Silwan residents protest demolition plan

Municipality says homes slated to be pulled down in e. J'lem are on the site of an archeological park.

silwan anti demolition protest 248 88 (photo credit: AP)
silwan anti demolition protest 248 88
(photo credit: AP)
Fakhri Abu Diab of the east Jerusalem village of Silwan has spent every day of the last two weeks in a protest tent in an effort to prevent his home from being demolished. Abu Diab lives in one of at least 80 structures in a Silwan neighborhood called "Bustan" by Arab residents and King's Valley by the Jerusalem Municipality that have been slated for demolition since 2005. According to the municipality, the area - located atop the historic City of David, already the site of an archeological park - is zoned for "public recreational use" and most of the structures were built there illegally. The demolition orders were suspended and the residents were given the opportunity to submit an alternate zoning plan for the region, Abu Diab said. But the $80,000 plan, which the residents paid for, was rejected last month by the Interior Ministry's District Planning Commission. In recent weeks, municipal officials have visited the homes, inspecting and photographing some of the structures, sparking fears that more demolitions were imminent. "My biggest fear is that I will see my children without a home, on the street," Abu Diab said Thursday from the protest tent, which was decorated with signs in Arabic, Hebrew and English. "What worries me the most is that when they destroy the house, they don't only destroy the stones and the walls, they [will also] destroy life. They [will] destroy our future." On Thursday, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat's office issued a statement, affirming that "no new orders have been issued" in that area. However, there has been no change in the municipal position on this issue, the statement said. "The buildings are in the process or have been constructed in areas that are not zoned for residential use; it's zoned for recreational use," Stephan Miller, a spokesman for the mayor, said on Thursday. "It's a historic site to... Jews, Christians and Muslims. It has been an area of recreational use both under the Jordanians and the Turks." While no structures were demolished last week in Silwan, one building was demolished in nearby Jebl Mukaber on Sunday, Miller said. On Tuesday, demolition orders were pasted on five buildings still under construction and on Thursday, there were two demolition orders placed on two illegally built buildings in Abu Tor. The City of David is considered the original birthplace of the city of Jerusalem, where King David established his kingdom and united the people of Israel under his rule some 3,000 years ago. The City of David site has already yielded significant archeological finds, including a water tunnel that dates back to at least the First Temple era and most recently two seal impressions belonging to ministers of King Zedekiah. High-profile archeological digs there are conducted with funding from the Elad Foundation, a religious nationalist movement that calls for Jewish settlement and development in Silwan. In recent years, Elad has bought up land and homes from Arabs in the area and about 70 Jewish families now live there, a foundation official said. The Elad Foundation also runs the City of David visitor's center, which attracted 500,000 visitors in 2008. Doron Spielman, the group's international director of development, said the group's work had no bearing on the demolition orders. However, after the demolition orders were issued in 2005, city engineer Uri Sheetrit said the archeological park would be established "as soon as possible" once the homes were razed. Activists say the demolition orders were put on hold in 2005 because of international pressure over the issue. Some of the homes under the threat of demolition in Silwan were built before 1967, said Jimmy Johnson, international coordinator for the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. And many residents say they owned the land before 1967. "For Palestinians who don't have a document from the government of Jordan proving their land ownership, it's very difficult for them to get a building permit, even though they have a document from the Turkish mandate," Johnson said. "Jordan didn't have a proactive mechanism for registering land. The vast majority can't prove that they own the land, even if they've been there for 600 or 700 years." Palestinian and human rights activists say 88 residential structures, which include 115 homes housing some 1,500 residents, have received demolition notices in the Bustan neighborhood. They also say that hundreds of other structures in Silwan have been issued demolition orders since 1990. City officials insist they have no political designs and enforce building codes equally in eastern and western Jerusalem. Since January 1, 2009, there have been 28 demolitions, 11 in West Jerusalem and 17 in East Jerusalem, Miller said. Abu Diab said the government offered him the opportunity to relocate to Beit Hanina, but that he rejected the offer, because he didn't want to "take land" that belongs to other Arabs. In addition, he said, "my memories are here and the memories of my children are here." AP contributed to this report.