Israeli bulldozers began demolishing the old Shepherd Hotel compound in the predominantly Arab neighborhood Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem early Sunday, paving the way for the construction of a new Jewish housing project on the site.
The Shepherd Hotel project was tied up for years in legal battles until not long ago. The hotel, originally built for the Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini, was purchased in 1985 for one million dollars by the American Jew Irving Moskowitz.
It continued to operate as a hotel, renamed the Shefer Hotel. The Israeli border police used it as base for several years.
In 2007, Moskowitz turned the disputed land over to Ateret Cohanim, a Zionist settler organization, with the goal of building a new Jewish enclave in the East Jerusalem neighborhood.
When Moskowitz initiated plans to build 122 apartments on the site of the hotel, the work was condemned by the British government. In 2009 the plan was modified, but was still condemned by the U.S. and U.K. governments. Permission to build 20 apartments near the hotel was given in 2009, and formal approval was announced by the Jerusalem municipality on March 23, 2010 hours before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with President Barack Obama, drawing heavy condemnation from the U.S. administration.
The demolition caused outrage amongst the Palestinians, who view the Sheikh Jerrah neighborhood as part of their future state. Over the past year, this neighborhood has become a symbol for the Palestinian and Israeli peace activists' battle against the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands.
Demolition was completed Monday, January 10th, 2011.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is strongly criticizing Israel for the demolition, saying that the move undermines U.S. efforts to restart stalled peace talks.
In a statement released from Abu Dhabi, where she is beginning a tour of the Persian Gulf, Clinton said Sunday that the destruction of the Shepherd Hotel to make way for a new Jewish housing development "contradicts the logic" of Israel and the Palestinians negotiating a solution to their differences over Jerusalem, one of the most explosive issues in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. Clinton said the United States is "very concerned" about the demolition.
Here is a classic example of how the simple purchase and development of a piece of land by a Jew can turn into a political issue. Were this to occur in any other part of the world, no one would pay any attention. Everyone has the right to buy property, develop it and build apartments for whomever they want. But Zionism has created conflict and turned every inch of land into a battleground, endangering Jews everywhere.
In Palestine before the age of Zionism, no conflict was provoked when Jews bought land in a new area and built on it. The Jerusalem neighborhood of Meah Shearim was established in 1874 by Orthodox Jews of the Old Yishuv, who until then had lived only inside the city walls. In 1876 in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood itself, the burial cave of Shimon Hatzaddik and the adjoining land, planted with 80 ancient olive trees, were purchased by the Jews for 15,000 francs. Dozens of Jewish families built homes on the property.
It is only Zionism - the insistence that the state remain dominated and governed by Jews - that turns every such action into a political statement. We hope the settlers will one day realize that if their goal is only to live in the Holy Land, they can do that more easily if they follow the Torah's command that Jews during exile must live in peace with their gentile neighbors.