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JERUSALEM – Under intense American pressure and following a nearly unprecedented behind-the-scenes U.S. campaign, the Israeli government has decided not to bulldoze Palestinians homes built illegally on Jewish-owned property in Jerusalem, WND has learned.
The issue is critical since the 80 homes in question are located in Silwan, an eastern Jerusalem neighborhood close to the Temple Mount and Jerusalem’s Old City that the Palestinians claim as a future capital. Jewish groups have been working to fortify the community’s Jewish presence. Silwan is adjacent to the City of David, a massive archeological dig just outside the Temple Mount that is constantly turning up Temple artifacts.
Like tens of thousands of other Arab housing projects throughout eastern Jerusalem, the Palestinian homes in Silwan were illegally constructed on property long ago purchased by Jews. The Israeli government ordered the structures’ legal demolition.
But during a visit here in early March, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton strongly protested the planned bulldozing.
“Clearly this kind of activity is unhelpful and not in keeping with the obligations entered into under the Road Map,” she said. “It is an issue that we intend to raise with the government of Israel and the government at the municipal level in Jerusalem.”
The Road Map calls for Israel to freeze Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank but does not bar Israel from dismantling illegally constructed Palestinian homes in Jerusalem.
WND has learned that in the weeks since Clinton’s visit here, the U.S. has mounted an intensive campaign lobbying the Israeli government against tearing down the illegal Palestinian homes in Silwan. The campaign included letters from the Middle East section of the State Department addressed to various Jerusalem municipalities, with copies of the letters sent to the offices of Israel’s prime minister and foreign minister. The letters called on Israel to allow the illegal Palestinian homes in Silwan to remain and stated any demolitions would not foster an atmosphere of peace.
The administration of incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was contacted, as well.
Also, in a follow-up visit here, State Department officials made it clear to their Israeli counterparts the U.S. opposes the Silwan bulldozing.
According to sources in the Israeli government, including in Netanyahu’s administration, a decision has been made not to bulldoze the illegal Palestinian homes. The sources said the issue of the homes may be raised again in the future, but for the time being the houses will remain in tact.
The sources attributed the decision against the bulldozing – which has not yet been announced – to the intense American campaign against the house demolitions.
Said one source in Netanyahu’s administration, “This was very frustrating to us. Can you imagine if a foreign government came in and told a city office in the U.S. not to tear down a house that was illegally constructed on someone else’s property?”
While Clinton opposed the Palestinian house demolitions, informed Israeli officials said the Obama administration is carefully monitoring Jewish construction in eastern Jerusalem and has already protested to the highest levels of Israeli government about evidence of housing expansion in those areas.
The officials, who spoke on condition that their names be withheld, said that last month Obama’s Mideast envoy, George Mitchell, oversaw the establishment of an apparatus based in the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem that closely monitors eastern Jerusalem neighborhoods, incorporating regular tours on a daily basis.
The officials said that in recent meetings Mitchell strongly protested Jewish construction in eastern Jerusalem. Mitchell also condemned the work of nationalist Jewish groups to purchase property in Jerusalem’s Old City, including in areas intimately tied to Judaism.
Israel recaptured eastern Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount – Judaism’s holiest site – during the 1967 Six Day War.
The Palestinians, however, have claimed eastern Jerusalem as a future capital. About 244,000 Arabs live in Jerusalem, mostly in eastern neighborhoods, out of a total population of 724,000, the majority Jewish.
U.S. helping Palestinians build in Jerusalem
A WND investigation last month determined the U.S. has been aiding the Palestinians in developing infrastructure in eastern Jerusalem, including on property owned by Jews.
The situation has been unfolding in the northern Jerusalem neighborhoods of Kfar Akeb, Qalandiya and Samir Amis, which are close to the Jewish neighborhoods of Neve Yaacov and Pisgat Zeev in Israel’s capital. Kfar Akeb, Qalandiya and Samir Amis are located entirely within the Jerusalem municipality.
Much of the property there is owned by private Jewish landowners or by the Jewish National Fund, a U.S. Jewish group that purchases land for the states purpose of Jewish settlement.
A tour of the three Jerusalem neighborhoods finds some surprising developments. Official PA logos and placards abound, including one glaring red street sign at the entrance to the neighborhoods warning Israelis to keep out.
Another official sign, in Kfar Akeb in Jerusalem, reads in English, “Ramallah-Jerusalem Road. This project is a gift form (sic) the American people to the Palestinian people in cooperation with the Palestinian Authority and PECDAR. 2007.” The sign bears the emblems of the American and PA governments and of the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID. The displays were not present during a previous WND tour of the neighborhoods in 2006.
Some local schools in the Jerusalem neighborhoods are officially run by the PA – some in conjunction with the U.N. – with many teachers drawing PA salaries. Civil disputes are usually settled not in Israeli courts but by the PA judicial system, although at times Israeli courts are used depending on the matter.
Councils governed by PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah organization oversee some municipal matters. USAID provides the PA funds for road and infrastructure projects.
Israeli security officials said the local Jerusalem police rarely operate in Kfar Akeb, Qalandiya and Samir Amis; instead security has been turned over to the Israel Defense Forces and Border Police, who work almost daily with PA security forces. The PA police operate in the Jerusalem neighborhoods in coordination with Israel.
Shmulik Ben Ruby, spokesman for the Jerusalem police, confirmed the arrangement.
“If there are fights between some local families, sometimes we involve the PA police to make peace between the families,” he told WND. “Yes, the PA police can operate in these neighborhoods in coordination with the IDF and Border Police.”
Jews barred from sections of Jerusalem
In another recent development, Israeli Jews, including local property owners, have been almost entirely barred from entering Kfar Akeb, Qalandiya and Samir Amis, while Israeli Arabs can freely enter.
Aryeh King, a nationalist activist who holds the power of attorney to some Kfar Akeb land owned by an Israeli Jew, told WND he was barred several times during the past few months from entering the neighborhood to administer to the land, upon which local Arabs illegally constructed apartments.
Police spokesman Ben Ruby explained this new arrangement is due to security concerns.
“It’s quite dangerous to be there alone, so if they don’t have to be there it’s not allowed, because they might find themselves in danger if they go in,” said Ben Ruby.
In 2002, in response to the outbreak one year earlier of the Palestinian intifada, or terrorist war against the Jewish state, the Israeli government constructed its security barrier blocking off the West Bank from Jewish population zones. The route of the fence also cut into northern and eastern Jerusalem, incorporating Kfar Akeb, Qalandiya and Samir Amis on the so-called Palestinian side.
Israel recaptured northern and eastern Jerusalem, including the Old City and the Temple Mount during the 1967 Six-Day War. The Palestinians, however, have claimed eastern Jerusalem as a future capital. About 244,000 Arabs live in Jerusalem, mostly in eastern neighborhoods, out of a total population of 724,000, the majority Jewish.
Jews lived in Kfar Akeb, Qalandiya and Samir Amis years before the establishment of Israel in 1948, but they were violently expelled during deadly Arab riots in 1929.
Jordan, together with other Arab countries, attacked Israel after its founding in 1948 and administered the three Jerusalem neighborhoods as well as all of eastern Jerusalem following an armistice agreement. In 1967, Jordan attacked again and Israel liberated the entire city of Jerusalem in the Six-Day War. During the period of Jordanian control, some new construction took place, including in areas previously purchased by Jews.
The recent barring of Jews from northern Jerusalem sections seems to coincide with an Israeli government decision the past year to allow the PA some presence in Jerusalem.
Last June, WND exclusively reported Prime Minister Ehud Olmert allowed the PA to hold an official meeting in Jerusalem to discuss dealing with expected Palestinian sovereignty over key sections of the city. Dmitri Ziliani, a spokesman for the Jerusalem section of PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party, confirmed to WND the meeting was related to the activities and structure of Fatah’s local command in some neighborhoods of Jerusalem.
“We were covering the best ways to improve our performance on the street and how we can be of service to the community,” Ziliani said.
Ziliani said the regular PA meetings in Jerusalem are, in part, held in anticipation of a future Palestinian state encompassing all of eastern Jerusalem.
“Our political program as Fatah dictates there will be no Palestinian state if these areas – all of east Jerusalem – are not included,” Ziliani told WND.
According to Israeli law, the PA cannot officially meet in Jerusalem. The PA previously maintained a de facto headquarters in Jerusalem, called Orient House, but the building was closed down by Israel in 2001 following a series of suicide bombings in Jerusalem. Israel said it had information indicating the House was used to plan and fund terrorism.
Thousands of documents and copies of bank certificates and checks captured by Israel from Orient House – including many documents obtained by WND – showed the offices were used to finance terrorism, including direct payments to the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terror group
U.S. Jewish group to blame for ‘division’ of Jerusalem?
Key land in Qalandiya and Kfar Akeb is owned by the Jewish National Fund, which over the years has allowed tens of thousands of Arabs to illegally squat on its land, resulting in the current Arab majority.
The Jewish National Fund, or JNF, purchased the land in the early 1920s using Jewish donor funds for the specific purpose of Jewish settlement.
The JNF lands have been utilized for the illegal construction of dozens of Arab apartment buildings, a refugee camp and a U.N. school.
A previous tour of Qalandiya and Kfar Akeb found dozens of Arab apartment complexes, a Palestinian refugee camp and a U.N. school for Palestinians constructed on the land.
According to officials in Israel’s Housing Ministry, Arabs first constructed facilities illegally in Qalandiya and Kfar Akeb between 1948 and 1967, prior to the 1967 Six-Day War during which Israel retook control of the entire city of Jerusalem.
Qalandiya, still owned by JNF, came under the management of the Israeli government’s Land Authority in the late 1960s.
Ministry officials say the bulk of illegal Arab construction in Qalandiya occurred in the past 20 years, with construction of several new Arab apartment complexes taking place in just the past two years.
Neither the Israeli government nor JNF took any concrete measures to stop the illegal building, which continues today with at least one apartment complex in Qalandiya under construction.
Land in another Jerusalem’ neighborhood, Shoafat, which has an estimated value of $3 million, was also purchased by JNF in the early 1900s and fell under the management of the Israel Land Authority about 40 years ago. Much of the illegal Arab construction in Shoafat took place in the past 15 years, with some apartment complexes built as late as 2004.
In Qalandiya and Shoafat, Israel’s security fence cordons off the Arab sections of the JNF lands from the rest of Jewish Jerusalem.
Internal JNF documents obtained by WND outline illegal Arab construction on the Jewish-owned land. A December 2000 survey of Qalandiya summarized on JNF stationery and signed by a JNF worker states, “In a lot of the plots I find Arabs are living and building illegally and also working the JNF land without permission.”
The JNF survey goes on to document illegal construction of Arab apartment complexes and the U.N. school under the property management of Israel’s Land Authority.