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A United Nations report says Israel has dramatically increased its demolitions of unauthorized Palestinian homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Last year, 1,100 Palestinians - over half of them children - were displaced. That's an 80 percent increase from the previous year. And demolitions continue this year at breakneck speed. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports from Jerusalem.
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: The Israeli bulldozers came while 26-year-old Palestinian Sami Idriss was at work.
SAMI IDRISS: (Foreign language spoken)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I came back, and they were already tearing my house down, he says. I pleaded with them, saying I hadn't received any notice or warning. They pushed me out of the building, and continued to demolish my home, he says.
Idriss says all of his savings went into that building. He was hoping to get married in three months. But now, he says, I can't, as there's no place to take my bride to.
Surrounding the now-empty lot where his house once stood in this predominately Arab neighborhood of East Jerusalem, are many other buildings in various stages of construction.
(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHATTER)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: A group of Palestinian men, who are laying sewage pipes nearby, say just as in the case of Sami Idriss, none of the other homes here have permits, either. They declined to give their names, for fear of reprisals. The men say it's almost impossible to get a permit for a new building, from the Israel authorities. The United Nations concurs. It says more than 94 percent of all Palestinian permit applications have been rejected, in recent years.
Thousands of Arab homes in East Jerusalem and AREA C - that's the Israeli-controlled portion of the West Bank, which comprises just over 60 percent of the territory - have demolition orders against them. In fact, recently, the Israeli military handed over demolition orders to an entire Palestinian village, in the Hebron Hills. Among the 50 buildings slated for destruction, is a school. Israeli government spokesman Yigal Palmor says Israel has the right to demolish illegal structures.
YIGAL PALMOR: In any place where there's an urban authority around the world, you can't just build whatever you like, wherever you like. You need a permit. And if you don't follow the necessary legal procedures, there will be demolition.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Palmor says Palestinians are entitled to permits, and that they probably don't get as many because they're too afraid to ask.
PALMOR: They may feel less comfortable with Israeli authorities, and maybe this is why they resort to building without a permit.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ziad Hamouri is the head of the Jerusalem Center for Human Rights. He disputes the Israeli narrative. He says you only have to see how quickly Jewish settlements are expanding, and how rapidly Palestinian homes are being destroyed, to see that there is an agenda.
ZIAD HAMOURI: What we are facing is a real war. It's a demographic war against the Palestinians. They want to control east Jerusalem. We are losing east Jerusalem.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So I'm now across Jerusalem, in the neighborhood of Sur Baher. And in front of me is another demolished home - twisted metal, crumbled concrete. But this was not the direct result of Israeli bulldozers.
WALID ADNAN BKAIRATE: (Foreign language spoken)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Walid Adnan Bkairate is a construction worker building Jewish homes in Israel. After saving all his money, he decided to use his know-how to build a small place for himself and his family, on his father's land in Sur Baher. He tried to get a permit, to no avail. With nowhere to live, he took a risk and built it, anyway.
BKAIRATE: (Foreign language spoken)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: They took me to court, he says, and gave me an ultimatum: Either I demolish my home myself, or they do it. And if they did it, they were going to charge me 150,000 shekels - almost $40,000 - he says. It's a sum he wouldn't have been able to pay. So after building his home, he says he tore it down, brick by brick.
BKAIRATE: (Foreign language spoken)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Walid says all he wanted was a home for his family. Now, even though he destroyed what he had built, the Israeli municipal authorities are still taking him to court, over penalty fees. He says he has no money left, and no way to pay them.
Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News.
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