Jerusalem Mayor Orders Demolition of Illegal UN Caravans Housing Palestinians

Margalit demolition

PNN

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Bakat approved the demolition of two caravans in East Jerusalem on Wednesday, which had been illegally built by the UN to house Palestinian families on their own land, Israeli media has reported.

The UN was strongly condemned by Israel for building the caravans in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Beit Hanina. The caravans were erected in May this year following the demolition of two Palestinian families' homes in December 2011 and January 2012.

Israeli Foreign Ministry and Jerusalem municipality officials accused the UN of overstepping its role as an international organisation. Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said that the actions of the UN were being taken "very seriously".

The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian Territories, Maxwell Gaylard, said that he respected Israeli law, but defended the building of the caravans as a humanitarian move after the Palestinian families turned to the organisation for help.

Gaylard told the Jerusalem Post that Palestinians in East Jerusalem are applying for housing permits but not receiving them. He said, "Where else could we put [the caravans]? We are helping the Palestinians on land that is theirs."

Gaylard also noted that "Beit Hanina is occupied Palestinian territory."

City council member and founder of the Israeli Coalition Against Housing Demolitions, Meir Margalit (Meretz ), praised the UN's decision to the build the caravans, telling Israeli media, "This is the first time the agency has taken a proactive step rather merely criticize. This is not the time to quarrel with the UN and Europe because of two trailers."

Other OCHA officials also said that the caravans did not require a license from the municipality, as they are an emergency solution only, are not connected to utilities and do not have foundations, Haaretz newspaper reported.

However, Israeli officials disagreed, stating the the caravans are in fact illegal. A Foreign Ministry spokesman said, "The Jerusalem municipality acted according to the law and procedures and gave a 30-day extension for complaints regarding the demolition order. This is not the first time OCHA has breached the law and customary procedures and we take a grim view of it."

A spokeswoman for the municipality said in a statement, ""Israel is not a banana republic, but a state of law and order. The UN can help to advance the residents' quality of life in keeping with the law and we hope the construction violation at the site is not in accordance with the UN."

The caravans have OCHA's logo on as well as the flags of donor countries Britain, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Spain, The Netherlands and Ireland. Jerusalem municipal officials claimed that these flags were intended to embarrass Israel by showing them demolishing donations by friendly nations, Haaretz reported.

Tension between Israel and the UN have been increasing lately, following the suspension of an OCHA information officer after he tweeted a photo of a dead, blood-covered Palestinian girl and falsely claimed an IDF strike had killed her, when in fact she was the victim of an accident.

Margalit told the Jerusalem Post that the UN is known to publicly criticise the Israeli policy of demolishing illegal Palestinian homes.

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