Residents of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in east Jerusalem woke up Sunday morning to the sound of bulldozers. Looking out their windows they saw cranes and heavy machinery demolishing the old Shepherd Hotel compound which has recently become another point of contention in the already tense neighborhood.
The building originally served as the home of Jerusalem Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini who was known for his ties with Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler. After the Six Day War, the building served as a Border Guard HQ before being purchased by Jewish-American businessman Irwin Moskowitz 25 years ago. A plan to build a Jewish neighborhood in the site has prompted criticism which extended all the way to Washington.
Half of the building was demolished Sunday. The remaining part is meant to serve the construction project which has attracted many journalists, Ateret Cohanim activists as well as Palestinians including Adnan Al Husseini, the Palestinian-appointed governor of Jerusalem. The Al Aqsa Mosque Mufti also arrived at the site, which did not see any riots.
Daniel Luria, a member of Ateret Cohanim – a group promoting Jewish settlement in Jerusalem, also visited the site and could hardly contain his satisfaction with the work being performed. "These sounds are special. It’s like destroying Hitler or Himler's home," he says. "Haj Amin al-Husseini collaborated with the Nazis and set up a Muslim department which was responsible for the murder of 90% of Yugoslavia's Jews. This man wanted to kill any Jew who lived in Israel and therefore nothing is more just and satisfying than demolishing this house," he says.
Demolition works at the Shepherd Hotel compound (Photo: Noam Moskowitz)
Any claims made against the construction at the site Luria rejects out of hand. "Jews purchased this land in a lawful manner. There are those who say it's an Arab area, but we are near Ramat Eshkol, the French Hill and Mount Scopus. It’s the heart of a Jewish zone and that is why there is no reason to prevent Jews who purchased this land lawfully to build their homes here."
Adnan Al Husseini, Palestinian-appointed governor of Jerusalem, sees things decidedly differently. While he observed the demolition, his Fatah colleague Nidal Abu Garbiyeh was arrested by the police and taken into custody. "It’s a very dangerous move," Al Husseini says.
"This hotel is a symbol being ruined, and is sadly not the only one. Many more Palestinian homes will be razed, all this in the future Palestinian capital. If we thought there were some Israelis left who were interested in peace it's clear we were wrong. All that's left to do is urge the international community to step in, in order to salvage what is left of the peace process."
Shepherd Hotel prior to demolition (Photo: Reuters)
Ravi Nasser, a Sheikh Jarrah resident, also has difficulty accepting the hotel's demolition. "It’s a new settlement here in east Jerusalem," he says. "I'm a Palestinian and we are in the capital of a future Palestinian state. All the neighbors I spoke to are down too because Israel continues to disregard our right to live here safely and peacefully."
Nasser stressed that he and his Palestinian neighbors have no plans to ignore this new development. "We started organizing ourselves and will definitely protest what's happening here. Anything is possible as far as we're concerned. We oppose the occupation which is illegal according to International Law."
Like Nasser, some Israeli Jews also protested the construction plan. "What we're witnessing here is another step in the cruel process called the 'Judaization of east Jerusalem'," Assaf Sharon from the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity movement says. "This act is aimed at sabotaging any chance for peace and co-existence in this city. Nothing here benefits Israel. It's suicidal policy."
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