JERUSALEM – While Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has the past few weeks directed large numbers of Israeli forces to demolish several isolated West Bank Jewish homes deemed illegal, a report newly released here charges Jerusalem’s city hall deleted files documenting hundreds of illegal Arab building projects throughout eastern sections of Jerusalem.
Aryeh King, chairman of the Jerusalem Forum, which promotes Jewish construction in Jerusalem, initiated a state investigation into the deletions, which allegedly took place while Olmert served as mayor of the city. He charged Olmert told senior municipal workers not to enforce a ban on illegal Arab buildings, allegedly saying to them eastern Jerusalem would one day be given to the Palestinians.
“Ehud Olmert gave the order not to deal with the problem and not to put Israeli security forces to the duty of taking down the illegal Arab complexes. Senior municipal workers told me Olmert said not to bother with the illegal Arab homes because eventually eastern Jerusalem would be given to the Palestinian Authority,” said King.
The state comptroller was asked to investigate the situation following the publication of a local media report alleging Jerusalem municipal officials erased the files, which detail over 300 cases of Arab construction in eastern Jerusalem deemed illegal starting from 1999. The illegal buildings were reportedly constructed without permits and are still standing. According to law, they must be demolished.
The media report alleged the files were erased by Ofir May, the head of Jerusalem’s Department of Building Permits, with the specific intention of allowing the statute of limitation on enforcing the demolitions of the illegal construction to run out.
King’s group asked the comptroller to probe Olmert’s and other government officials’ involvement in the alleged file deletions. Olmert was Jerusalem mayor from 1993 to 2003.
The Jerusalem municipality released a statement in response to the allegations claiming the threat of Arab violence kept it from bulldozing the illegal Arab homes.
“During the years of the intifada, the municipality had difficulty carrying out the necessary level of enforcement in the neighborhoods of eastern Jerusalem due to security constraints,” the statement read.
King said the hundreds of buildings allegedly detailed in the deleted municipal files house more than 20,000 illegal units.
“We’re talking about perhaps 100,000 or more Arabs in eastern Jerusalem living in illegal homes with the government doing nothing about it,” King said.
While the Jerusalem municipality under Olmert’s mayoral administration did not clamp down on illegal Arab construction, the acting prime minister the past few weeks has directed security forces to bulldoze Jewish homes in the West Bank also deemed illegal for lack of building permits.
Several weeks ago, Olmert ordered more than 1,500 Israeli Defense Force soldiers and Israeli police officers to bulldoze nine homes in the West Bank community of Amona after the court system ruled the houses were constructed without a permit.
The government said the homes could be rebuilt at a later date in the same community if the construction is coordinated with the Ministry of Defense. But Olmert ordered the demolitions be carried out immediately and instructed the military to use “all force necessary.”
During the bulldozings, horse-mounted police, water cannons and specially trained riot officers faced off against hundreds of protesters who massed in Amona in hopes of halting the efforts.
Israeli television broadcast live footage of demonstrators, including women and children, being dragged and beaten by soldiers. Teenagers with bloody noses and head wounds were seen being removed from the scene. Police were videotaped using batons and gas canisters to clear the area of demonstrators. Some protesters were seen throwing rocks and paint at security forces.
After more than 100,000 Israelis gathered in Jerusalem to protest against the violence at Amona, the government established a special Knesset commission to investigate whether excessive force was used in enforcing the Amona evictions.
Olmert the past few weeks also directed Israeli forces to tear down Chazon David, a small community consisting of a synagogue and several mobile units near the West Bank town of Hebron, home to the oldest Jewish community in the world.
Prior to that, Olmert enforced the eviction of 11 families from a Jewish-owned market within Hebron’s Jewish community because the families reportedly moved in without government permission.
Some Israeli commentators have been questioning the timing of the orders to demolish the Jewish West Bank homes, which came as Olmert begins to launch Kadima’s political campaign. The commentators say Olmert will need to demonstrate he is capable of carrying out the policies of Kadima in absence of its founder, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who remains comatose in a Jerusalem hospital following a severe stroke.
Many Kadima members have stated the new party is looking to change Israel’s borders.
Olmert has announced his administration will seek to withdrawal from most of the West Bank, and has previously made statements to reporters about the possibility of vacating certain peripheral areas of Jerusalem.
Israeli Nationalist lawmaker Benny Elon accused Olmert of using the recent West Bank Jewish evictions for votes:
“Olmert is not a military man. He doesn’t have a strong defense background like [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon, who everyone knows can get tough,” Elon said. “So Olmert’s public relations people told him he needs to act macho against the settlers ahead of the elections to prove to them he can push through what the extreme leftists want, a West Bank evacuation.”