Floodlights blinked on and bulldozers moved in early Monday as Israeli forces began leveling 10 Palestinian residential buildings that it says violate a construction ban.
The buildings are located in the Wadi al-Hummus neighborhood of Sur Baher, on the outskirts of East Jerusalem. Homeowners said they had permits from the Palestinian Authority to build.
They're also on the Israeli side of a separation barrier, which the country built in 2002, when a Palestinian suicide bombing campaign reached its peak. The Israeli military declared this area — outside Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem, bordering the West Bank — a buffer zone, closed to construction.
After a seven-year legal battle, Israel’s High Court ruled in June that the Palestinian buildings were illegal. Despite their Palestinian building permits, the homeowners would’ve needed special permits from Israel. The three-member court said attackers could use the buildings as a cover, putting Israeli forces at risk.
Israel had given residents until Friday to demolish the buildings themselves. About 700 Israeli police and 200 soldiers were involved in demolition Monday, according to Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan.
"I built this house stone by stone. It was my dream to live in this house. Now I am losing everything," Tareq al-Wahash, 37, told Reuters. "I had a permit to build from the Palestinian Authority. I thought I was doing the right thing.”
The United Nations said 17 Palestinians would be displaced by the demolition and 350 stand to lose property. Most of the buildings were still under construction.
Palestinians fear Monday’s demolition will set a precedent, allowing Israel to destroy the approximately 100 other buildings that were built under similar circumstances.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said he would complain to the International Criminal Court.
“This is a continuation of the forced displacement of the people of Jerusalem from their homes and lands — a war crime and a crime against humanity," he said.
In a statement, the European Union said the demolition “undermines the viability of the two-state solution and the prospect for a lasting peace.”
Israeli Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan hit back, writing on Twitter, “The spokespeople of the EU, as usual, bought into the lies of the Palestinians… When illegal construction presents a security threat, Israel has the authority, including according to the Oslo Accords, to enforce the law against it.”
The 1993 accords allow Israel to defend itself from internal and external threats to provide for the “overall security of Israelis,” but the agreement is vague about Israel’s right to do so on disputed land.
Israel took the West Bank during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, annexing East Jerusalem within that area. It maintains occupation of the West Bank. Settlements on Israeli-occupied Palestinian land are illegal under international law.