After Nine-month Lull, Six Houses Demolished in East Jerusalem

The Jerusalem municipality demolished six houses in East Jerusalem yesterday, after a nine-month lull. One house, demolished in Beit Hanina, had been home to a family of six, including a three-month-old baby. Another two homes, demolished in Jabal Mukkaber, housed a family of 15 and a family of six.

Three incomplete and unpopulated structures were also demolished in the Isawiyah neighborhood. All six buildings had been constructed without permits.

Residents who spoke with Haaretz yesterday said they feared these demolitions were the first of many. While diplomatic pressure has prevented demolitions in East Jerusalem since November, over the past two weeks scores of demolition warnings have been delivered to residents living in houses built without permits.

Yesterday's demolitions came shortly after a go-ahead given by City Hall on Monday for the construction of scores of dwellings in the Pisgat Ze'ev neighborhood, a plan that could potentially increase tensions with the United States.

"Everyone is asking what happened, and there are two theories," Jerusalem council member Meir Margalit told Haaretz. "Either [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu came back swelled with pride from his meeting with [U.S. President Barack] Obama and felt he could do whatever he wants, or Obama gave him the green light to show some force and soothe the right before extending the settlement construction freeze in September."

Another explanation offered yesterday said the demolitions may be indicative of an upcoming eviction of Beit Yonatan, an illegally constructed settlers' apartment building in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan. There is an eviction order pending against that building, but there is also a pending eviction order against a nearby building populated by Palestinians. Local residents said they feared the two evictions would happen side by side, allowing the settlers evicted from Beit Yonatan to simply move next door, into the Palestinian building.

The Jerusalem municipality released a statement in which it said that it follows court orders and legal obligations, both in the city's east and west. The demolitions were carried out in coordination with police and the relevant government authorities, the Jerusalem City Hall said.

Meanwhile, U.S. envoy George Mitchell is set to leave Washington today for the Middle East. "The United States has made clear that it disagrees with some steps taken in Jerusalem by the Israeli government that affect Palestinians in areas such as housing, including home demolitions, and has urged all parties to avoid actions that could undermine trust," a senior American official told Haaretz.