Demolishing another Jerusalem Landmark

By Jeremy Salt – Ankara

Once again Israel demonstrates its contempt for the world. This time the location is the Jerusalem quarter of Sheikh Jarrah and this time the occasion is the demolition of the Shepherd Hotel, the latest target in a process of demolition and rebuilding in the Zionist image that has been going on for the past six decades in all of Palestine.

The first actions of the occupying regime in East Jerusalem in 1967 was  the destruction of the medieval Magharibah quarter, founded in the 12th century by a son of the great warrior Salah al Din al  Ayyubi (Saladin), to make way for a ‘plaza’ in front of the western wall of the Haram al Sharif. Soon after it was the turn of the Fakhriya compound, the home of the sheikh of the Shafi’i school of Islamic law. A section of the Mamilla century, where the remains include the bones of the Companions of the Prophet Muhammad, was bulldozed to make way for a garden, a car park and lavatories. The rest has since been built over to make way for a ‘Museum of Tolerance’. The destroyed buildings were part of Jerusalem’s architectural and historical heritage. The people who lived there were driven into the street and left to fend for themselves as best as they could, a precedent for thousands of similar situations which were to follow. Had the awful chief rabbi of the Israeli ‘defence’ forces, Shlomo Goren, had his way, the destruction would have included the Aqsa mosque. Israel’s intention is to destroy Arab Jerusalem and replace it with Jewish Jerusalem. The difference is that Arab Jerusalem was a tolerant city. Jewish Jerusalem is not. It is a city of religious and secular fanatics, who have no consideration for any interests, laws or rights other than their own. The city has not known a worse period of history since it was captured by the Crusaders in the 11th century.   

Now we have the destruction of the Shepherd Hotel, a landmark in Jerusalem since early in the 20th century. It was built as a home for the mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al Hussein, before he escaped from the British in 1937. He never lived there. The building was the home of Katy and George Antonius, the celebrated Palestinian Arab historian, and then was used as a base for British soldiers before being converted into a hotel. In 1967 the government of Israel declared the hotel ‘absentee property’ and used it for its own purposes before ‘selling it’ in 1985 to the  American  Jewish billionaire Irving Moskowitz, who made his money from casinos and gives a sizeable percentage of it to the Ateret Kohanim settler organisation. The US government theoretically opposes settlements but has never even attempted to put a spoke in Moskowitz’s wheel,  which it could have done by removing the tax-free status of his ‘philanthropic’ donations to Israel. Of course, the Shepherd hotel was never sold. It could not be, seeing that it was not the property of the state of Israel in the first place. It remains the property of the Husseini family. The property which was ‘sold’ was stolen and under any laws except those of Israel’s, it remains the property of the original owner (ask your friendly local policeman for confirmation).

Beyond all of this, everything Israel has done in East Jerusalem since 1967 to bring about permanent change is illegal under international law. The movement of civilians into occupied territory is specifically prohibited under article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention (1949), one of many articles of the convention which Israel has violated. The declaration of the Greater Jerusalem municipality in 1967 is an inherent violation of international law. Nir Barkat has no more right to call himself the mayor of Jerusalem than any official administering any occupied territory anywhere at any time. Laws and regulations changing the status quo in East Jerusalem represent breaches of international law enabled by the government of Israel. Those of Barkat’s voters who live in East Jerusalem have no right to be there and therefore no right to vote. They are civilians who have been transferred into occupied territory. The whole situation is quite mad, but at least consistently mad.

The purpose of pulling down the Shepherd Hotel, all but the facade, which will be maintained to give the new structure some semblance of historical authenticity, is to built 20 luxury apartments for Jews only. This could not happen nowhere elsewhere without being described as open racism but in Israel it is no more than par for the course. Racism seeps out of the state and society more overtly and openly and defiantly every day. It is not accidental but structural. It is embedded in the ideology of Zionism and in the laws and regulations of the state and it is encouraged right from the top. Notwithstanding Netanyahu and his equally repugnant Foreign Minister are driving forward the whole ugly process. They are the head on the body of the stinking fish. Opinion polls show that Jews don’t want to live in the same street or apartment block as ‘Arabs’. Hundreds of fanatical rabbis sign petitions prohibiting the sale or rental of property to ‘Arabs’. Again, we should not be surprised, seeing that this was the principal article of the Jewish National Fund when it began trying to purchase land in Palestine early in the 20th century. ‘Arabs’ in East Jerusalem are beaten up by marauding gangs of Jewish youth. ‘Arab’ students in Safad – a Palestinian city taken over by the Zionists in 1948 as all other cities were – are threatened and abused by Jewish fundamentalists. Demonstrators protest against Jewish women going out with ‘Arab’ men. Even love cannot deflect their hate. Inside and outside the Knesset members of this less than august body threaten the ‘Arabs’ and threaten the Jews whose conscience does not allow them to remain silent witnesses any longer to the brutality and the racism of the state. So why should anyone be surprised by the decision to pull down a Palestinian-owned hotel and replace it with an apartment in which only Jews can live.

The only positive sign in this ugly climate is that the EU finally seems to be getting its act together. A document has been prepared calling on representatives of all EU governments to refuse to have anything to do with representatives of the government of Israel east of the so-called ‘green line’. They would not deal with them, they would not acknowledge them, they would not visit their offices, they would not use Israeli travel and tourist offices when making their plans and they would not accept to be protected under  Israeli ‘security’ arrangements. The reasoning behind this document is that if there is ever to be a settlement, East Jerusalem must be the Palestinian capital, and that option is fast disappearing in the dust of Israeli bulldozers. Israel will be trying to work on the EU directly and through the US to compel it to drop this plan. Let’s hope that for once, the EU sticks to its guns and actually does something that opens up a little sliver of light in this gloomy situation.
– Jeremy Salt is associate professor in Middle Eastern History and Politics at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey. Previously, he taught at Bosporus University in Istanbul and the University of Melbourne in the Departments of Middle Eastern Studies and Political Science. Professor Salt has written many articles on Middle East issues, particularly Palestine, and was a journalist for The Age newspaper when he lived in Melbourne. He contributed this article to

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