[News] Jerusalem mayor to raze 200 Palestinian homes

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Feb 9 15:09:32 EST 2010

Jerusalem mayor to raze 200 Palestinian homes

Jonathan Cook, The Electronic Intifada, 9 February 2010

Jerusalem's mayor threatened last week to demolish 200 homes in 
Palestinian neighborhoods of the city in an act even he conceded 
would probably bring long-simmering tensions over housing in East 
Jerusalem to a boil.

His uncompromising stance is the latest stage in a protracted legal 
battle over a single building towering above the jumble of modest 
homes of Silwan, a deprived and overcrowded Palestinian community 
lying just outside the Old City walls, in the shadow of the 
silver-topped al-Aqsa mosque.

Beit Yehonatan, or Jonathan's House, is distinctive not only for its 
height -- at seven stories, it is at least three floors taller than 
its neighbors -- but also for the Israeli flag draped from the roof 
to the street.

The settlement outpost, named for Jonathan Pollard, serving a life 
sentence in the US for spying on Israel's behalf in the 1980s, has 
been home to eight Jewish families since 2004, when it was built 
without a license by an extremist settler organization known as Ateret Cohanim.

Beit Yehonatan is one of dozens of settler-occupied homes springing 
up in Palestinian areas of East Jerusalem, most of them takeovers of 
Palestinian homes.

Critics say the intent of these "outposts," together with the large 
settlements of East Jerusalem built by the state and home to nearly 
200,000 Jews, is to foil any peace agreement that might one day offer 
the Palestinians a meaningful state with Jerusalem as its capital.

But exceptionally for the settlers, who are used to a mix of overt 
and covert assistance from officials, the inhabitants of Beit 
Yehonatan are at risk of being evicted from their home, two years 
after an "urgent" enforcement order was issued by the Israeli Supreme Court.

Last week Nir Barkat, Jerusalem's mayor, finally agreed "under 
protest" to seal Beit Yehonatan amid mounting pressure from an array 
of legal officials. Barkat had been fighting strenuously against 
implementing the court order, aided by senior members of the 
parliament, the police, and even Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli 
prime minister, who opposed his own attorney general's advice by 
declaring Beit Yehonatan's future "a purely municipal matter."

But the mayor has not simply capitulated. He warned that Beit 
Yehonatan would be evacuated only on condition that more than 200 
demolition orders on Palestinian homes, most of them in Silwan, were 
carried out at the same time. He argued that he had to avoid any 
impression that the law was being enforced in a "discriminatory" 
manner against Jews.

Jeff Halper, head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, 
said Barkat's idea of fairness was "ridiculous."

"In the past 15 years there have been more than a thousand 
Palestinian homes demolished in East Jerusalem versus absolutely no 
settler homes," he said. "In fact, no settlers have ever lost their 
home in East Jerusalem."

In making his announcement, Barkat admitted that the 200 demolitions 
would trigger "a strong possibility for conflict." Palestinians in 
East Jerusalem are already seething over decades of planning 
restrictions that have forced many of them to build or extend homes 
illegally because it is all but impossible to get permits from the 
Israeli authorities.

Halper said the municipality had classified 22,000 Palestinian homes 
in East Jerusalem as illegal, even as it also assessed a shortage of 
25,000 homes for the city's 250,000-strong Palestinian population.

The homes targeted for demolition include Palestinian houses around 
Beit Yehonatan that violate planning restrictions that allow families 
to build only two floors; despite the restriction, many houses have 
four stories and owners pay fines.

In addition, the city council wants to demolish 88 homes in a small 
area called Bustan that the municipality claims is in danger of flooding.

Zeinab Jaber lives next to Beit Yehonatan in the home she was born in 
61 years ago. The building was declared illegal 20 years ago, after 
it was extended to four stories to accommodate her growing family. 
Today she and her six grown-up sons pay monthly fines of more than 
$1,000 in the hope of warding off destruction.

Her son Amjad, 32, married with two young sons, said he did not dare 
miss a payment. "It's simple: if you don't pay, you'll end up in prison."

"What is there for the settlers here?" Jaber asked. "They are only 
here because they want to take this place from us. They won't be 
happy till we leave."

On the opposite slope across the valley from Beit Yehonatan, Mohammed 
Jalajil, 48, said he did not doubt that the municipality would 
demolish the 200 homes. He, his wife and five children have been 
crammed into a room in a relative's apartment since their own house 
was demolished seven years ago.

Jalajil, 48, said: "It was only months after they took our house from 
us that I saw the settlers building theirs nearby. My lawyer tells me 
that, even though my house is gone, I won't have paid off my fines 
for another 10 years."

If Barkat follows through with his threat, the demolitions will 
prompt a rebuke from the international community. Last month, France 
and the United States joined the UN in denouncing more than 100 
demolitions in East Jerusalem over the past three months.

The mayor's decision, warned Meir Margalit, a Jerusalem city 
councillor, was comparable to the "price tag" policy of the settlers 
in the West Bank, who have attacked Palestinian villages in 
retaliation against official attempts to dismantle a few of the 
settlement outposts dotting Palestinian territory.

"But the difference here is that the price tag is being levied not by 
the settlers themselves but by the municipality and the government on 
their behalf," he said.

Yesterday the municipality was due to issue a seven-day evacuation 
notice to the inhabitants of Beit Yehonatan, but the operation was 
cancelled at the last minute when police refused to cooperate.

Frictions have been growing in Silwan for several years over the 
activities of another settler organization, Elad, which, with 
official backing, has been building an archaeological park known as 
the City of David in the midst of the Palestinian neighborhood. As 
Palestinians have been pushed out, at least 80 Jewish families have 
moved into homes nearby.

As Elad entrenches itself in Silwan, Beit Yehonatan has proved more 
difficult to secure. "Usually the settlers present a facade of 
legality to what they do," Halper said. "The problem here is that 
they built in an overtly illegal manner, without a permit and way 
over the building height restrictions."

Barkat's resistance to evicting Beit Yehonatan's inhabitants was 
highlighted last month when he tried to stave off legal pressure by 
proposing a new planning policy to legalize unlicensed buildings in 
Silwan. The mayor proposed that the rules limiting homes to two 
stories be revised to four.

The reform would have applied to Beit Yehonatan first, sealing its 
top three stories but allowing the Jewish families to inhabit the 
rest of the building.

Although Barkat promised that illegal Palestinian buildings would 
also be saved, Ir Amim, an Israeli human rights groups, dismissed the 
mayor's claim.

The overwhelming majority of Palestinian homes would fail to qualify 
because land registry documents are missing for the area and a range 
of requirements on car parking, access roads and sewerage connections 
are "impossible" to meet, Orly Noy, a spokeswoman, wrote in the 
Haaretz newspaper last month.

She added that Palestinian areas of East Jerusalem lacked 70 km of 
sewage pipes and that not a single new road had been paved in their 
neighborhoods since Israel's occupation in 1967.

A planning map of East Jerusalem drawn up recently by the Jerusalem 
municipality came to light last month, as Barkat was promising to 
legalize buildings, showing that more than 300 homes -- most of them 
in Silwan -- were facing imminent demolition.

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. 
His latest books are 
and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the 
Middle East (Pluto Press) and 
Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). His 
website is <http://www.jkcook.net/>www.jkcook.net.

A version of this article originally appeared in 
<http://www.thenational.ae/>The National, published in Abu Dhabi.

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