Bulldozers razed a big chunk of the Shepherd Hotel in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah early morning Sunday to make way for a new residential complex for Jews (a.k.a settlement).
The Shepherd Hotel was owned by Jerusalem Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini until 1967, when Israel expropriated it under the Absentee Property Law (Read more about this law here). In 1985 the property was sold to a company owned by American Jewish billionaire Irving Moskowitz, notorious for his support of Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem and specifically of the extremist Ateret Cohanim group, responsible for most of the Jewish settlement in the Old City’s Muslim Quarter and the Beit Yonatan building in Silwan.
Here is footage of the demolition from this morning:
Plans to build on the site were approved by the relevant Israeli planning committees in July 2009 and final permits were issued in March of this year. It is not clear why the bulldozers were ordered to demolish today of all days and there may not be any specific reason, however considering that all media in the US is focused on the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, it is not implausible to deduce that the timing was chosen so that it would not get much attention in the US.
At a protest quickly organized by Israeli activists this afternoon, protestors expressed their objection to Jewish settlement in Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, reiterating the slogans said at the weekly Friday protests. Although in the case of the Shepherd Hotel, it is not legal court orders regarding pre-1948 ownership but rather business ventures that have led to Jewish settlement in the area, in both cases there is a clear political agenda to populate the area with as many Jews as possible in order to unilaterally determine its character and prevent it from ever becoming part of a future Palestinian capital.
The unwillingness of the Israeli government to step in and stop construction in the interest of public peace, security, morality (and a little thing called its stated commitment to a two-state solution) is yet another example of the gap between the Israeli government’s rhetoric and actions, as well as its explicit endorsement of extremist settler movements in East Jerusalem.
There was actually a lot of press at the relatively small protest, including a reporter from Fox News who interviewed me. When I asked him when it would be aired, he said he had no idea since all the media in the US would be busy with the Arizona shooting incident. The timing of this demolition may not be coincidental after all.