Burning issue of illegal construction in east Jerusalem neighborhood reaches boiling point. Mayor wants to raze 20 houses to build park, grant evacuated residents permits to build on roofs of existing houses on other side of neighborhood. Residents' lawyer denies city's claims that many have agreed to plan
Published: 03.02.10, 09:31 / Israel News
The mayor of Jerusalem has high ambitions with regards to the sensitive matter of illegal Arab construction in the east of the city, but the residents have no intention of giving up their homes.
According to a plan slated to be presented by Mayor Nir Barkat on Tuesday, some 20 houses on the western side of the Silwan neighborhood are to be demolished, to make way for the construction of an archaeological park. In return, the evacuated residents are to receive permits to rebuild their homes up to four storeys high on top of buildings on the eastern side of the neighborhood.
There are currently some 88 houses in the neighborhood that have been built without permits, and are at the center of a very sensitive controversy in the city, which has turned into a political issue. The municipality has indicated a number of times that these houses cannot remain in their current formula. As part of the plan, other houses will receive retroactive permits.
According to the new plan, the neighborhood will become more crowded, as a complex including shops and restaurants will be constructed in the al-Bustan area slated to be evacuated. Sources close to the mayor say the residents will live near the shops and will benefit financially from the new complex, both in daily life, and in the long term, as this would lead to a rise in real estate value.
Sources from the municipality said many have expressed consent to the proposed plan, but Attorney Ziad Kawar, who represents the residents, paints a different picture. "Yesterday I sent Barkat a letter and I made it clear that we are against this. There is not a single resident that agrees to the plan," he told Ynet.
"These are 20 houses that house 40 families who will have to rebuild their homes elsewhere, at an estimated cost of some NIS 2 million (roughly $500,000) per family, and they cannot manage that. Barkat is asking the residents to 'demolish and move, because I want to rebuild the 'king's garden' with religious, political and historic symbols.' This is a very sensitive site, very close to the Western Wall and al-Aqsa (mosque)."
'We can barely afford a tent'
Fakhri abu-Dihab, a resident of al-Bustan, said negotiations are being held, but that the residents are not familiar with the details of the plan and have not agreed to what was offered to them. "We are almost the poorest neighborhood in Jerusalem. So what is he saying, go and rebuild at your own expense? We will barely be able to buy a tent after he razes (the houses).
"Besides," he added, "who says the neighbors will agree to construction on top of their houses? We are open to the development of the area, but not at our expense. This is my home, with my memories and my children's memories. We object to any demolition of houses."
MK Ahmad Tibi (United Arab List – Ta'al) also expressed concern over the plan. "Barkat is acting like a pyromaniac who ignites fire and strife in east Jerusalem," the MK said, "He must be stopped in time to prevent violence."
The non-profit organization, Ir Amim, also warned of the danger at one of the most volatile locations in the conflict.
"There is no doubt that the planned chaos in east Jerusalem in general, and in the al-Bustan neighborhood in particular, is the result of years of neglect on the part of the Israeli authorities and needs to be addressed thoroughly and urgently by the Jerusalem municipality.
"Hopefully the Jerusalem municipality will act in accordance with the responsibility it bears for more than one third of the Palestinian residents of the city and will not use this new building policy as a cover for promoting a political agenda," said the organization.
Deputy Jerusalem Mayor David Hadari (National Religious Party): "Jerusalem's sovereignty is no merely to oppose Arabs, but to know how to let them live with us as well. Under certain circumstances, and if the details were as I would expect, I would be in favor.
"If we are speaking of such a building arrangement by which some of the houses are demolished, some are transferred to the other side of the neighborhood and the 'King Garden' is refurbished as a tourist and heritage site, this definitely has many advantages."
In the past, when individual illegal structures were razed in Silwan, the issue even reached US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, who said the move was "not helpful". Clinton has said the US administration was following up on the matter with the Israeli government and the Jerusalem Municipality.
Sharon Roffe – Ofir contributed to this report
Jerusalem inspectors hand out demolition notices in Silwan
Residents of east Jerusalem neighborhood say municipal inspectors entering various buildings, distributing demolition orders. Peace Now: This is a provocation by the mayor
Published: 02.24.10, 12:07 / Israel News <http://www.ynetnews.com/home/0,7340,L-3082,00.html>
Municipal inspectors accompanied by security forces distributed demolition notices on Wednesday in the east Jerusalem Arab neighborhood of Silwan.
Residents reported that the inspectors entered various homes, apparently to deliver demolition notices to buildings constructed without the necessary permits. Israel Police said it was not aware of any demolition notices being handed out in the neighborhood.
One of the notices, which was obtained by Ynet, read "You are using this land without a permit. If you do not comply with this warning, we will consider taking legal or administrative action against you."
A Silwan resident told Ynet. "They (inspectors) entered the Tawil family's grocery store. They are moving from building to building and handing out orders. I see 20 police officers and inspectors."
Peace Now said in response, "This is a provocation by Mayor Nir Barkat, who is implementing the settler 'price tag' policy (whereby settlers have vowed to attack Palestinians in retaliation for government actions against West Bank settlements) following the court order to seal off Beit Yonatan <http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3848943,00.html> (a Jewish-owned building in Silwan).
"These demolition notices are aimed at threatening the neighborhood's residents," said the leftist group.
Barkat has expressed his commitment to implementing the sealing order for Beit Yonatan, but made the evacuation of the structure dependent on the demolition of illegal Arab buildings in east Jerusalem.
Beit Yonatan is a seven-floor building that was erected without a permit in 2004 in the mostly Arab Silwan neighborhood. It currently houses Jewish families associated with the right-wing Ateret Cohanim movement.