NGOs assert that Arab Jerusalemites have no choice but to build their homes illegally since the municipality systematically rejects their applications for building permits. They must then 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 an independent, non-partisan policy studies center, has just completed the first systematic study of illegal construction in Jerusalem. Weiners book breaks new ground in explaining how the political struggle for Jerusalem has obscured an urban planning dilemma of enormous and enduring significance indeed, one with multifold global implications. As in various cities abroad, illegal building threatens to become the norm. That is, in recent years Jerusalems building inspectors have reported thousands of violations of the Building and Planning Law (1965) in all parts of the city.
Conventional wisdom, now widely accepted, posits certain causes and effects to explain the situation and to narrate what is at stake. Based on scores of interviews, original documents, and on-site inspections, Weiners 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:
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 33,000 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 wait 4-6 weeks for permit approval, enjoy a similar rate of application approvals, and pay an identical fee ($3,600 U.S.) for water and sewage hook-ups and a building fee 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, the roads, highways, health 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 Christians living abroad.
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.
Despite accusations that the citys planning policy seeks to "Judaize" Jerusalem, the Arab population of the city has increased since 1967 from 26% to nearly 32%. Moreover, since 1967 new Arab construction has outpaced Jewish construction.
Who will ultimately bear the burden of chaotic development, environmental degradation, and an eroded quality of life in the Arab neighborhoods? Does the Palestinian Authoritys "demographic war" or the profiteering of land thieves serve their long-term interests? How does the epidemic of illegal construction in the Arab neighborhoods compare with similar problems elsewhere in the world?