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Mideast Peace May Rest on the Future of 88 Houses

Tensions mount as Israel continues to force Palestinians out of their homes -- an act that violates a host of UN resolutions.
 
 
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SILWAN, Occupied East Jerusalem, Jul 5, 2010 (IPS) - Frequent clashes and continuing tension in disputed East Jerusalem could portend a major outbreak of civil unrest, residents fear.

Confrontations follow Israel's acceleration of plans to demolish dozens of Palestinian homes. This could leave over a thousand Palestinians homeless.

Furthermore, Israel is continuing to strip hundreds of East Jerusalemites of their residency. Four members of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) from Jerusalem have been ordered to leave the country.

Silwan has become a pivotal point of friction, in the boiling cauldron that East Jerusalem is fast becoming. This follows Jerusalem municipality's approval of the pending demolition of 22 Palestinian homes -- with another 66 on the waiting list -- to make way for a Jewish theme park and an extension of Jewish neighbourhoods, all illegal under international law.

The Jerusalem municipality argues that the Palestinian homes were built without building permits. But Palestinians face an almost impossible bureaucratic battle to obtain permits, despite a chronic housing shortage.

Simultaneously the Israeli authorities actively facilitate Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem even though this is in violation of UN resolutions.

The Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee will shortly publish a new blueprint for the expansion of Jewish neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem, most of them on privately owned Palestinian land.

"They can bring the bulldozers over my family's bodies," Fakhri Abu Diab, an accountant and spokesman from the Bustan Committee trying to fight demolitions tells IPS. "We will not leave our homes. I would rather die than see my children homeless. I'm not prepared to live in a tent that gets continually pulled down.

"The demolition of the homes will leave about 1,500 Palestinians with nowhere to go. Sixty-two percent of the homeless will be children," adds Abu Diab, father of five, and one of the residents whose house is due to be demolished.

Residents of Silwan's Bustan area have tried to meet Jerusalem's municipality halfway. They have hired architects at great expense to come up with an alternative plan that would incorporate green areas into Silwan, and also save the residents' homes.

"The plans were rejected out of hand because they didn't fit in with the municipality's plans to Judaise the neighbourhood," says Abu Diab.

The Jerusalem municipality has been adamant about destroying Palestinian homes and evicting Palestinians from Silwan, but it has not shown the same determination over settlers ordered by the Israeli courts to vacate the vicinity.

In 2008 the Israeli Supreme Court ordered a group of settlers to vacate the apartment building Beit Yonatan (named after convicted U.S. spy Jonathan Pollard who was jailed in 1987 for passing classified information on the U.S. to Israel) located in the middle of Silwan. Jerusalem's right-wing mayor Nir Barkat has refused to seal Beit Yonatan or expel the illegal Jewish settlers.

Instead, the residents of Beit Yonatan plan to hire private security guards to evict a number of Palestinian families living in an old Yemenite synagogue in the area.

Another major point of friction is the expulsion orders on four Jerusalem- based Hamas members of the PLC after they were recently released from Israeli prisons. They were jailed in a retaliatory move after Hamas fighters in Gaza captured an Israeli soldier in 2006.

Three of the four PLC members have barricaded themselves in the Red Cross headquarters in Jerusalem after they were ordered to leave Israel by this week. They have said they will not leave the office until there is a political or diplomatic resolution to the crisis.

A fourth member is under arrest for failing to leave the country several weeks ago. They are being supported by various Palestinian factions, including the Palestinian Authority (PA) in a rare display of solidarity with Hamas.

PA president Mahmoud Abbas recently hosted the PLC members at his Ramallah office. The leaders of Jerusalem's Christian congregations are also supporting the PLC members.

Meanwhile, hundreds more East Jerusalemites continue to live in fear of losing their Jerusalem residency as Israeli authorities strip Palestinian residents who have lived or studied abroad for more than seven years of their residency.

The Israeli authorities have also warned that Palestinians joining demonstrations may be stripped of their residency.