Demolition of "Shepherd's Hotel" in East Jerusalem starts

At 5am today (Sunday — the first day of the Israeli work week), Israeli demolition machines that look like large mechanical dinosaurs arrived at the site of the “Shepherd’s Hotel” in East Jerusalem.

Just over an hour later, these dinosaur-like machines began their work:

Hagit Ofran of Peace Now writes on her blog, Eyes on the Ground in East Jerusalem, that today’s move was the “demolition of hope”.

Haaretz says ownership of Shepherd’s Hotel in East Jerusalem is “contested”.

The property has stood vacant for years, as a behind-the-scenes struggle was waged over its fate. It is not far from the Hyatt Regency Hotel that Israel constructed in the nearby Mount Scopus neighborhood, where a main campus of Hebrew University is located, as well as the Hadassah-Mount Scopus Hospital.

The demolition of this “iconic” building — which Palestinian negotiator Sa’eb Erekat reminded us today was originally constructed in the 1930s as the family home of the then-Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and nationalist leader, Hajj Amin al-Husseini — will make way for “a major new Jewish settlement…backed by American settler financier Irving Moskowitz”, according to the report by Hagit Ofran.

She adds that it will be the first settlement construction since the June 1967 war in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood (north of the Old City of East Jerusalem).

Husseini was exiled by the British, who seized his house and turned it into a military base. In the 1948 fighting that surrounded the creation of the state of Israel in the former British Mandate of Palestine, the property was under the control of the Jordanians, who allowed a trustee for the Mufti’s estate to “rent” it to “hoteliers”, Sa’eb Erekat’s message said.

However, a Palestinian source in East Jerusalem previously recounted that the Farwaji family, which operated several hotels in East Jerusalem, acquired control of the property during the Jordanian administration, and operated it as the Shepherd’s Hotel. Upon the death of the principal member of the family, some of his heirs — his sisters — decided they could not keep up the Shepherd’s Hotel, and it was sold.

In 1984 or 1985, Irving Moskowitz reportedly bought it…

The Los Angeles Times reported (perhaps at least partly wrongly?) here that “Israel took control of the building in the 1980s on the grounds that it was absentee property, meaning the owner did not live in Jerusalem or was a member of an enemy state. It later sold it to Irving Moskovitch, an American multimillionaire and strong supporter of the Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem”.

The Guardian reported here that “His ownership is contested by the Husseini family”.

The Guardian story added that “A handful of settler supporters witnessed the demolition. Daniel Luria of Ateret Cohanim, a rightwing pro-settler organisation, said: ‘There is no more beautiful sound than the destruction of the house of a notorious, not just Nazi sympathiser, but Nazi’. Haj Amin al-Husseini was an ally of Hitler”.

The Jerusalem Post reported here that “The building received a construction permit from the municipality six months ago, the last stamp of approval needed before construction can begin. Construction was delayed for six months over a dispute with [AbdelQader?] a son of Faisal al-Husseini (1940-2001), a cousin of Haj Husseini and a former Palestinian Authority minister for Jerusalem affairs, who claimed that the family owned part of the parking lot that will serve as an entrance to the future complex. They lost the court case about a month ago, allowing Moskowitz to start demolishing the building”.

The JPost story added that “Moskowitz’s original plan included 100 apartments, but it was scrapped because it would have needed to go through a lengthy approval process by the Local and District Planning and Building committees. Since the plot had been zoned for up to 20 residential units under the a master plan for Sheikh Jarrah, by not exceeding the zoning plan Moskowitz was able to bypass the regular approval process, which includes approval from the Interior Ministry”.

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said: “this move contradicts the logic of a reasonable and necessary agreement between the parties on the status of Jerusalem. We believe that through good faith negotiations, the parties should mutually agree on an outcome that realizes the aspirations of both parties for Jerusalem, and safeguards its status for people around the world. Ultimately, the lack of a resolution to this conflict harms Israel, harms the Palestinians, and harms the U.S. and the international community”.

Earlier, the EU Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton issued a statement saying: “I strongly condemn this morning’s demolition of the Shepherd Hotel and the planned construction of a new illegal settlement. I reiterate that settlements are illegal under international law, undermine trust between the parties and constitute an obstacle to peace. Furthermore, we recall that East Jerusalem is part of occupied Palestinian territory; the EU does not recognise the annexation by Israel”.

And Jordan’s Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said “The demolition of Shepherd Hotel by Israeli settlement organizations in the Arab Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, which seek to impose new realities on the ground, runs counter to international law and the relevant UN resolutions”. He urged immediate international action.

Despite all the international comment, and all the local outrage, the site was quite quiet on Sunday evening. One — just one — police van was on stand-by across the street. And the two demolition machines were folded up like two great dinosaurs, sleeping on the front lawn… ready to resume work in the morning.

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