East Jerusalem
The East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan Photo by Emil Salman
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The United Nations late Wednesday called Israel's plan to demolish Arab homes in East Jerusalem for the purpose of settlement construction "unhelpful" and "contrary to international law."

"The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about the decision by the Jerusalem municipality to advance planning for house demolitions and further settlement activity in the area of Silwan," UN Chief Ban Ki-moon's press office said in a statement. "The planned moves are contrary to international law, and to the wishes of Palestinian residents."

Ban's remarks came days after the municipality approved preliminary plans to demolish 22 Palestinian homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan as part of an initiative to build a recreational area there. The U.S. State Department criticized the decision, calling it the kind of step that undermines the trust fundamental to progress in the proximity talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

"The secretary-general reminds the Israeli government of its responsibility to ensure provocative steps are not taken which would heighten tensions in the city," added Ban's statement. "The current moves are unhelpful, coming at a time when the goal must be to build trust to support political negotiations."

Earlier Wednesday, Israeli right-wing groups threatened to forcibly evict four Palestinian families they claim are living on property belonging to Jews in the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem.

MK Uri Ariel (National Union) announced from the Knesset podium yesterday that the settlers would hire private security firms to evict the four families, consisting of 40 persons, unless they evacuate by July 4.

The right-wing groups and settlers are furious that the police, probably on instructions from the Prime Minister's Office, are not carrying out the eviction orders issued to the Palestinian families, who live in a building that served in the pre-state era as a synagogue.

The synagogue was built in the 19th century for the small Yemenite community in Silwan. For the past 50 years the Abu Nab family, who claims ownership of the building, has been living there.

In recent years heirs of the Yemenite community have reclaimed the building, supported by the nationalist association Ateret Cohanim, which holds the two adjacent buildings - the controversial Beit Yonatan and Beit Hadvash.

Beit Yonatan, a seven-story residential structure, was built illegally in the heart of the predominantly Palestinian neighborhood by Ateret Cohanim.
Despite police discussions in preparation for the evacuation of Beit Yonatan several weeks ago, the implementation has been postponed until at least the end of the month.

A standing order was issued two years ago to evacuate and seal Beit Yonatan, where 10 Jewish families reside. Jerusalem municipal officials have yet to enforce the order, despite court rulings and orders from the former attorney general.

The Beit Yonatan settlers said Wednesday that police have not evicted the Palestinian families due to political constraints; they have warned they would take matters onto their own hands next month. The settlers are justifying the eviction by claiming deeds for the property evidence that it was owned by Yemenite Jews who lived there from the late 19th century until the 1948 War of Independence.

Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said, in response to a parliamentary question, that the police are prepared to evacuate the structure, but that he has been instructed to delay the action due to political considerations.

"There is discrimination in everything related to the enforcement applied by the state and the prosecution in Jerusalem," said a spokesperson for the Jewish community in Silwan. "It is unclear why the state insists on evacuating Beit Yonatan despite a proposed compromise over the matter. Meanwhile, the same authorities do not implement a court order that unequivocally called for the evacuation of Arab families who had invaded a synagogue belonging to Jews."