Why 88 Arab homes received eviction notices
Israel has plans to demolish Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem to make way for a tourist site. Activists say it's a demographic play that amounts to ethnic cleansing.
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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.Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Barkat issued a statement Tuesday saying that no "new plans" were under way. Indeed, plans to clear out the houses to make way for an archaeological park were raised four years ago, but amid international criticism the last Jerusalem mayor shelved the plans and invited the residents to come up with their own plan for the future of the neighborhood. It was rejected last week by a city committee.
"Illegal construction is illegal construction, no matter where it is," Barkat said in the statement released by his office, declining to take direct calls from the media.
Barkat called the neighborhood Emek HaMelech, Hebrew for "Valley of the King." There is already an Israeli-run City of David site in Silwan, which houses both an archaeological center and settlers. The Jewish settlers say they are living on the land that was King David's Jerusalem of 3,000 years ago.
"The area of Emek HaMelech is one of the most important areas with regards to the history of Jerusalem, with holy sites important to Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike. Because of its significant important to more than 3 billion people of faith around the world, it is also a tourist destination."
The issue began to surface again two weeks ago, when Yakir Segev, head of East Jerusalem affairs for the Jerusalem municipality, called a meeting of the owners of the Silwan houses in question. About 100 people came, says resident Fakhri Abu Diab, one among them. They were told they had a choice: Either you agree to leave in return for a house elsewhere, or face eviction by force.
"People got very upset by what they heard," says Mr. Abu Diab. "Our house has been our house since my grandfather's day, and my children were born there. You cannot replace that."
Khalil Tufakji, the leading cartographer of Palestinian Jerusalemite neighborhoods, says the planned move is part of an overall Israel concern to stop a losing demographic battle in Jerusalem. "Nir Barkat said in his election campaign for mayor, and said now, that the conflict for Jerusalem will be a demographic one."
Mr. Segev, of the Jerusalem municipality, says the issue was being blown out of proportion for political purposes, and that there was no unified plan to demolish the homes in the immediate future.
The demolition orders had indeed been issued by the municipality, he says, but each case would go to court and would be decided individually. "Destroying these 88 houses is not going to tilt the geographic balance," Segev says. "The Jordanians and even the Turks before them marked this place as a green area. It's not like the Israelis came and said so."