Illegal Construction in Jerusalem
Justus Reid Weiner
NGOs assert that Arab Jerusalemites have no choice but to build their homes illegally since the municipality systematically rejects their applications for building permits. Then they must contend with municipal inspectors who send bulldozers to demolish their homes.
Human rights lawyer Justus Reid Weiner, a scholar-in-residence at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, has just completed the first systematic study of illegal construction in Jerusalem. Based on scores of interviews from across the political spectrum - from Mayor Olmert to Sari Nusseibeh, original documents, and on-site inspections, Weiner's heavily illustrated new book discredits the conventional wisdom about the causes and effects of illegal building, and documents a pattern of politically-motivated behavior and criminal profiteering that characterizes much of the construction in the Arab sector of the Holy City.
In the Jewish neighborhoods, illegal construction typically takes the form of additions to existing legal structures - such as closing a balcony or hollowing out under a building to create an extra room. In the Arab sector, however, illegal construction often takes the form of entire multi-floor buildings with 4 to 25 living units, built with the financial assistance of the Palestinian Authority on land that is not owned by the builder.
- Illegal construction has reached epidemic proportions. A senior Palestinian official boasted that they have built 6,000 homes without permits during the last 4 years, of which less than 200 were demolished by the city.
- This frantic pace of illegal construction continues despite the fact that the city has authorized more than 36,000 permits for new housing units in the Arab sector, more than enough to meet the needs of Arab residents through legal construction until 2020.
- Arab residents who wish to build legally may consult urban plans translated into Arabic for their convenience and receive individual assistance from Arabic-speaking city employees.
- Both Arabs and Jews typically wait 4-6 weeks for permit approval, enjoy a similar rate of application approvals, and pay an identical fee ($3,600) for water and sewage hook-ups on the same size living unit.
- The same procedures for administrative demolition orders apply to both Jews and Arabs in all parts of the city, as a final backstop to remove structures built illegally on roadbeds or land designated for schools, clinics, and the like.
- The Palestinian Authority and Arab governments have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in an intentional campaign to subsidize and encourage massive illegal construction in the Arab sector, seeing this as part of their "demographic war" against Israel.
- Many large, multi-story, luxury structures have been built by criminals on land they do not own, frequently land belonging to Palestinian Christians living abroad.
- This epidemic of illegal construction is similar to illegal building that troubles cities in scores of countries worldwide and where the authorities utilize the law to demolish the structures.
- More than any single factor, the 35-year-long boycott of municipal politics by the Palestinian leadership has resulted in the continued imbalance in municipal services in Arab neighborhoods vis-a-vis Jewish neighborhoods.
- Despite frequent accusations that the city's planning policy seeks to "Judaize" Jerusalem, the Arab population of the city has increased since 1967 from 27% to 32%. Moreover, since 1967 new Arab construction has outpaced Jewish construction.
Who will ultimately bear the burden of chaotic development and an eroded quality of life in the Arab neighborhoods? Are their long-term interests served by the Palestinian Authority's "demographic war" or the profiteering of land thieves?
Illegal Construction in Jerusalem (172 pp. including a fold-out map, charts, tables, documents, and aerial photographs) is available from the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 02-561-9281, for $50 + postage ($10 airmail to North America; $6 airmail to Europe; $2 surface mail in Israel).
Some Highlights -
Illegal building built on basketball court prevents the expansion of a school.
Since 1967, the Arab population of Jerusalem has increased from 27% to 32%, and new Arab construction has outpaced Jewish construction.
During the last few years, the great majority of illegal structures demolished by the Jerusalem Municipality were in the Jewish sector.
|Brochure in Arabic advising residents how to obtain a building permit, published by the Jerusalem Municipality.