Israel to Push Ahead with Home Demolitions in Jerusalem during Ramadan

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Land and Space

Unless a major change of mind takes place in Israel, East Jerusalem seems likely to erupt in the coming weeks as the holy month of Ramadan gets underway beginning March 22, 2023.

Israeli officials and the Israeli government have been taking a hard stance against Palestinians in the city of late, including reversing decisions and norms that all governments, including the five previous governments under Netanyahu, had taken to ease tensions and to allow the emotionally filled month to pass without much trouble. Moreover, Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s far right-wing ultranationalist minister of national security (Jewish Power Party), decided to reverse a long-standing Israeli policy of avoiding home demolitions in East Jerusalem during the holy month of Ramadan. During this month, Muslims fast daily until sundown, consuming no food or liquid, even water, and refrain from smoking, sex, and impure thoughts. They also devote time to introspection, prayer, and community.

This year as well, both Easter and Passover overlap within the same month as Ramadan, ensuring that the city will be overrun with outsiders seeking to worship at their holy sites.

Israel routinely demolishes homes of Palestinians living in East Jerusalem for being built without proper permits.1 However, due to a complex set of factors, only a small percentage of land in the city is available to Palestinians for private building projects, and building permits are rarely approved for Palestinians needing to build or expand, leaving them little choice but to build anyway. According to the organization Terrestrial Jerusalem, writing in 2009:

With virtually no means to build legally, there are basically only three options available to the Palestinian residents of the city: have your children sleep two or three to a bed (and severe overcrowding is endemic in East Jerusalem); build illegally; or leave the city. In the past, Palestinians have availed themselves of all three options, but in recent years they have increasingly abandoned the latter.2

Having a reprieve during the holy month has offered the only time of relief from this anxiety.

Hazem H. Kawasmi, a social activist in Jerusalem, told Jerusalem Story that there was no prior regulation or binding agreement not to destroy homes during Ramadan. “True there were fewer demolitions and possibly in some years no demolitions, but there was no set agreement on the rule on this issue.” Kawasmi says that throughout 2022, Israel destroyed 140 homes and in 2021, they demolished 180 homes. “But there is no binding policy when they can and when they will refrain from home demolitions.”3

Previous Israeli governments suspended home demolitions in Jerusalem during Ramadan out of consideration for the city’s many Muslim residents and due to the huge influx of Muslim believers during this period. Al-Aqsa Mosque is full of worshippers, with Friday prayers at times accommodating a congregation of more than 250,000. So, the decisions of previous governments to abstain from the destructive actions are more in line with keeping the situation calm during the highly emotional holy month for Muslims.

The Israeli public news service Kan confirmed that Ben-Gvir has reversed previous decisions to halt home demolitions this year.4

On March 13, diplomats from 17 countries, namely, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, visited Palestinian families under threat of imminent home demolition in Silwan, Sheikh Jarrah, and the Old City. They issued a statement expressing their “strong opposition” to Israel’s settlement policy and home demolitions in East Jerusalem. The statement read, in part, “It is particularly worrying that Israeli authorities plan to continue demolitions in East Jerusalem during the month of Ramadan.”5

Diplomats from 17 countries pay a solidarity visit to the homes of Palestinian families threatened by imminent home demolition in East Jerusalem on March 13, 2023.

Diplomats from 17 countries pay a solidarity visit to the homes of Palestinian families threatened by imminent home demolition in East Jerusalem on March 13, 2023.


The @FranceJerusalem Twitter feed, March 14, 2023

The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Ramallah issued a scathing statement saying, “"The words of the colonialist and racist minister incite escalation in light of his boasting about the demolition of the homes of Palestinian citizens in Jerusalem during the holy month of Ramadan. We condemn the statements of the fascist Ben-Gvir, who is inciting and working to set the area on fire.”6

Firas Yaghi, a Jerusalem-based expert on Israeli affairs, told Jerusalem Story that Ben-Gvir’s decision falls within his agenda of buying time in order to make life difficult for Jerusalemites. “His agenda is to continue restricting life for Jerusalemites, so they leave and therefore he does not pay attention to security warnings. He works around the clock, whether it is Ramadan or not, to accomplish his agenda.” According to Yaghi, whether it is Ben-Gvir’s decision on home demolitions or the refusal of the Israeli government to make any decisions to ease restrictions during Ramadan, this holy month will witness escalating tensions. “US pressure, whether in Aqaba or in the upcoming Sharm el-Sheikh conference, will not prevent an explosion during Ramadan,” Yaghi said.7

It is particularly worrying that Israeli authorities plan to continue demolitions in East Jerusalem during the month of Ramadan.”

Delegation from 17 European countries

Jamal Dajani, former communications director at the Palestinian prime ministry and a Jerusalemite, called Ben-Gvir “an instigator and a Jewish supremacist.” Dajani said that Ben-Gvir is intent on ethnically cleansing Palestinians by all means. “The demolition of Palestinian homes is illegal under international law and morally corrupt at any time of the year, let alone during the holy month of Ramadan. His action will renew the cycle of violence, which he and his Kahanist supporters seem to thrive on.”8

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s fear of being convicted on the four corruption charges appears to have bolstered his far-right wing ministers, whose votes in the Knesset he needs to pass controversial Judicial reform laws, including one that will give a simple majority in the Knesset the ability to overrule the Israeli high court.

Ben-Gvir’s newfound boldness and disregard for accepted behavior—even by Israeli oppressive standards—continued despite strong demands by senior former security officials that he be fired. Five former police commissioners and 33 retired superintendents demanded on March 9 that Prime Minister Netanyahu remove Ben-Gvir from office.9 The ex-law enforcement officials insist that Ben-Gvir is “overstepping his legal authority, and exploiting his position for political gain.” According to their signed letter, “anyone who has experienced commanding the events of the month of Ramadan as commander of the Jerusalem district and as commissioner knows that [continuing demolishing illegally constructed buildings] is a step that is no less than throwing a lit match into a barrel of gunpowder, which may at best bring upon us the third intifada and at worst ignite an unnecessary fire among the Muslim world outside to the borders of the state, unnecessarily.”10

Wider Ramifications

The fallout from Jerusalem may also include an Israeli-US-Arab confrontation, as the planned Sharm el-Sheikh meeting between Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Jordan, and the US due to take place March 19, a few days before Ramadan starts, will unlikely cause any change in Israeli policies, despite American wishes.

The commitments that Israel made during the recent Aqaba summit11 to deescalate tensions and refrain from unilateral action on settlements appear not to have any effect on the decisions of the Israeli government, as it quickly reversed that decision. The pogrom in Hawara12 also ensued unchecked, causing massive destruction and trauma to its Palestinian residents.

Therefore, it is likely that the coming month in Jerusalem will be a combustible one.



Meir Margalit, Demolishing Peace: Houses Demolitions in East Jerusalem, 2000–2010 (Jerusalem: International Center for Peace and Cooperation, 2014).


A Layman’s Guide to Home Demolitions in East Jerusalem,” Terrestrial Jerusalem, March 2009, 6,


France à Jérusalem (@FranceJerusalem), “Press Release,” Twitter, March 14, 2023, 9:01 a.m.,


Burak Dag, “Israel’s Ben-Gvir Orders Demolition of Palestinian Homes in East Jerusalem during Ramadan,” AA, March 6, 2023,….


France à Jérusalem, “Press Release.”


Ben-Gvir Orders Demolition of Palestinian Homes during Ramadan,” Middle East Monitor, March 7, 2023,


Interview with the author, March 15, 2023.


Interview with the author, March 15, 2023.


Times of Israel Staff, “Five Former Police Commissioners Demand Netanyahu Remove Ben-Gvir from Office,” Times of Israel, March 9, 2023,


Aqaba Joint Communique,” U.S. Department of State, February 26, 2023.

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