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Palestinian homes face demolition in Jerusalem
JERUSALEM: The Israeli municipality of Jerusalem is preparing to bulldoze an entire Palestinian neighbourhood in the city’s annexed Arab sector, igniting fury from local residents and the Palestinian prime minister.
Jerusalem’s municipal architect, Uri Shetrit, said the council was readying to destroy 88 homes, but the date had yet to be decided.
House destruction orders hang over 1,000 Palestinians living in Silwan, just outside the walls of the Old City.
If the bulldozers are called in, the operation will be one of the largest collective destruction operations of Palestinian houses in the Arab quarter of Jerusalem since it was occupied by Israel in 1967.
“The municipal architect’s decision to destroy these homes is purely political, because he is letting (Jewish) settlers build homes in the same sector,” said lawyer Muhannad Jbara, working to overturn the demolition orders.
In the midst of the protest, the office of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced that development plans to cement Israel’s control over Jerusalem would be submitted for government approval within days.
In Silwan - known to the Palestinians as Al-Bustan (the garden) and to Israelis as King’s Valley - councillors say the homes were built without permission and that they want to build a park in their place.
Shetrit said flattening the homes would “restore the area to its bygone landscape” and the “beginnings of Jerusalem 5,000 years ago”.
Residents of Silwan have erected a tent in the middle of the doomed neighbourhood as a beacon for protest where hundreds of Palestinians have flocked to express their solidarity.
Sanabel Shalodi, a 22-year-old mother, panics at the prospect of eviction. “I’m terrified because there’s nowhere else we can go in Jerusalem,” she says, sitting in her only too recently built house.
In the tent of protest, a map of the doomed homes - numbered one to 88 - has been hung up. Numbers 19 to 21 belong to the Abu Shamekh family.
“This house was built in 1972. My father was arrested and he paid a heavy fine for building without a permit,” said Khalil Abu Shamekh, prodding at one of the blobs on the map.
“Destroying these homes just promotes settlements. They want to shove 50,000 Palestinians from Silwan into exile,” he added.
Palestinian cartographer and settlement expert Khalil Tufakji maintains settlers have moved into 17 Silwan homes, supported by settler organisations and the Israeli government.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei has slammed plans that he says will see 200 families forced out of Silwan.
The decision “demonstrates the Israeli government’s determination to undermine (peace efforts), to Judaise Jerusalem and alter its religious, cultural and political identity”, he said.
Israel destroyed 343 Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem between 1999 and 2004, Israeli human rights association B’Tselem has said in a recent report.
Palestinians dream of making East Jerusalem the capital of their future state.
Since 1967, “the government of Israel’s primary goal in Jerusalem has been to create a demographic and geographic situation that will thwart any future attempt to challenge Israeli sovereignty over the city,” the report said.