DTN News: Tensions Flare Again As Israel Proposes To Expand Settlements
Defense News: DTN News: Tensions Flare Again As Israel Proposes To Expand Settlements
Source: DTN News / Economist.com
(NSI News Source Info) JERUSALEM, Israel - July 5, 2010:
IT SOUNDS straightforward enough. In the words of Stephan Miller, spokesman for Jerusalem city: “Once any construction project in the city of Jerusalem has completed the permit process…it can begin construction, irrelevant of race, religion, creed and gender.” But there is the rub. Race, religion, creed and sometimes even gender are supremely relevant if the Holy City, a complex web of separate Jewish and Arab districts, is ever to be divided peaceably into the capitals of two states, Israel and Palestine.
A series of Jewish settlement-projects inside Arab districts of East Jerusalem threaten to exacerbate tensions in the city. But the mayor, Nir Barkat, seems determined to push them forward regardless. The prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, due to meet President Barack Obama in Washington on July 6th, has been embarrassed by Jerusalem’s building plans before. But his attempts to stop or at least defer them are sporadic. His critics say they are half-hearted, too, because ideologically the prime minister sympathises with the settlers. Indeed, Mr Netanyahu’s aides point out that, though subscribing since last year to the “two-state solution”, he has never accepted that Jerusalem need be divided, or that part of it should be the Palestinians’ capital.
Mr Miller was referring to the old Shepherd’s Hotel in the Arab district of Sheikh Jarrah, a long-empty building that a Jewish-American developer has bought and proposes to turn into apartments for Jewish settlers. Work began at the site this week, under the protection of armed civilian guards. Another Jewish building project in the same district requires the eviction of 28 Palestinian families, many of whom have been living there for more than 50 years. Israeli Jews and local Palestinians now protest there, relatively peacefully, each week.
However, bullet-marked walls and damaged cars attested this week to the much less peaceful activity around another chain of Jewish settlement-sites, deep within the steep, winding lanes of the Arab district of Silwan which sprawls beneath the Old City walls to the south. Palestinian residents described how on June 27th police charged through Silwan’s narrow thoroughfares firing tear-gas grenades through windows and doors, choking people inside their homes. They produced the spent canisters as evidence. Much more seriously, they exhibited cartridge cases of live ammunition, claiming that the civilian employees of private-guard companies fired in the air in response to stone-throwing by Palestinian youths.
In the nights that followed, police raided the district and carted off teenagers, some as young as 12, on suspicion of stone-throwing. Sucking ice-creams in the hot, dusty alleys in the morning, the youngsters looked no worse for their night inside, though some said they were slapped and all asserted proudly that they were shouted at and threatened by the policemen.
Staying put in Silwan
The trouble-spots that sparked this week’s violence are a 12-flat settler apartment block called Beit Yonatan, which the Israeli Supreme Court has ordered evacuated and sealed off because it was built illegally, and, nearby, a Palestinian apartment block that was once a synagogue. Jewish settlers are demanding that the Palestinian families leave, as the building is owned by Jews. Uri Ariel, a Knesset member, says if the police do not oust the families he will do so himself on July 4th. Police units are deploying around the district in preparation for what threatens to be another violent Sunday.
Silwan is also the site of a large and controversial building plan adopted last week by the municipality’s planning committee. Mr Barkat proposes a $50m park-and-tourism complex for the valley of Silwan. It would be called the King’s Garden, and would extend from a popular archaeological site known as the City of David, opposite the Old City walls, to form a national park in honour of the biblical king.
The project will mean demolishing 22 Palestinian homes, built illegally over the past two decades, and moving the residents to new homes nearby. In an effort, so far unsuccessful, to win local consent, the mayor is offering retroactive building licences for another 60-odd homes in the area, also built illegally. But local people are not tempted. They say the illegal building is the result of decades of Israeli refusals to grant building licences to Palestinians. And they do not wish to celebrate King David’s life and legend. The mayor holds out to them the prospect of a better, greener life in Silwan; but they see his scheme as yet more “Judaisation” of the Holy City.