E J'lem hotel construction begins

Sheikh Jarrah construction started despite tensions in Silwan.

West Bank construction work [illustrative] (photo credit: AP)
West Bank construction work [illustrative]
(photo credit: AP)
Despite heightened tensions in east Jerusalem regarding the municipal approval last week of a redevelopment plan involving 22 house demolitions in the El-Bustan section of the Silwan neighborhood, construction began this week on an unrelated project some three kilometers away at the Shepherd's Hotel compound in Sheikh Jarrah. 
While the project is not a municipal initiative and is instead being advanced by US businessman Irving Moskowitz, a private investor, the plan for the Shepherd's Hotel – namely to convert the building, which was once used as a villa by Haj Amin al-Husseini, into 20 new housing units for Jewish residents – has in the past drawn criticism from the US, which has made clear its opposition to further Israeli construction in the eastern neighborhoods of the capital.
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Furthermore, the start of construction at the site, together with other controversial building initiatives that have recently been advanced throughout east Jerusalem, may serve to cloud Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu's upcoming visit to the US, where he is scheduled to meet with President Barack Obama.
At the Shepherd's Hotel on Monday, a vehicle performing geo-technical engineering tests at the site was visible in the parking lot of the fenced-off compound, where it was drilling large rods into the ground.
"This is the second day we've been out here," one of the workers told the Jerusalem Post.
"This is the first step, we're performing different tests in the soil," he said. "No other work has begun inside the compound itself."
Nonetheless, the start of construction has already drawn criticism in Israel where Peace Now, which released a statement on Sunday regarding the plan, said that "the mayor of Jerusalem and his right-wing partners are continuing to determine facts on the ground and harm Israel's political status."
"Netanyahu must order [Jerusalem Mayor Nir] Barkat to stop the construction in Sheikh Jarrah immediately," the statement said.
In response, Stephan Miller, a spokesman for Mayor Barkat told the Post on Monday that the Shepherd's Hotel investors had received final approval for the plan in March, and after finalizing their payments to the municipality for the proper building permits, it was up to the investors as to when and where they would start construction.
"There's nothing new here," Miller said. "The investors presented their plan [to the municipality] in July 2009, they received final approval in March of this year, and after paying the final fee to municipality, any private resident, citizen or contractor can begin to build whenever they want."
"Once any construction project in the city of Jerusalem has completed the permit process and paid all relevant fees to the municipality, it can begin construction, irrelevant of the race, religion, creed and gender," he added.
The Shepherd's Hotel was built in the 1930s by Husseini, who at the time was the the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, and who is infamous for his collaboration with Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime.
Husseini, who was wanted by the British authorities for inciting violence, fled what was then British Mandate Palestine in 1937, and the Shepherd's Hotel was confiscated by the British. After 1948, the area and properties within it came under control of Jordan, and Israel took control of the property following the Six-Day War in 1967.
In 1985, the building was sold to Moskowitz and building permits were then requested for the construction of 20 apartments on the property.