Delay in e. J'lem hotel demolition doesn't dampen criticism

By MELANIE LIDMAN
January 11, 2011 02:18

Clinton on Shepherd Hotel in Sheikh Jarrah: Disturbing development undermines peace efforts to achieve the two state-solution.




Demolition underway at e. J'lem Shepherd Hotel

Shepherd Hotel demolition 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

A temporary injunction against demolition work on the Shepherd Hotel in east Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood was rescinded by the courts on Monday afternoon – less than 24 hours after it was implemented – allowing bulldozers to continue demolishing the controversial building.

The demolition work, which began at dawn on Sunday morning, sparked strong denunciations from international leaders, including the European Union and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

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The hotel was built in the 1930s by Jerusalem grand mufti Hajj Amin al-Husseini, and operated as a hotel from 1967 until 1985, when it was purchased by California businessman Irving Moskowitz.

Moskowitz also bankrolls other controversial Jewish housing projects in east Jerusalem neighborhoods, like Silwan and the Old City’s Muslim Quarter.


Clinton expressed concern over the initiation of the hotel demolition.

“This disturbing development undermines peace efforts to achieve the two-state solution.

In particular, this move contradicts the logic of a reasonable and necessary agreement between the parties on the status of Jerusalem,” she said in a statement.

“We believe that through good faith negotiations, the parties should mutually agree on an outcome that realizes the aspirations of both parties for Jerusalem, and safeguards its status for people around the world,” she continued. “Ultimately, the lack of a resolution to this conflict harms Israel, harms the Palestinians, and harms the US and the international community.”

“The first obvious comment is, there is no peace process in any case, and the fact that politicians think there is a peace process… is just absurd,” Ateret Cohanim spokesman Daniel Luria told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. Ateret Cohanim has partnered with the Moskowitz family in supporting Jewish building projects in predominantly Arab neighborhoods.

In response to the international criticism over the demolition of the hotel, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement Monday saying the actions were being done by private citizens in accordance with Israeli law.

“The Israeli government had no connection to the events,” the statement said. “Israel should not be expected to forbid Jews from buying private property in Jerusalem. There is no democratic country in the world that would impose this type of restriction on Jews, and Israel should not be expected to do so.”

According to the statement, just as Arab residents of Jerusalem can buy and rent properties in Jerusalem neighborhoods with a Jewish majority, Jews, too, are eligible to buy and rent properties in neighborhoods with an Arab majority.

Descendents of the Husseini family are pursuing two separate court cases to halt further work on the property. The first court case was filed in February of last year in the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, and claims that the parcel of land facing the Mount of Olives road, which leads past the hotel, was incorrectly given absentee property status. Absentee property status means that in a census immediately following the Six Day War, the owners of a property were not present, and therefore the land was transferred to the State of Israel under the Absentee Property Law.

According to attorney Sami Khoury, who is representing the Husseini families, the land was owned by Faisal al-Husseini (1940-2001), a cousin of Hajj Amin al-Husseini and a former Palestinian Authority minister for Jerusalem affairs, who was a documented Jerusalem resident in 1967.

Khoury lost the case in the magistrate’s court about a month ago, and is now in the process of appealing to the Jerusalem District Court.

The district court has yet to hear the case involving Faisal al-Husseini’s parcel of land at the entrance of the hotel, but issued a temporary injunction against work on that part of the complex on Sunday afternoon.

Though the Shepherd Hotel does not sit on the land in question, the bulldozers needed to use the area in order to operate.

On Monday afternoon, the temporary injunction was canceled, and the two bulldozers at the scene continued removing the rubble. In the unlikely event that the Husseini family wins their case, they will be awarded compensation.

Khoury plans to file a separate appeal in the Supreme Court on Tuesday questioning the transaction through which the Shepherd property transferred from the State Custodian of Absentee Properties to Moskowitz, without any call for public tenders or additional bids for the property. Khoury said the files surrounding the transaction had disappeared.

“We do not have much hope, but we will try to do everything that we can,” said Khoury at a press conference on Monday in Sheikh Jarrah.

Meanwhile, smaller demolitions took place in the east Jerusalem neighborhoods of Silwan and Wadi Joz on Monday morning. A garage and a storage facility were knocked down in both neighborhoods, according to Jerusalem City Councillor Meir Margalit, a member of the opposition Meretz Party.

Small demolitions of uninhabited buildings are not as controversial as demolitions of houses where families are living, though Margalit said the number of demolitions in the past few months far exceeded anything he could remember in the past few years.

“I’ve never seen the [demolitions at the] beginning of the year done with such speed and so recklessly,” said Margalit.

Usually, he said, the city waits until after the budget is passed to determine how much money the city can spend on demolitions.

“I’m very concerned that this is symbolic of what is to come,” he added.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas met in Ramallah on Monday with the US consul-general in Jerusalem, Daniel Rubenstein, and complained to him about the demolition of Shepherd Hotel, a PA official said.

Abbas told the consul-general that Israel’s policy of settlements remained the major obstacle to peace, the official said.

PA representatives continued to express outrage over the demolition of the hotel and accused Israel of destroying the peace process.

Azzam al-Ahmed, a top Fatah official, said that Israel had once again proved that it did not want peace.

“Israel is calling for the resumption of the peace talks, but at the same time, they don’t want peace,” he said.

Ahmed also praised EU consuls- general who recommended that their governments recognize east Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state and consider imposing sanctions on Israel.

Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction said that the position of the consuls-general was a “practical step that expressed the strong will of the international community.”

This position is a clear message from the EU and the international community that they reject the policies of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Fatah said in a leaflet.

“Netanyahu is mistaken if he thinks that the Palestinian people don’t have options and alternatives backed by the international community.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also issued a statement on Monday deploring the demolition.

“It is deeply regrettable that growing international concern at unilateral expansion of illegal Israeli settlements is not being heeded. Such actions seriously prejudice the possibility of a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he said.

Herb Keinon and Khaled Abu Toameh contributed to this report.


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