Why 88 Arab Homes May Get Eviction Notices

By Prusher, Ilene R | The Christian Science Monitor, February 26, 2009 | Go to article overview

Why 88 Arab Homes May Get Eviction Notices


Prusher, Ilene R, The Christian Science Monitor


Israel plans to demolish 88 homes in Silwan, a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem, to make way for a new archaeological park, adding new fuel the slow-burning dispute over Jerusalem.

A variety of neighborhood activists, Muslim leaders in Jerusalem, and even figures from the Palestinian Authority (PA) held a press conference Wednesday, saying that Israel was trying to minimize the Arab presence in this city claimed by both Palestinians and Jews as their capital. They say such a move amounts to ethnic cleansing.

"They have made a decision to clear out 88 houses, and with about three families living in each of these houses, we're looking at the eviction of about 1,500 people. But people in Silwan are clinging to their land and will not leave, despite the eviction orders," says Adnan Husseini, who is PA President Mahmoud Abbas's adviser on Jerusalem Affairs.

Israel's Jerusalem municipality, which has been mulling over this plan for four years, says that the homes were built without permits in an area not designated for residential use.

Though it remains unclear how quickly the municipality plans to proceed, the fact that their housing inspectors - escorted by border police - entered Silwan Sunday, surveying houses and photographing them, was enough evidence for locals that Israel is serious.

The new struggle over Silwan - and in particular a part of it called al-Bustan, or the Garden - comes at time so many other aspects of the conflict are in flux. Israel has yet to form a government following Feb. 10 elections, but a right-wing one, led by Likud leader Benajmin Netanyhau, is expected soon. Internal Palestinian politics are still in disarray, but Fatah and Hamas started reconciliation talks in Cairo Wednesday and Israel and Hamas are still far from a cease-fire deal.

It is as part of this backdrop, says analyst Mahdi Abdul Hadi, that Israel's move in Jerusalem is seen by Palestinians. "After Gaza, they realize they have the power to do whatever they want, and we won't be able to stop it, except for making statements and complaints," says Mr. Abdul Hadi, the head of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA.)

Silwan is considered an especially sensitive area because it lies just outside the Old City and is the Arab neighborhood closest to the Al Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam. It has already been a contested site, as Israeli ultranationalist groups have moved Jewish settlers into the area in recent years.

Whether or not to raze what is now a residential area and turn it into a tourist site may be one of the first big political tests for Nir Barkat, who was elected mayor last November. …

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