Demolition of the Shepherd Hotel, in east Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah
neighborhood, began at dawn on Sunday.
It came after a long battle over
construction rights that drew condemnation from US President Barack Obama and
other leaders around the world over the past few years.
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The hotel, which
was built in the 1930s by the mufti of Jerusalem Haj Muhammad Amin al-Husseini
(1921- 1948), was bought in 1985 by American millionaire Irving Moskowitz, who
has bankrolled other Jewish housing projects in Arab neighborhoods in the
capital. Moskowitz, partnering with the Ateret Cohanim organization,
plans to turn the complex into 20 apartments for religious Jewish
The building received a construction permit from the
municipality six months ago, the last stamp of approval needed before
construction can begin.
Construction was delayed for six months over a
dispute with a son of Faisal al-Husseini (1940-2001), a cousin of Haj Husseini
and a former Palestinian Authority minister for Jerusalem affairs, who claimed
that the family owned part of the parking lot that will serve as an entrance to
the future complex. They lost the court case about a month ago, allowing
Moskowitz to start demolishing the building.
On Sunday, only the right
side of the building was demolished. Because of its historical value, the façade
of the left part will be remain intact.
The first bulldozers arrived
around 5 a.m.; by noon the right half of the four-story structure was a pile of rubble.
“It’s not just a disgrace
against the owners, it’s a disgrace against history,” said Adnan Abdul Razeh, a
resident of Bab e-Zahara, a neighborhood south of Sheikh Jarrah. His wife was a
niece of Haj Husseini.
“They’re trying to erase this, but it will stay in
people’s minds, they can’t erase a whole nation. No imperial power has ever
stayed in Jerusalem, not the Ottomans, not the British, and not
Chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat condemned the
project. “As long as this government continues with settlement and acts
such as the demolition of the Shepherd Hotel there will be no negotiations,”
Erekat accused Israel of conducting a policy of “ethnic
cleansing” against Arabs in Jerusalem.
“Israel is demolishing Palestinian
buildings one after the other in an attempt to ethnically cleanse Jerusalem from
its Palestinian inhabitants, culture and history,” he said. “Israel is targeting
east Jerusalem in general and Sheikh Jarrah in particular through a fierce
campaign to expel Palestinian residents from their homes and replace them with
Erekat said such actions, which he dubbed illegal, were
designed to undermine the two-state solution and the peace talks.
Councilor Elisha Peleg (Likud), who sits on the Local Planning and Construction
Committee that gave the plan the building permit half a year ago, defended the
Jewish right to build in east Jerusalem.
“It’s a very simple thing,
people are just trying to make a provocation,” Peleg told The Jerusalem Post at
the demolition site on Sunday. For several hours he was a lone voice defending
the construction against an angry crowd of Arab activists and
“Jews building in Jerusalem is routine. Arabs are
building all the time in east Jerusalem, and no one comes to photograph them,”
Around 50 left-wing activists, mobilized by the Sheikh Jarrah
Solidarity Movement, protested the demolition at the site on Sunday afternoon.
The Solidarity Movement has also organized weekly protests in the neighborhood
to protest the eviction of three Arab families from Jewish-owned
Resident Nasser Ghawi, who was evicted in August 2009, said
he expects the hotel to become a new focal point for protests.
magnificent, this is beautiful,” Ateret Cohanim spokesman Danny Luria said,
watching the dust rise from the bulldozers and passing out pamphlets
highlighting Haj Husseini’s connection to the Nazis and to the death of
thousands of Jews in pogroms that he encouraged.
“Call it poetic justice,
call it historic justice, this is something special... The symbolism of
destruction of the house of a Nazi is rather unique,” Luria
Moskowitz’s original plan included 100 apartments, but it was
scrapped because it would have needed to go through a lengthy approval process
by the Local and District Planning and Building committees.
plot had been zoned for up to 20 residential units under the a master plan for
Sheikh Jarrah, by not exceeding the zoning plan Moskowitz was able to bypass the
regular approval process, which includes approval from the Interior
Nabil Abu Rudaineh, a spokesman for PA President Mahmoud Abbas,
said Israel had no right to build in any part of east Jerusalem or the
Palestinian territories that were captured in 1967.
By demolishing the
hotel, Israel had destroyed all US efforts to revive the peace process, Abu
Rudaineh. The Obama administration should put an end to Israel’s practices if it
wanted to maintain its credibility, he said.
The PA was determined to
seek a UN Security Council resolution condemning construction in the
settlements, he said. Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior PLO official and
adviser to Abbas, said the razing of the hotel would have “grave repercussions”
for the region.
“The actions of this Israeli government prove that it
does not want peace,” he said. “Israel is only interested in creating new facts
on the ground.”
Abed Rabbo too said that the demolition of the hotel
would accelerate the PA’s plan to seek a Security Council resolution condemning
The PA-appointed mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Muhammad
Ahmad Hussein, said that the demolition of the historic hotel was in the context
of Israel’s “arbitrary actions to Judaize Jerusalem and wipe out its Arab and
Earlier, PA negotiator Nabil Shaath said Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu did not want peace.
“Netanyahu is a dangerous
man,” Shaath said. “He doesn’t want peace and stability in the region. He
doesn’t want the Palestinians to have their own independent state.”
first condemned the Shepherd Hotel project in July 2009, followed by similar
complaints from Britain, France, Germany, Sweden and Russia.
Embassy condemned the demolition anew on Sunday.
“The British government
reaffirms its strong, long-standing opposition to the creation of this new
illegal settlement in occupied east Jerusalem and condemns today’s demolition in
Sheikh Jarrah. The establishment and expansion of settlements in the occupied
Palestinian territories are illegal,” said Alistair Burt, minister for the
Middle East and South Asia.
“This latest settlement activity does not
help – on the contrary, it raises tensions unnecessarily.”
Consulate in east Jerusalem is next to the Shepherd Hotel
Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief,
said, “I strongly condemn this morning’s demolition of the Shepherd Hotel and
the planned construction of a new illegal settlement. I reiterate that
settlements are illegal under international law, undermine trust between the
parties and constitute an obstacle to peace.”
Herb Keinon and AP
contributed to this report.