Jerusalem's Palestinians Allege Expulsion Campaign

Palestinians hope East Jerusalem will be the capital of their future state, but successive Israeli governments have stated that the city is the undivided capital of Israel. Now, Palestinians in East Jerusalem allege that there is a campaign being waged against them to divest them of their property through expulsions and demolitions to make the Israeli goal a reality.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

First this hour to East Jerusalem, a place that presents one of the thorniest issues in the Middle East conflict. East Jerusalem was occupied by Israel in 1967. Palestinians want to make it the capital of a future state. In order to move the peace process forward, Palestinians say Israel must freeze settlement building in the areas it occupies. Yesterday, the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, announced a 10-month settlement freeze in the occupied West Bank, but not in East Jerusalem.

As NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports, Palestinians alleged that Israel is intensifying a campaign to evict them from their homes in East Jerusalem.

(Soundbite of chanting)

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Fakhri Abu Diab walks through the narrow alleyways of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, which lies just below the Old City.

Mr. FAKHRI ABU DIAB: (Through translator) All these houses that we are passing have been given warning letters to be demolished. All the residents of these homes are waiting for the Israeli bulldozers. We're talking about 88 houses.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Abu Diab was born in one of the houses the Israelis are threatening to demolish. The municipality says Abu Diab expanded his home without permission. He says he tried to get a permit for many years to little avail. He finally gave up and remodeled his home anyway to accommodate his growing family. Palestinian and international rights groups say that since 1967, only a few thousand building permits have been given to Palestinians in East Jerusalem, even though the Palestinian population since then has almost quadrupled - to 270,000. Abu Diab stops in front of a pile concrete slabs and shards of splintered furniture.

Mr. DIAB: (Through translator) The Jews came to this house, with no warning, in February. They gave the family who lived here 15 minutes to gather their belongings and get out, and then they demolished it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Abu Diab and his five children watched it all. He says the youngest now have nightmares about being homeless.

Mr. DIAB: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Abu Diab goes through a sheet of papers with the latest notice from the Jerusalem municipality. Written in Hebrew, it gives Abu Diab 20 days from the date of the letter to appeal the demolition. He said he was only hand-delivered the order after the deadline had expired, leaving him with no legal recourse.

According to Human Rights Watch, in one week alone in October, Jerusalem municipal authorities used bulldozers to demolish five houses, displacing 57 Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem. But Jewish groups that built illegally here or not subject to the same consequences.

Mr. DANIEL SEIDEMANN (Lawyer): We're looking over a seven-story building that was build illegally by the Messianic settler organizations. When things like this happen with Palestinians, the buildings are, of course, demolished.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Daniel Seidemann is an Israeli lawyer and an expert on Jerusalem. The building he's referring to is covered in an Israeli flag and dominates the hillside of Silwan. Despite a ruling from the Israeli Supreme Court that the apartment block be evacuated, Seidemann says nothing is happening.

Mr. SEIDEMANN: The police are barking and the mayor is saying reconsider, and political pressures are being exerted to prevent the implementation of a verdict of the Israeli Supreme Court. To all intents and purposes, the settlers are being afforded a de facto immunity.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Seidemann says that settler organizations with tacit support of the Israeli local and national government are trying to take over the area.

Mr. SEIDEMANN: I believe that the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is being reduced to the volcanic core. And the volcanic core of the conflict is precisely the place where we're standing; we're standing here in Silwan. Under the radar, this is a combat zone.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yesterday, Prime Minister Netanyahu reiterated Israel's position that Jerusalem is the undivided capital of the Jewish state and there will be no settlement freeze here. Dan Meridor, Israel's deputy prime minister, urged the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table, saying the issue of Palestinian evictions in East Jerusalem is overstated.

Deputy Prime Minister DAN MERIDOR (Israel): Basically, I don't see a big problem here. And I think there's a focus on this, but it's not a big problem or anything. But all these issues like Jerusalem, like refugees, like final border, like settlements can be resolved, in fact, not by temporary action but by an agreement. For agreement, you need to negotiate, to start talking.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That doesn't seem as if it will happen anytime soon. The Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, responded that Palestinians are not looking for the resumption of peace talks just for the sake of it. The exclusion of Jerusalem, he said, is a very serious problem for us.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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