Iyar 29, 5765
The Jerusalem Municipality
plans to demolish approximately 90 Arab homes that were built without
permits in Silwan (Kfar Hashiloah), south of the Old City's walls. The
homes constitute an entire neighborhood - known in Arabic as al-Bustan, in
Hebrew as Emek Hamelech, and in English as King's Valley - that is home to
some 1,000 residents. The story first broke in Haaretz a week ago, and
Deputy Interior Minister Ruhama Avraham said in response that while razing
the homes may indeed lead to unrest in East Jerusalem, "The government has
no intention of capitulating to law-breakers."
The government's policies regarding law-breakers in the field of construction could serve as the subject of lengthy discussions - for example, the construction of the illegal outposts that has gone on all the while, and still is, just three months after Talia Sasson filed her report. But the issue now is, first and foremost, the powder keg that will ignite in East Jerusalem, and also beyond the borders of the city in all likelihood - because everything that is done in Jerusalem reverberates loudly in the media and the political arena, and significantly affects Israel's relations with the Palestinians.
The plan to demolish these homes in particular is no coincidence. They lie on the outskirts of ancient Jerusalem - the City of David - which serves as a focus for takeovers by settlers from the Elad (the Hebrew acronym for "to the City of David") association. For years, the settlers have tried, with great success, to acquire Arab assets in the area and create a Jewish neighborhood there. According to building plans, the land is slated for the establishment of an urban, archaeological park with the ancient sites of the City of David at its center.
The Palestinians see this as part of a broader Israeli plan to get the Arabs out of the city, with some even terming it "a small transfer." They are holding protest actions at the site and trying to drum up international support.
The Jerusalem city engineer has explained that Mayor Uri Lupolianski is aware of the demolition plans, and supports them - not only because the aim is to establish a national park on the site, but also in light of the danger the Arab residents will face if the neighborhood is flooded by the waters of the Kidron stream during very rainy seasons.
Some of the facts are in dispute. Some homes in the neighborhood were built before 1967, and probably went through the approval processes of the Jordanian municipality. Others were built some seven or more years ago, and come under the statute of limitations; in other words, they cannot be demolished even if they were built without permits and their owners can only be charged with practicing illegal building.
Lupolianski's position is not cut and dried either. A few days ago, he hinted that he would consider the matter and make more specific decisions with regard to which of the homes, if any, will be razed.
The issue is, first and foremost, a political one. A decision by the mayor to demolish homes would undoubtedly cause a major uproar and constitute an obstacle in the face of the attempts to renew the peace process. This is the principal consideration that the mayor must take into account.