Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

occupied Palestinian territory


APRIL 2009


This OCHA Special Focus addresses the phenomenon of “illegal” Palestinian construction in East Jerusalem resulting from the failure of the Israeli authorities to provide adequate planning for Palestinian neighbourhoods. This Special Focus provides a statistical overview of Israel’s demolition of unauthorized structures since 2000, provides background on some of the key difficulties facing Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem in their efforts to build, and identifies a number of at-risk communities. In addition, it provides an overview of various NGO and community initiatives that aim to challenge and eventually overcome obstacles in the current municipal planning process.
Executive Summary1
In 1967, Israel occupied the West Bank and unilaterally annexed to its territory 70.5 km2 of the occupied area, which were subsequently integrated within the Jerusalem municipality. This annexation contravenes international law and was not recognized by the UN Security Council or UN member states.2 Irrespective of Israel’s annexation, the area of East Jerusalem continues to form part of the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) and its Palestinian residents remain protected by international humanitarian law (IHL).
Throughout its occupation, Israel has significantly restricted Palestinian development in East Jerusalem. Over one third of East Jerusalem has been expropriated for the construction of Israeli settlements, despite the IHL prohibition on the transfer of civilians to the occupied territory. Only 13 percent of the annexed area is currently zoned by the Israeli authorities for Palestinian construction, within which Palestinians have the possibility of obtaining a building permit. However, much of this land is already built-up, the permitted construction density is limited and the application process is complicated and expensive.
Moreover, the number of permits granted per year to Palestinians does not meet the existing demand for housing. The gap between housing needs based on population growth and the legally permitted construction is estimated to be at least 1,100 housing units per year.
As a result, Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem find themselves confronting a serious housing shortage caused by Israel’s failure to provide Palestinian neighbourhoods with adequate planning. This short age has been exacerbated in recent years by the reported influx of Palestinian Jerusalemites into the city due to Barrier construction and the threat of losing residency status in the city if they move outside the Israeli-defined municipal borders of Jerusalem.
Because of the difficulties Palestinians encounter trying to obtain building permits from the Israeli authorities, and due to the lack of feasible alternatives, many Palestinians risk building on their land without a permit in order to meet their housing needs. At least 28 percent of all Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem have been built in violation of Israeli zoning requirements. Based on population figures, this percentage is equivalent to some 60,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem, who are at risk of having their homes demolished by the Israeli authorities. This is a conservative estimate and the actual figures may be much higher.
Continuing demolitions in East Jerusalem
Since 1967, the Israeli authorities have demolished thousands of Palestinian-owned structures in the oPt, including an estimated 2,000 houses in East Jerusalem. According to official statistics, between 2000 and 2008 alone, the Israeli authorities demolished more than 670 Palestinian-owned structures in East Jerusalem due to lack of permit. Of these, approximately 90 structures were demolished in 2008, displacing some 400 Palestinians. In 2009, OCHA has recorded the demolition of 19 Palestinian-owned structures in East Jerusalem, including 11 inhabited residential structures, due to lack of permit. As a result, some 109 Palestinians, including 60 children, were displaced.
Of particular concern are areas in East Jerusalem that face the prospect of mass demolitions. For example, the execution of pending demolition orders in the Tel al Foul area in Beit Hanina, Khalet el ‘Ein in At Tur, Al Abbasiya in Ath Thuri, and Wadi Yasul between Jabal al Mukabbir and Ath Thuri, affect a combined total of more than 3,600 persons.3  In the Bustan area of the Silwan neighbourhood, which has received considerable media attention, some 90 houses are threatened with demolition, potentially displacing a further 1,000 Palestinians. In addition, some 500 residents of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood potentially face eviction as their homes are located on land whose ownership is contested by Israeli settlers.


1 See body of report for sources of information found in Executive summary.
2 United Nations Security Council Resolution 252 of 1968 reaffirmed that the “acquisition of territory by military conquest is inadmissible” and noted that “all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, including expropriation of land and properties thereon, which tend to change the legal status of Jerusalem are invalid and cannot change that status.”
3 The Jerusalem municipality and the Ministry of Interior refuse to publish exact figures on the number of outstanding demolition orders against Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem: Meir Margalit, No Place Like Home: House Demolitions in East Jerusalem, Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, March 2007, p. 8. Unofficial sources, however, estimate that up to 1,500 residential buildings in East Jerusalem currently have demolition orders against them. See Jerusalem on the Map III. Jerusalem: The International Peace and Cooperation Center. 2007. p. 37.