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Page last updated at 13:47 GMT, Saturday, 25 April 2009 14:47 UK

Demolitions build Jerusalem tension

By Katya Adler
BBC News, Jerusalem

Ihdaidoons outside thier destroyed home in East Jerusalem
Samia Ihdaidoon says she and her family were given five minutes to vacate their home

Five young children cling to their mother. All of them are crying. This morning, without warning, Israeli bulldozers came to destroy their home in Jabal Mukabar area of East Jerusalem.

Speaking amongst the mangled remains of her house, Samia Ihdaidoon says she was still sleeping when Israel's police arrived.

"They came pounding on the doors and climbed in through the bedroom window as if it was a raid. They said I had five minutes to put on my scarf and collect our valuables, then I had to get out. It's a shock for the children. Look at their faces. I'm in despair."

We're not going to leave. Why should I leave for the Israelis? This is our land. Even if we have to put up a tent and live in it
Samia Ihdaidoon

Israel says the Ihdaidoon's house was demolished because it was built illegally.

Angry neighbours congregate in the rubble.

Osama Zahaika told us Israel makes it almost impossible for Palestinians to get building permits in East Jerusalem.

"As a Palestinian I know why they do it. Israel doesn't want us here. My house, most of the Palestinian houses in East Jerusalem are illegal. Not granting us construction permission, demolishing our houses. It's a form of quiet transfer," Mr Zahaika says.

"People like to talk of human rights. Where are human rights here? If you destroy a family home in winter, it's cold. In summer, it's hot. At the same time Israelis can build and live in East Jerusalem without being disturbed. Is it one rule for us, one rule for the Jews, the Israelis?"

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Israel's Association for Civil Rights says Jerusalem's municipality uses planning regulations to curb Palestinian construction.

Although Palestinians make up an estimated one third of the Jerusalem population, according to ACRI, only 7.25% of the city's land is designated for their building projects.

Hundreds of East Jerusalem Palestinians have lost their homes over the past few years, thanks to demolition orders.

Israeli NGO's, such as B'Tselem, warn that close to 2,000 could face the same fate over the next months.

If current demolition orders are carried out, this would be the largest loss of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem since Israel captured the territory just over 40 years ago.

At the same time, Jewish Israeli citizens are moving in to the area. This is illegal under international law as East Jerusalem is occupied territory, though Israel disputes this and has annexed the area.

Katya Adler follows the UN's Middle East peace envoy as he investigates the demolition of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem

Palestinians fear this could mean the end of a dream - to one day have East Jerusalem as the capital of their own state.

The international community's Middle East envoy Tony Blair told me this cannot be allowed to happen.

"The only two-state solution which will work is one that is fair and that will mean East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state. It will also mean that it is a state that is viable in terms of its territory."

'Hot air'

The issue of home demolitions is now attracting widespread international attention.

As we stood, hot and dusty, amongst the Ihdaidoon's rubble, four smart, shiny United Nations cars powered towards us.

Even if we are talking about a few buildings that have been pulled down, this is not expulsion. When there is illegal building, we have to enforce the law but nothing will be done without the co-operation of the residents.
Naomi Tsur
Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem

Robert Serry, the UN's Special Co-ordinator for the Middle East peace process, stepped out.

It was a surprise visit. He offered his sympathies to the family. They thanked him politely but asked for action, not just words.

Mr Serry said he'd spoken about the East Jerusalem demolitions to Israel's new right-wing government.

"Of course, if these kind of things which I'm now seeing here continue they will not help any peace process. I know how much Jerusalem is dear to many Israelis but it is also dear to Palestinians," Mr Serry said.

"We have to find a solution to that but we, as the international community, expect from the parties - in this case from the Jerusalem authorities here - not to make our work even harder."

New plan

At Jerusalem's municipality, the new Deputy Mayor, Naomi Tsur, said there was a lot of hot air surrounding the issue, that all Jerusalem residents are treated equally. Illegally built houses are demolished in West Jerusalem too.

Ihdaidoon family with the remains of their belonging after their house was destroyed
The Ihdaidoon family have salvaged some of their belongings

"Even if we are talking about a few buildings that have been pulled down, this is not expulsion. When there is illegal building, we have to enforce the law but nothing will be done without the co-operation of the residents," Ms Tsur insists.

"Jerusalem is a city for all its citizens, north, south, east and west. No group that asks to meet myself or the mayor is refused.

"We are looking into affordable housing projects in east Jerusalem for young Muslim couples, young Christian couples. We have a new city plan. The first in Jerusalem since 1959."

Back at the Ihdaidoon's, father of the family, Amar, began replanting two trees uprooted by Israel's bulldozers almost as soon as they had left. He wants to rebuild the family home as soon as possible. Jerusalem, he told me, is Palestinian.

"We're not going to leave," his wife Samia insists. "Why should I leave for the Israelis? This is our land. Even if we have to put up a tent and live in it."

The Ihdaidoons have opted for quiet resistance but other Palestinians warn growing frustration in East Jerusalem could spark violence.



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