Graffiti at Beit Hanina.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Hours after the Jerusalem Municipality announced immediate plans to demolish 14 east Jerusalem Arab residential structures housing 40 families, left-wing officials and activists on Thursday denounced the move as “calculated” by the mayor to curry favor in Likud.
Citing the High Court’s ruling against Jews living in Amona, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat on Wednesday night called for the demolition of the Beit Hanina homes, which the court ruled are situated on private Jewish land managed by the administrator- general of the state.
“[The municipality is] committed to acting according to the rule of law for Jews and Arabs,” Barkat said in a statement, adding that the municipality’s legal adviser requested that the court carry out immediate execution of the judicial demolition orders.
Moreover, Barkat said the Amona ruling clears the way for carrying out hundreds of similar demolitions against Arab residents living in illegal east Jerusalem homes.
“Our hands are now tied, and [the ruling] had to reach Jerusalem,” the mayor said. “There is not one law for Jews and another law for Arabs.”
On Thursday, Lior Amihai, head of Peace Now’s Settlement Watch, dismissed Barkat’s move as cynical and irresponsible.
“It’s a cynical procedure being carried out by the mayor of Jerusalem,” he said. “If there is any legal case, he should not use his political power to support and promote the demolition of homes of residents of his city.”
Amihai contended that there is no “parallel” between the court’s Amona ruling and Arabs living in east Jerusalem.
“In Amona, you have citizens of the occupying power of Israel who established their homes on private Palestinian land, while in Jerusalem you have 300,000 residents of the city who are being discriminated against over 50 years of Israeli rule over them,” he claimed.
“The municipality has only established 700 housing units for them, and clearly they don’t have places to develop and grow and this is why they are in this situation, which is in complete contrast to the settlers in the West Bank.”
Dr. Meir Margalit, a former Meretz city councilman and head of the capital’s east Jerusalem portfolio who maintains close ties with the PA’s leadership, echoed Amihai’s sentiments, adding that Barkat is attempting to garner votes for a future leadership role in Likud.
“I have to say that this is a political scheme to get support from voters in the Likud,” said Margalit. “The members of Likud like people who are strong against the Palestinians, so he thinks this will bring him political benefits for national office [after he leaves his post as mayor].”
Nonetheless, Margalit claimed that Barkat knows the demolition orders will be “impossible to carry out.”
“He knows this is something that will not happen, but he must say it in order to get supporters,” said Margalit.
“What I would say to him if he really wants to save the Amona houses, is: ‘I have an agreement to make with you. We, on the Left, can convince the Palestinian owners of the Amona land to give up their demands, if you will not demolish any more houses in east Jerusalem.’”
For his part, Barkat has long contended that there have been more demolitions in the western portion of the city than the eastern over the past three years, with the overall citywide percentage of demolitions decreasing in east Jerusalem since last year.
“Contrary to the claims raised, demolitions in the eastern part of the city as a percentage of citywide zoning enforcement have decreased compared to previous years,” Barkat said.
Moreover, the municipality has denied often repeated claims that it restricts building permits within the Arab sector, claiming that “Jerusalem is a unified city, and all residents are entitled to live wherever they choose, as long as they do so in accordance with the law.”
“The city does not discriminate based on race, religion, or gender in the granting of building permits or in zoning-regulation enforcement,” Barkat said. “The municipality will continue to enforce the law equally in all parts of the city, preserving public areas for the benefit of local communities.”
It remains unclear if, or when, the Beit Hanina demolitions will be carried out.