[News] Jerusalem mayor to raze 200 Palestinian homes
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
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
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
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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