Israel demolishes homes for 'City of David' heritage site

Israel has been accused of demolishing Palestinian houses in Arab East Jerusalem while international attention was focused on the election of Barack Obama.

Palestinian leaders and Israeli human rights organisations have said Israeli authorities displaced more than 20 people – mostly children – by demolishing three homes in the Silwan district of Jerusalem to make way for an archaeological park. Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian chief negotiator, said: “While the international media was transfixed by the results of the US election, Israeli forces were tearing up the homes of Palestinian families to build new settlements, furthering their control of occupied East Jerusalem and pre-empting final status negotiations.”

Mr Erekat called on the international Quartet of the US, EU, Russia and the UN, “to protect Palestinians and their homes” and hold Israel to commitments made at last year’s Annapolis summit, to halt confiscations and demolition of Palestinian property. The Quartet is meeting in Sharm El Sheikh on Sunday.

The houses in Silwan were among 88 earmarked for demolition close to excavations said to be of the 3,000–year–old biblical city of King David. A wedding hall and a home were also demolished this week in the East Jerusalem suburbs of Beit Hanina and Shuafat. International observers say seven people were injured in clashes with Israeli security forces when demonstrators tried to halt the demolitions between Tuesday and Thursday.

The international community has never accepted the unilateral annexation by Israel of East Jerusalem – which the Palestinians want as a future capital – after the 1967 Six Day War.

Israeli authorities say the houses earmarked for demolition did not have the required permits, and the area was zoned as national park in 1974. Residents however say the deeds of many of the houses pre-date that decision, and some date from the British Mandate.

The UN’s Office for Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) meanwhile said Israeli security forces had begun demolishing structures in the rural West Bank after a freeze on such demolitions, which had lasted since April. OCHA said 97 people had been displaced or “otherwise affected” by demolitions in the Bedouin villages of Umm al Khair in the southern West Bank, and Maghayer Al Deir in the Ramallah governate.

Israeli officials say the demolition orders were handled with restraint and sensitivity during the current negotiating process, and that they are normally carried out only when a court order places authorities under irresistible pressure to carry them out. But Mr Erekat’s office said this week the number of house demolitions in East Jerusalem had actually risen since Annapolis, to 94.