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Women's Voices: Magdalene K. - Threat of home demolition

Name: Magdalene K.
Age: 29
Location: Old City, East Jerusalem
Nature of incident: Threat of home demolition 
Date of incident: 10 February 2010
On 10 February 2010, a Palestinian Christian woman describes the difficulties she faces when trying to renovate her home built on church land in Jerusalem.
Magdalene is a 29 year-old Palestinian Christian woman from Jerusalem. She is married with three children: Alexa (10); Albert (8); and Sophia (3). Magdalene and her husband lived with her parents in the Old City when they were first married so they could save up to buy their own house.
Magdalene and her husband found a house to buy in the Old City, which was in poor condition and needed renovating. The house is built on land belonging to the Greek Orthodox Church. “Because the house was in such a bad state we had to do a lot of work to make it habitable,” recalls Magdalene.“The house was very small, so we decided we would add a second floor. The roof had to be replaced anyway and so we put in a second floor, without having to extend the height of the building by much. The Greek Orthodox Church approved our plans to renovate and extend.The church had rules regarding the height of the building so that it did not go above the height of the wall of the church, but it didn't so they were happy with what we were doing and the Patriarch gave us a permit,” recalls Magdalene.
“In around 2001, before we had moved into the house, some municipality workers came to the house and took photos and told us that we couldn't do the building work. We appointed a lawyer and showed him the permit we had from the Greek Patriarch to renovate and all our documents showing ownership. We finished the work off in about a week and then moved in.”
“A few months after we moved in, we received a demolition order for the upper floor of the house,” recalls Magdalene.“We were taken to court and the demolition order was postponed and we were fined 25,000 Shekels ($7,000) for building without a permit. We paid the fine in monthly instalments. This was really hard for us, but we always paid – if we missed a month we would have to pay double the amount. My husband works in a hotel in the Old City but he doesn't earn a lot and we had to take money from what we would spend on basics – electricity, food, milk and diapers - to pay the fine. It was particularly hard for me because I had to try and make sure there was enough food and that the children had clothes. We couldn't afford to buy furniture and borrowed a couch from my parents’ house.”
“Just before we paid off the fine three years later; the court imposed another fine on us. This time it was for 10,000 shekels ($3,000) and again we had to pay it each month. Again the demolition order was postponed. The two fines overlapped for a few months, so we were paying two at once which was really hard for us all. At the last court hearing, we were told that we had to employ an engineer to survey the house and start the process of applying for a proper permit. This all requires a lot of money. I worry a lot about all of this. They are telling us to apply for a permit, but we already know that we won't be given a permit – they just don't give them out,” says Magdalene.
“But we have no choice,” says Magdalene. “We are going through the process and have hired the people to do the survey and are trying to get a permit for the upper floor.   Meanwhile, we still don't have enough space, but of course we don't dare do anything to the house. We're too afraid to do anything more in case they demolish the whole house.   My children don't have enough space now, I don't know what will happen if the other floor was gone. They barely have enough space to play or do their homework. My daughter Sophia even has to sleep in a drawer that pulls out from underneath the bunk beds.”
“We have now finished paying off the fine. But I'm still living with the worry of what is going to happen. I'm nervous, because the threat to the house is hanging over my head,” says Magdalene.
Planning and building permits for Palestinians living in East Jerusalem are frequently denied, which in turn leads to evictions and the demolition of houses built or extended without permits. According to the UN, only 13 percent of East Jerusalem is currently zoned by the Israeli authorities for Palestinian construction, within which Palestinians have the possibility of obtaining building permits. Consequently, unauthorised or “illegal” construction has been widespread, both within the 13 percent, and in other areas where Palestinian construction is completely prohibited. Approximately 32 percent of all Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem do not comply with Israeli zoning requirements, exposing at least 86,500 Palestinian residents to the risk of having their homes demolished.

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