East Jerusalem’s Al-Bustan Neighborhood

1 03 2009


Photo taken by Rebecca Manski, Wikimedia.org

There have been several articles in the news lately about the Palestinian-populated Al-Bustan area in the Silwan neighborhood, East Jerusalem. The Israeli-controlled Jerusalem municipality had given warnings of evacuation to 88 houses in the area. Nearly 1,500 people are now under threat of homelessness. The case is both curious and unclear. Initial reports said that the municipality gave these warnings because it intends to demolish the homes and build a public park. Then came news that there is archeological importance to this area and the municipality intends to dig in and explore. After that came further news that these houses were built without permit, all of them, and it was time for the authorities to correct the wrong.

There were rumors that the residents might be compensated by relocating them to another village in Jerusalem such as Beit Hanina in the north. No details are in yet, however. The residents went on a strike last Saturday, which I doubt affected anything.

Topics like this provoke many comments online. In the Haaretz’s article, some commentators screamed “land theft” and “ethnic cleansing.” Although that might be a stretch, these ideas do cross some people’s mind when 1500 people are threatened to be left on the streets. Others justified this move, citing the archeological importance of the area (though the municipality has not announced any planned explorations). Some others used the idea of “eye for an eye” saying that in the late 1930s, Jews were evacuated by Arabs. A commentator said, “It was a Yemenite Jewish area from 1882 until all the Arabs ethnically cleansed the Jews in the 1936-39 Intifada. Some of the houses still have mezuzah marks on the door frames and Magen David designs in the architecture.”

I have a lot of problems with this last statement. I cannot dispute or agree with the claim of the 1930s ethnic cleansing. I don’t have enough knowledge about that. But I wonder this: does one ethnic cleansing justify another? Does it justify putting many people out on the streets again, like the old Yemenite Jews? I don’t get it. If you hate it when it’s done to you, why do you do it to others? There no sense of mercy or humanity here, this is revenge and hatred talking. I don’t think people understand the catastrophe here if these houses are evacuated completely without compensation whatsoever. I don’t think they understand that children would be homeless. Actually, I don’t think they care at all.

The claim that these houses are built without a permit may well be true. But consider also that many Palestinians find it very difficult to get permits in the first place. Moreover, if we talk about illegality here, then under international law Israeli settlements in the West Bank are altogether illegal, yet Israel continues to give permits to settlers. In fact, the Israeli database on settlements was finally published a month ago, in both Israeli and international news agencies, despite resistance from the Defense Ministry. The database recorded that 75% of the settlements constructed were carried out without Israeli permits, or contrary to the permits issued. More than 30 settlements and extensive construction of buildings and infrastructure were done on private lands of West Bank Palestinian residents. Does Israel intend to demolish these settlements too now that the news is all out and the shame is oh so great? No plans have been declared yet. I have my doubts. Do you?



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