Bedouin village razed once again as historic Jerusalem hotel demolished

Israeli forces demolish the Shepherd Hotel in Sheikh Jarrah to make way for new Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem. (ActiveStills)


Following the demolition of the historic Shepherd Hotel and the increase of home demolitions across occupied East Jerusalem, United Nations agencies and European Union officials called for observers and the implementation of international law in Jerusalem.

Top EU leaders proposed that its officials maintain presence in the Palestinian areas of the city that are under attack by settlers and Israeli forces, the UK’s Independent reported. (“EU officials propose help for arrested Palestinians,” 10 January 2011). The leaders added that EU officials should also attend hearings dealing with demolitions or evictions at the Jerusalem municipal courts and “ensure EU intervention when Palestinians are arrested or intimidated by Israeli authorities for peaceful cultural, social or political activities in East Jerusalem.”

Meanwhile, IRIN, the news service of the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, released a statement on 17 January which reiterated that East Jerusalem is “occupied territory, requiring protection of the civilian population by international humanitarian law, a legal framework which prohibits population transfer into and out of the territory” (“OPT: Displacement risk for Palestinians in East Jerusalem,” 17 January 2011).

Occupied West Bank

Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem

Israeli municipal bulldozers demolished the historic Shepherd Hotel in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem on Sunday, 9 January, in preparation for the construction of a privately-financed, Jewish-only settlement on the property.

The hotel is a historic building belonging to the Husseini family of Jerusalem, one of the most long-established families in the city, and was once the headquarters of Hajj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. In 1967, Israel declared the hotel “absentee property” after the state’s military occupation of East Jerusalem began. Thousands of Palestinian families from Jerusalem were exiled following the occupation, and were prevented from returning to their properties by the Israeli government and military — thus resulting in the state’s absorption of what it declared “absentee properties” throughout the depopulated city.

The building title was transferred in 1985 to American millionaire and settlement enterprise financier Irving Moskowitz. Last year, the Jerusalem district planning and building council acknowledged Moskowitz’ “ownership” of the property and approved demolition of the building “to make way for twenty [settlement] housing units” (“Irving Moskowitz demolishes part of Jerusalem hotel to build settler housing,” Guardiam, 9 January 2011).

On the morning of 9 January, the Guardian reported that “work began without warning … and by 10am a wing of the hotel in the Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah was reduced to rubble.”

The Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood has been under siege by ultra-right wing settlers, who have violently taken over Palestinian homes as the Israeli courts continue to rule in their favor.

Speaking to the Guardian, Nasser Isa Hidmi of the Jerusalem Committee Against Demolition and Deportation said the international community “should act to prevent Jewish settlers moving into Palestinian neighborhoods.”

“We don’t want sympathy,” Hidmi added. “[W]e want them to stop Israel from doing what it’s doing.”

In the aftermath of the demolition of the Shepherd Hotel, the Husseini family officially called for an international presence in the city of Jerusalem to protect the property of Palestinian residents. This echoed a similar call by residents of the nearby Silwan neighborhood (“Silwan activists ask EU for protection against Israel’s actions,” Haaretz, 10 January 2011).

Ynet reported on 10 January that the Husseini family’s attorney, Sani Huri, said that the Israeli government’s claim that the land had been purchased legally by Moskowitz is “unfounded” and that Israel transferred the asset to Moskowitz without the family’s consent (“Mufti’s descendants: Shepherd Hotel ours,” 10 January 2011).

“The property was given to the [Husseini] family when it was forced to leave Jerusalem for Jordan,” Huri told Ynet. Speaking about the alleged “sale” of the hotel by the state to Moskowitz, Huri said: “[T]here needs to be documents and signatures, but here everything was done in secret. When we asked the Land Registration Office to see the documents, we were told the file had disappeared.”

On 16 January, Ynet reported that the Jerusalem municipal court had issued a temporary injunction against construction on the site until a hearing is held this week (“Construction at Shepherd Hotel plot delayed due to residents’ appeal,” 16 January 2011). Residents of Sheikh Jarrah and the Council of Waqf and Muslim Affairs in Israel filed a petition against the demolition of the hotel and further settlement construction in the neighborhood.

Earlier in the week, Israeli forces demolished part of a nine-member family’s home in Lafta, adjacent to Sheikh Jarrah, leaving only 35 square meters of the house standing, reported Ma’an (“Israeli forces demolish East Jerusalem home,” 3 January 2011).

Silwan, East Jerusalem

Meanwhile, outside the Old City walls in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, a small retail kiosk was demolished by Israeli forces on Tuesday, 11 January. The Wadi Hilweh Information Center reported that Israeli police destroyed the kiosk and confiscated the retail goods, and told the owner that they were not “legally required” to give prior warning to the demolition (“Municipality destroys Palestinian shopfront outside Old City,” 11 January 2011).

The kiosk owner, Wael Razem, had operated his small shop for eleven years, and had supported thirty members of his family with that income, the center reported.

Wadi Joz, East Jerusalem

Israeli forces destroyed two livestock structures on 10 January in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Wadi Joz, according to Ma’an News Agency (“Israeli authorities raze structures in East Jerusalem,” 10 January 2011).

The owner of the structures said that Israeli authorities informed him that he could choose between destroying the structures on his own, or face a bill of tens of thousands of shekels if the Israeli municipality destroyed them.

During the demolition, the owner’s horses and pieces of farm equipment were taken and confiscated, reported Ma’an.

A shed was torn down earlier in the day in the nearby Suwwana neighborhood, Ma’an added.

Hizma, East Jerusalem

Citing lack of building permits, Israeli municipal police and bulldozers destroyed several business of a Palestinian resident in the northeast Jerusalem neighborhood of Hizma, reported Ma’an (“Palestinian businesses demolished in East Jerusalem,” 5 January 2011).

On 5 January, the authorities demolished two garages, a car wash and building materials belonging to Abed al-Aziz al-Khatib, who provided income for dozens of family members.

Beit Hanina, East Jerusalem

Israeli military forces destroyed the home of Nayif Iskafee in Beit Hanina on 4 January, reported the Palestine News Network (PNN) (“Israeli troops demolish a home in Jerusalem …,” 4 January 2011). Iskafee told PNN that for the last ten years, he had been fighting in the municipal courtto keep his home from being demolished.

Dkaika

Israeli military forces, flanked by several bulldozers, invaded the village of Dkaika in the southern West Bank on 12 January, and demolished 16 homes, a store, a livestock pen and a classroom at the local school. The Israeli military said the homes and structures were “built without permission,” and were therefore subject to demolition. The village is in Area C, which encompasses 60 percent of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and is under full Israeli military control.

Under the Oslo accords signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in the mid-1990s, the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip were carved up into areas A, B and C. Under the Oslo regulations, Area C is administered and controlled by the Israeli government and its military. Approximately 40,000 Palestinians live in Area C.

Obtaining building permits inside Area C is nearly impossible for Palestinians, while permits for illegal Israeli settlement expansion in the area continue to be approved by the Israeli government.

Dozens of children were inside the school when the bulldozers and military convoys arrived at about 7:30am, the Guardian reported (“Israel demolishes homes and classroom in West Bank village,” 14 January 2011).

Israeli soldiers prevented teachers from entering the building, the Guardian’s Harriet Sherwood reported. “Sulaima Najadah, 38, who has taught English at the school since last September, told me that he sneaked in to reassure the crying children … The teachers were handcuffed and blindfolded in front of their pupils before the bulldozers moved in. One girl, Mariam Odeh, 13, said she had been afraid the classroom would be demolished over their heads.”

Between fifty and sixty individuals were made homeless in the demolitions, the Guardian stated. “Twelve-year-old Nayfeh Kaabneh lost her home as well as her classroom,” Sherwood added. “That night she slept in a tent.” The children have continued their school lessons outdoors in the freezing cold.

The UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) issued a statement on the Dkaika demolitions on 14 January. The agency condemned what happened there in the context of other ongoing demolitions by Israeli forces in Area C (“UNRWA condemns demolition of Bedouin homes and school in West Bank,” 14 January 2011).

“Instead of sitting down to their exam, the children faced the traumatic scene of watching their homes and classroom be demolished,” Fillipo Grandi, UNRWA’s Commissioner-General said. “This is unacceptable.”

“This community of refugees was originally displaced in 1948 from their ancestral land in the Negev,” Grandi added. “Now, they face the devastating consequences of another forced displacement. Demolitions of the kind we have seen in Dkaika this week affect a growing number of Palestinians, and reflect a policy of discrimination.”

Grandi called on Israel to “immediately cease demolitions of Palestinian properties” in the occupied West Bank, calling on the government to “respect and ensure the rights of Palestine refugees in accordance with its obligations under international law, as repeatedly called for by the international community.”

UNRWA stated that with this latest demolition in Dkaika, more than five hundred Palestinians have been uprooted and displaced from their homes in Area C since the beginning of 2010.

Azzun Atma

Two homes were demolished by Israeli forces in the small village of Azzun Atma, also in Area C, on 11 January, according to Ma’an News Agency (“2 homes razed in Area C,” 11 January 2011).

Israeli military officials said the homes were built without permits. The village is sandwiched between Israel’s wall in the West Bank and several illegal settlement blocs, near the city of Qalqilya.

Muin Amin Younis, owner of one of the homes, told Ma’an he began building his house in 2003, on land owned by his family. It was not yet completed when it was destroyed by Israeli bulldozers. “They said I built it without a license, but it is my own land,” Younis told Ma’an.

Jericho

Israeli military forces handed out 15 demolition orders to farmers in the al-Dweik al-Foqa area near Jericho on 6 January, claiming their homes and livestock pens were built without permits. Ma’an News Agency reported that Israeli military patrols have routinely harassed farmers and livestock herders in the valley, designated as part of Area C, and have prevented farmers from reaching their agricultural lands (“Israel slates 15 Jericho homes for demolition,” 6 January 2011).

The day before, Ma’an reported, Israeli forces handed out similar demolition orders to Palestinian residents of Ein Assy, near Halhul, which is also in Area C.

Days earlier, Israeli forces served 17 eviction and demolition notices to an extended family in al-Nuwaima, near Jericho, according to Ma’an (“Israel issues 17 demolition orders in Jericho,” 3 January 2011).

“Members of the al-Zayed family received orders to demolish a mosque, electricity infrastructure and tents,” Ma’an stated. “The electricity structures slated for demolition were recently installed by the Palestinian Authority at a cost of 79,000 shekels [$22,225 US].”

Palestinian citizens in Israel targeted

Israeli bulldozers returned to the Bedouin village of al-Araqib in the Negev desert and demolished the village for the tenth time since July 2010. On Sunday, 16 January, Israeli forces destroyed tents and structures belonging to villagers, and arrested and beat residents and activists who protested the demolitions. As residents began rebuilding their homes yet again, the bulldozers returned to al-Araqib less than 24 hour later, and razed the buildings to the ground on Monday, 17 January.

Ma’an News Agency reported that during Sunday’s demolition, Israeli police fired rubber-coated steel bullets at the protesters, injuring nine (“MK praises resolve of al-Araqib village,” 16 January 2011).

On Monday, villagers and solidarity activists were again attacked by Israeli police during the next round of evictions and demolitions. The web edition of the Israeli daily Yedioth Aharnot reported that police fired paint balls and arrested five (“Clash at Bedouin village; 2 injured, 5 arrested,” Ynet, 17 January 2011).

The village is one of dozens of “unrecognized” villages inside the state of Israel. Residents of these villages do not receive basic services such as electricity, running water, safe roads, schools, clinics or transportation, and are regularly under attack by Israeli police and municipal bulldozers.

Al-Araqib was initially demolished on 27 July 2010, and has faced repeated demolition since then, the last time occurring three weeks ago on 23 December. Villagers and solidarity activists have been attacked and beaten during clashes with Israeli police during the multiple demolitions, and the people of al-Araqib have rebuilt their structures in the aftermath of each occurance.

Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament Talab al-Sana condemned the repeated demolitions of the village by the Israel Land Administration, and praised al-Araqib’s residents’ attachment to their land as “heroic determination and steadfastness,” according to the 16 January Ma’an report.

Following the last two days of demolition, Ynet reported that yesterday the Beersheba municipal court issued a temporary injunction to “stop all work” by the Israel Land Administration following a request by the villagers (“District court: temporary halt of work at Bedouin village,” 17 January 2011).

“The court ruled that because [the villagers of al-Araqib] fear the State will change the existing reality of the land in question, all work must be stopped temporarily,” Ynet reported. The issue will be “discussed” in court next week.

The Jewish National Fund (JNF), an Israeli land institution, has been a driving force behind the destruction of al-Araqib and many other Bedouin communities in the Negev.

The JNF plans to build a forest on village land, continuing a historic policy of cutting off indigenous populations from their land since Israel’s establishment in 1948.

As The Electronic Intifada has reported, international human rights organizations have condemned the repeated destruction of al-Araqib and Israel’s policies of violent dispossession of indigenous populations.

Meanwhile, Israeli municipal bulldozers razed a three-story home in the Palestinian city of Umm al-Fahem on 4 January, sparking the community to call for a general strike in protest, reported Palestinian news agency WAFA (“General strike in protest against demolition of house,” 5 January 2011 [Arabic]). Residents of Umm al-Fahem refused to go to work or attend school, and shops were closed all day on Wednesday, 5 January. Umm al-Fahm is located near Nazareth in the Galilee.

Israeli settlements expand

Finally, while many Israeli bulldozers are being used to destroy Palestinian homes and buildings, others are being put to work in massive settlement expansion projects in the occupied West Bank.

The Israeli government is set to approve the construction of 1,400 new housing units in the Gilo settlement colony, located near Bethlehem in the southern corner of occupied East Jerusalem, Gulf Daily News reported (“New settlements plan enrages Palestinians,” 17 January 2011).

The latest plan … is being promoted by the Jerusalem Development Authority, a joint corporation of the Israeli government and the Jerusalem municipality,” the paper reported.