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Jerusalem Park Plan Imperils Arab Homes

The World

Dozens of houses called illegal would be razed to make way for a project on Jewish history.

June 07, 2005|Laura King | Times Staff Writer

"The Israeli judge told us, 'You are not on trial here, but your house is,' " said Ahmed Jalajel, Hashem's eldest son, whose home is targeted. "Who ever heard of such a thing?"

Israeli human rights groups, left-wing lawmakers and peace activists are trying to block the demolitions. They have set up a protest tent in Silwan where activists gather daily, distributing maps and pamphlets and offering neighborhood tours.

"It's a very, very dangerous proposal," said Meir Margalit, a former Jerusalem city councilman who is helping lead the opposition. "In addition to putting 1,000 people out of their homes, we believe the aim, ultimately, is to deny Palestinians access to what will be their capital. And that would undermine any future Mideast peace solution."

Margalit said he hoped that a combination of Western diplomatic pressure and legal strategy would derail the plan.

"We know the courts are very uncomfortable with the statute being cited by the city -- it's old and obscure," he said.

In issuing the demolition orders, Shetrit cited a 1974 zoning regulation declaring the area an open parkland in which no building was permitted. But residents say many of the targeted structures predate the statute. Israeli media quoted Shetrit as telling his staff in a letter last year that the aim was to restore the "primordial landscape" of Silwan.

Sharon's government weighed in when opponents of the plan brought it up for debate in the Knesset, or parliament, last week. Deputy Interior Minister Ruhama Avraham told lawmakers that the demolitions might cause "disgruntlement" in East Jerusalem, but added that it was "impossible that the state of Israel refrain from addressing such violations of the law."

Jamal Zahalka, an Israeli Arab member of the Knesset, warned that moving ahead with the demolitions could trigger an explosion of violence. "It's a declaration of war," he said.

At the protest tent, 35-year-old Mohammed Qadi, from an old Silwan family, said they had tried to keep the news from his 90-year-old grandmother, but that an acquaintance had let slip that their home was on the demolition list.

"She said, 'Let them try, but I'll never leave this place,' " he said. "That's how we all feel -- that this will happen, literally, over our dead bodies."

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