Bir 'Awna, a neighborhood enclaved by the Separation Wall


Mays Shkerat for Jerusalem Story

Personal Story

Ibrahim and His Family: “Lucky” to Be Living in a Collapsing Building to Remain in Jerusalem


A rapidly growing number of Palestinian Jerusalemites, like Ibrahim and his family, have moved into neighborhoods cut off by the Separation Wall due to Israel’s discriminatory housing and residency policies. There, they live in unsafe, crowded, and substandard conditions; they must pass through Israeli checkpoints to access their jobs, schools, and other basic necessities; and they are under constant risk of Israel revoking their rights to residency in Jerusalem. The exact population of Palestinians living in these ghettoized neighborhoods behind the wall is unknown but has grown rapidly in recent years.

Ibrahim, 35, is a Palestinian residing in Bir ‘Awna.1 “I will not share any personal information,” he said at the start of the interview with Jerusalem Story. “I will only share stories about the neighborhood.”

Palestinian Jerusalemites live in a constant state of fear of having their permanent-resident status revoked by Israeli authorities, or of being arrested for criminal charges for sharing certain information.

Unmarried, Ibrahim has been living with his family in Bir 'Awna since 2000. Prior to that, the family had been living in another Palestinian neighborhood, Beit Jala, in the occupied West Bank. Nowadays, five adults and two minors live in the 220 square meter home. The family moved to Bir ‘Awna because it was absorbed into the Israeli Jerusalem Municipality with Israel’s expansion of the city’s boundaries; hence, they could prove that their “center of life” is Jerusalem, and because rent is relatively cheaper than in other neighborhoods within the Jerusalem municipal boundaries. While the average monthly rent in neighborhoods inside the city’s municipal boundaries generally ranges between $1,200 and $1,500 (despite recent hikes in cost), rent in Bir ‘Awna is still relatively cheaper, falling between $700 and $1,000.2

“I will only share stories about the neighborhood.”

Ibrahim, resident of Bir 'Awna

The owner of the building where Ibrahim and his family live is a well-known and wealthy businessman from Hebron. At first, he bought one big apartment, after which he added another floor with three apartments. When Ibrahim’s family rented the house, the building was thus a two-story structure with five apartments for which the family used to pay a monthly rent of 1,200 NIS ($320); now, they pay 1,600 NIS ($450) per month, excluding any other expenses such as the Arnona tax.

But in 2015, and without examining the foundations of the building, the owner added two additional floors including five apartments. This decision, coupled with the lack of proper infrastructure to collect rainwater, led to worsening living conditions in the building. “When you enter the house, you think you’ve entered an amusement park,” Ibrahim shared. The sides of the house collapsed so the middle bumped up. “Every now and then, we have to trim down the doors by cutting them because the building is sinking and the doors won’t open,” he explained. And with all this water damage, the building is full of mold. The owner promised the residents to move them into new apartments he was building on the land next to this building; however, in 2016, the municipal authorities destroyed it, and he was denied a building permit.

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Palestinian neighborhood of Bir Ona in East Jerusalem near Beit Jala

The Palestinian neighborhood of Bir 'Awna, East Jerusalem, November 2023.


Mays Shkerat for Jerusalem Story

Residents of the building thus entered into a long legal ordeal in the Palestinian Authority’s courts in Beit Jala to force the owner to renovate, which he agreed to under the condition that he be allowed to add more apartment units in the future. As a result of this settlement, Ibrahim and his family were also informed that their house would become even smaller, because, in strengthening the foundations of the building, columns would need to be built in the middle of their ground-floor apartment. The home would thus shrink to approximately 160 square meters after the renovation, and they would be required to pay 2,500 NIS ($670) in monthly rent due to the housing shortage driving up prices.

In other words, Ibrahim and his family, who were forced to move to Bir ‘Awna because of its relatively more affordable rents, are now forced to live in unlivable housing if they wish to retain their permanent-resident status. And despite planned renovations secured through a conditional court order that gives the owner future building privileges, the family of seven will be left to inhabit a 160 square meter apartment in a building slated for future disasters.

“Our building is sinking and collapsing,” Ibrahim explained. “It is leaning like the Tower of Pisa.” But, he concluded, “we are lucky to have this apartment. Because of it, we can keep our Jerusalem residency permits.”

“Our building is sinking and collapsing.”




This case study is based on information collected during an interview with a Palestinian resident of Bir ‘Awna by the author on July 2, 2023. Identifying information has been changed.


This is an estimation based on interviews conducted by the Jerusalem Story Team.

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