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Silwan demolitions: 'They're destroying Jerusalem'

Silwan demolitions: 'They're destroying Jerusalem'
From Al Jazeera - October 9, 2017

Silwan, Occupied East Jerusalem -For four hours,Abdul KarimAbu Sneina watched as a pair of bulldozers razed the two homes that he had built, leaving a dozen of his family members - including seven children - homeless.

"Where can I live? There's no place for us to live," Abu Sneina said after the August demolition, standing in front of a mound of broken bricks and iron scraps.

Residents of al-Bustan neighbourhood in the valley of Silwan had expected the bulldozers, fearing retaliation for their participation in summer proteststhat pressuredIsraeli authorities to remove newly installed metal detectors at al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

"Whenever Palestinians start to get more comfortable, the [Israeli] government looks to seize an opportunity for retaliation afterwards," Abu Sneina told Al Jazeera, noting that he quickly rebuilt a temporary shelter for his family, but bulldozers returned days later to demolish it as well.

He remains determined to keep rebuilding: "In 1967, the Israelis kicked my family out of their home in Jorat al-Anab[in West Jerusalem], and they moved here to Silwan. I was born here. We have to think about the future of our children, grandchildren, our women - where can they live? We are going to be homeless. I have to rebuild my home."

INTERACTIVE: Broken Homes - A record year of Israeli demolitions

More than 1,000 al-Bustan residents have been protesting against home demolitions for more than a decade, but they have exhausted all legal options to save their homes. According to lawyer Ziad Kawar, who represents al-Bustan's residents, all 100 residential structures in al-Bustan have been slated for demolition to make way for "King's David's Garden" archaeological tourism park, comprising restaurants, artists' studios and local art shops, among other attractions. Some Israelis claim this location was the site of the biblical garden of King David, but this claim is disputed.

The battle against home demolitions in this area began decades ago, after the city's 1976 master plan designated al-Bustan valley as green space, prohibiting any kind of construction by residents. Today, the area is crowded with more than 90 residential structures, most of them built without permits and therefore deemed "illegal".

Palestinians are rarely able to obtain building permits; Israeli authorities approve less than two percent of requests. An estimated 60,000 Palestinians areat riskof having their homes demolished in occupied East Jerusalem, while another 43,000 housing units are needed to address the housing shortage.

Al-Bustan residents received a slew of demolition orders in 2005, and the first two homes were destroyed later that year. Residents mobilised and submitted alternative plans for the development of the neighbourhood in conjunction with Israeliplanning authorities, but the District Planning Authority rejected their proposal, asserting that the area must remain an open space due to its important location.

In 2009, the municipality proposed that residents voluntarily move to Beit Hanina in northern East Jerusalem, but they declined. According to Fahri Abu Diab, the head of al-Bustan's popular committee, Abu Sneina's home was the 11th residential structure to be demolished since 2005.

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