubled.

For more details regarding Amendment 116 please see the end of this alert.

The rise in home demolitions in East Jerusalem began in 2016.

Home demolitions in East Jerusalem have increased since 2016 and at this rate 2020 threatens to be a new record year of home demolitions:
Year Total Residential Units Demolished Number of Residential Units in Self-Demolitions
2016 123  No data
2017 86 11
2018 72 14
2019* 104** 40
Until October 27, 2020 125 84
* 2019 is the first year when the Amendment 116 to the Planning and Building Law came into full effect.

** This figure does not include the 54 housing units demolished in Wadi Hummus in the West Bank but located on the Israeli side of the Separation Barrier just outside Jerusalem.

Decades' Long Discrimination in Planning and Building

Israel's long term policy of refusing to initiate or approve new detailed outline plans for Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem lies at the root of unpermitted construction. Last year, for example, out of over 21,000 housing units advanced in detailed outline plans in Jerusalem less than 8% were for Palestinian neighborhoods of the city (Palestinians comprise 38% of Jerusalem's population). The combined impact of discrimination in Planning and increased home demolitions has been described and analyzed in Ir Amim's report on home demolitions in East Jerusalem during 2019.

More on Amendment 116 to the Planning and Building Law

As explained above a significant contribution to the high rate of demolitions is the rise in the number of “self-demolitions,” a harsh phenomenon in which families are driven to demolish their own homes to avoid the imposition of steep fines or other punitive measures. This was brought about through amendment 116 to the Planning and Building Law
Also known as the Kaminitz Law (after Erez Kaminitz, the deputy state attorney who led the legislation process), Amendment 116 to the Planning and Building Law, which was enacted in 2017, went fully into effect at the end of 2018. Intended to increase enforcement and penalization of building violations, the amendment was initiated by right-wing factions in the Knesset in reaction to the allocation of government funds to promote outline plans for building in Arab communities within the Green Line. Needless to say, the swift implementation of Amendment 116 outpaced the much slower progress in government allocations for planning, which have yet to overcome the longstanding and systematic discrimination in the building and planning policies applied in Arab towns.
In East Jerusalem, this amendment created an even graver situation. While the Kaminitz Law is being applied in Palestinian neighborhoods in the city, the allocation of state funding to resolve discrimination in the field of planning and building is intended for Arab towns inside the Green Line and does not include East Jerusalem. In 2018, the government announced a decision to invest approximately 2 billion NIS in order to reduce socio-economic gaps and improve services for East Jerusalem residents. However, the decision completely omits the issue of planning and building. Despite the fact that the most pressing issue and significant financial burden for East Jerusalem residents is the inability to obtain building permits, there are no budgetary allocations for the preparation of detailed outline plans, which are a prerequisite for the issuance of these permits.
The amendment, which significantly modified the Planning and Building Law, stipulates rigorous punitive measures for building violations, including an acute increase in fines and periods of imprisonment. It likewise expands administrative enforcement and imposes drastic limitations in the right to pursue legal recourse against demolition orders. Reducing legal remedies has provided an opening for the increase in demolitions, while many homeowners have demolished their own homes in order to avoid paying steep demolition fees or fines in the event the demolition is carried out by the authorities.

For a full explanation of Amendment 116 please see Ir Amim's and BIMKOM's report