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Israel and Palestine

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Did Israel Illegally Demolish a Palestinian National Landmark in East Jerusalem

January 24th 2011

Israel Topics - Demolition of the Shepherd Hotel
Demolition of the Shepherd Hotel

Among Israel’s detractors is a widely held and circulated myth meant only to drive a wedge deeper between Israel and those she seeks for international support that claims Israel illegally demolished a Palestinian national landmark in East Jerusalem.

The facts however, when presented—but even more, when actually reviewed—support a very different scenario.

On January 9, 2011, Israeli crews began demolition work on the Shepherd Hotel building in the Sheikh Jarrah community of Jerusalem to make way for the planned construction of a Jewish housing project. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas insists the hotel is a historic national landmark and Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat claims that Israel is illegally demolishing the hotel as part of their attempt to “ethnically cleanse Jerusalem from its Palestinian inhabitants, culture and history.”

In truth, the hotel, situated in the middle of a predominantly Arab neighborhood that overlooks Hebrew University and the Mount of Olives, was built in the 1930s. The building, which served as an Israeli district court for almost twenty years, was privately purchased in 1985 by an American businessman yet has remained vacant for more than a decade. The plans to build a 20 unit apartment complex on the site were approved less than six months ago and the government has ensured that the project will not displace any Arab residents or affect any other buildings in the neighborhood. The site was never considered a Palestinian cultural heritage spot and, in fact, its only claim to Palestinian historical fame was that it served as a home for Hajj Amin al-Husseini, the former Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and Nazi collaborator. The British exiled al-Husseini during the Mandatory period and confiscated the property; ultimately the building’s rights were passed to Israel from Jordan after the Six Day War. Contrary to reports, the Israeli government did not illegally confiscate the building under the “Absentee Property Law" and the sale of the property in 1985 was conducted in the same legal manner as all other real estate transactions.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized Israel’s actions, suggesting that the demolition of an unused building “contradicts logic” and somehow “undermines peace efforts to achieve a two-state solution.” In doing so, Clinton once again—as with the earlier insistence on a settlement freeze—gave President Abbas an excuse for refusing to return to peace negotiations advocated by President Obama.

There are no precedents or statutes in international law that would prohibit Israel from granting construction permits to private citizens to build in its capital. As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “No democratic government would impose a ban on Jews purchasing private property … Just as Arabs can buy property in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem, Jews can buy property in predominantly Arab neighborhoods.”

Cutting Edge commentator Mitchell Bard is the executive director of the American Israeli Coopertive Enterprise.

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