Shepherd Hotel
The Shepherd Hotel being torn down. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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Despite international protest, reconstruction of the Shepherd Hotel in East Jerusalem continued yesterday. Jewish settlers reportedly plan to build 50 more housing units on the site, located in the Arab neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, in addition to the 20 units already authorized and whose construction began on Sunday.

Right-wing activists also said they plan to turn the main part of the historic building - originally constructed by the mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini - into a synagogue commemorating the victims of the Holocaust. Activists see this move as all the more poignant as Husseini was known for his collaboration with the Nazis. However, contrary to some activists' claims, the mufti never lived in the building himself, instead giving it to his personal secretary, George Antonius.

American millionaire Irving Moskowitz, a supporter of Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem, purchased the Shepherd Hotel in 1985.

The wing added to the structure during the Jordanian rule of Jerusalem is set to be demolished, and 20 of the housing units will reportedly be built on the garden south of the building.

"As we were forced to preserve the building, we will turn it into the neighborhood synagogue and dedicate it to the memory of the Holocaust victims," said Jerusalem councilman Elisha Peleg (Likud ). "The synagogue will be doubly symbolic: It will replace the house of the mufti and it will mark the point where 78 physicians, nurses and patients were murdered on their way to Mount Scopus in 1948."

While the first phase of the project is getting underway, the settlers have also submitted a larger plan to the municipality, requesting to add another 50 housing units. All in all, the project intends to include 70 units meant for Jews. The sensitivity of the site, however, means the plan will likely be delayed for an extended period of time. Peleg, for his part, believes the proposal will eventually pass.

"There isn't a chance in the world it won't pass, because it follows the existing plans for the area," he said. "Jewish construction in the eastern part of Jerusalem will continue, because time is working for the Palestinians, who are illegally building thousands of housing units without permission."

"There's nothing provocative about this site, it's not in the heart of any Arab neighborhood," Peleg added.

Meanwhile, members of the Husseini family, who claim ownership of the building, appealed to the Supreme Court, demanding the construction work be stopped. The process of expropriating the hotel from the mufti and selling it to Moskowitz was inappropriate, the family argues, saying the building still belongs to them.

Those claims were rejected on Tuesday by a Jerusalem District Court judge, who also removed the injunction that prevented the start of the construction work.