Sur Bahir building tentatively approved

Municipality may allow new construction; Israel prepares to seal homes of east Jerusalem terrorists.

dwayat house 224.88 (photo credit: )
dwayat house 224.88
(photo credit: )
As the government prepares to seal the homes of two Arab residents of east Jerusalem who carried out back-to-back attacks in the city, the Jerusalem Municipality continues to plan new construction for Arab neighborhoods of east Jerusalem, including in the very neighborhood the bulldozer attacker came from, officials said Sunday. The city proposals and building plans are moving ahead despite growing uneasiness over the role of Jerusalem's Arab residents in terrorism, and amid increasingly open questions about the government's policy toward Jerusalem's 250,000 Arab residents, who make up about one-third of the city's total population. Last week, the Jerusalem municipality gave preliminary approval to the construction of several hundred apartments in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sur Bahir, home of 30-year-old Hussam Dwayat, who killed three Israelis on Wednesday, a city councilor said. "So long as Israel has the authority over these areas she is obligated to develop these areas," said Jerusalem city councilman Pepe Alalo of the far-left Meretz Party, "otherwise it will only promote hatred and be a disaster for both Palestinians and Israelis." The tentative approval for the building in the neighborhood came two days before the bulldozer attack, said Alalo, who sits on the city's planning and building committee. The building plan - not expected to be rescinded due to the attack - calls for the construction of nearly 500 units in the neighborhood, he said. In all, the city is planning the construction of 10,000 apartments throughout east Jerusalem over the next decade, including housing for both Arabs and Jews, amid a severe housing crunch in the city, the municipality said. Palestinians and left-wing Israelis routinely complain that it is difficult for Arab residents of east Jerusalem to attain building permits in the city, forcing them to build illegally. The Jerusalem municipality insists that it enforces building codes equally throughout the city. Dwayat himself was the owner of an illegally-constructed home which was slated for demolition three years ago. A court stay prevented the house from being razed by the city, and the municipality made do with a court-ordered monetary fine. Last week, Vice Premier Haim Ramon of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's governing Kadima Party suggested that Israel should cut off the two Arab neighborhoods from which the last two terror attacks in the city originated from the rest of Jerusalem, and reroute the separation barrier to place them on the Palestinian side. His remarks contradicted longstanding Israeli government policy to erect the barrier on the outskirts of the city so as not to create a de-facto division the city. Likud opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said that ceding any Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem to the Palestinians would only bring Hamas closer to the capital, and escalate terrorism. Meanwhile, an autopsy had been scheduled to be performed Sunday on the body of the attacker, Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said. He said that was "standard procedure" following such attacks, and that the body would subsequently be handed over to the family for burial. Meanwhile, a group of 30 men sat outside the Dwayat home in Sur Bahir on Sunday, as an atmosphere of uncertainty hung in the air over whether the government would follow through with its pledges to destroy - or seal off - the home. The men also expressed a fear of vigilante reprisals from far-right activists who had gathered in protest at the entrance to the neighborhood earlier in the day. "We're not sure if they'll come up here, 50 of them or 100 of them, and do something violent," Sur Bahir's mukhtar, Zohair Hamdan told The Jerusalem Post. "There's no telling what that could lead to, but nobody here wants anything like that to happen." Hamdan also said that as neighborhood chief he understood that he had a week to try and persuade the government to leave the home standing. "His family is still living there," Hamdan said. "This will affect people who had nothing to do with [the attack]." But the activists who had arrived at Sur Bahir earlier on Sunday, pledged to avenge those who had been brutally murdered by a man who seemed intent on nothing but taking the lives of innocents. Standing amongst a group of men holding signs that read, "Destroy the home" and "We want revenge", far-right activist Itamar Ben-Gvir said that if the government were to make the decision not to destroy the home, "someone else would." Baruch Marzel, another activist who had been at the protest on Sunday said that the demonstration had been hampered by police, who had detained some of his men before they even reached the site of the demonstration. "Even though we had a permit, the police didn't let us protest in the place we had wanted to,' Marzel said. "We have to make a stand," Marzel continued. "Even though it's not every day that things like that happen, that kind of hatred, that they're ready to take a tractor and smash a woman with her children, we have to make stand against it." Marzel argued that the freedom of movement granted to Arab residents of east Jerusalem was exceedingly dangerous. "If Al Qaeda was operating in Washington D.C., the capital of America, I'm sure the Americans would do something about it," Marzel said. "Well, we have Al Qaeda in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, and we're not doing anything about it." "This is a time bomb that is going to erupt, and the way the country is trying to sweep the problem under the carpet, and tell everybody that nothing happened, we can't accept it."