Israel to demolish Palestinian homes in Jerusalem 'peace forest'
Hundreds of Palestinian located in a "peace forest" in occupied East Jerusalem will lose their homes after an Israeli court rejected an appeal against their demolition.
The Jerusalem municipality has attempted to change the zoning of the "peace forest" so that the demolition ruling does not apply to structures built by Jewish Israelis in the area.
Many houses in occupied East Jerusalem are built without licenses, allowing Israel to order their demolition.
Palestinians say it is near impossible to obtain building permits from the Israeli state.
The Jerusalem District Court upheld a decision to demolish 60 buildings in the neighbourhood because the houses are located in a national Israeli "peace forest".
The "peace forest" is a green space intended to connect East and West Jerusalem and promote coexistence between Israeli and Palestinian communities.
The area is zoned as a public space or forest, hence the building of residential homes is not allowed.
Residents have previously attempted to seek authorisation for existing building and permission for new builds with the assistance of architects and lawyers.
Their plan was rejected in 2008 for "contradicting" a new zoning plan for the city.
"It's not that we didn't want to obtain a building permit, they wouldn't allow us to," said Walid Shweiki, a resident of the area, told Haaretz.
"Your family grows, you have a wife and children. Where can you go and live? On the street? You need some place."
The city filed indictments against the home owners in a local court and obtained demolition orders, but the process was delayed when three families appealed to the district court.
Their appeals were rejected two weeks ago, setting the stage for 500 people to lose their homes.
"There are clear planning and construction laws and the High Court has ruled that whoever decides to build without appropriate permits can complain only to themselves for deciding to take the law into their own hands," ruled the judge.
Despite order the demolition of unlicensed Palestinian homes citing zoning regulations, the city has advanced a plant to cancel the zoning of the "peace forest" upon the request of a pro-settlement NGO.
NGO Elad works to move Jewish residents into Palestinian neighbourhoods in occupied East Jerusalem, as well as promoting tourism and archeological initiatives in the area.
Elad has built camping and tourism structures in the "peace forest" without building permits.
Demolition orders were initially issued against those structures, but the city retroactively granted a request by Elad for building permits, Haaretz reported.
The NGO's plans did not involve construction, only the development of land for leisure and sport activity, the Jerusalem Municipality claimed
The Israel Land Authority has also granted Elad use of the land for 15 years in return for a fee of 400,000 shekels ($110,300).
There was no competitive bidding process or public announcement of the deal, which was revealed under a freedom of information request.
A hotel with 1,100 rooms is also currently being built in the area with the support and funding of the Israeli tourism ministry.
"The site is a strategic tourist destination," said the ministry.