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Jerusalem Mayor Uses Arab Residents as Club to Beat Supreme Court

Nir Barkat’s threat to step up demolition of homes in East Jerusalem if Amona outpost is demolished in December is questionable both legally and morally.

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

There are very few things that right-wing activist Arieh King, left-wing organizations and lawyers representing Palestinians in Jerusalem can agree on. But the announcement by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat on Wednesday that, following the High Court of Justice ruling that the state must evacuate the illegal West Bank outpost of Amona by December 25, the municipality would accelerate the demolition of Palestinian buildings built on private Jewish land, pulled off that near-impossible feat. Everyone, right and left, agrees that the announcement is a bit of spin by Barkat aimed at attracting Likud voters to his political campaign.

This week, the Jerusalem municipality’s legal department requested demolition orders for 14 residential structures in the Beit Hanina neighborhood that are currently home to 40 families. The municipality stated there would be many similar moves to come and that, as a result of the High Court’s Amona ruling, hundreds of Palestinians would be evicted from their homes in East Jerusalem.

Four things to note about this:

1. Barkat enlisted the aid of two professional legal bodies: the Legal Adviser’s Office in the Jerusalem Municipality, which by law is subordinate to the attorney general and not meant to be used by the mayor as a political tool; and the Administrator General’s Office in the Justice Ministry. Appended to the demolition request was a letter from the administrator general, ostensibly asking the municipality to demolish the buildings that stand on land in its possession. The letter carries Wednesday’s date – meaning either that by some incredible coincidence the administrator general decided to write to the municipality about this just one week after Barkat threatened to take action against Palestinians living on private Jewish land, or that this office was also being used for the sake of political spin.

The Administrator General’s Office says its letter on the matter “follows earlier inquiries to the municipality over the years, including during the past year. The administrator general, as the manager of assets of absentees, is obligated to manage the property for the benefit of its private owners, and works to evict squatters and demolish illegal construction on assets that are under its management throughout the country.”

2. Demolition orders have already been issued for these structures, which, like most buildings in East Jerusalem, were constructed without building permits. Indictments were issued against the owners; they were then convicted and received a court order to demolish the buildings. Now the municipality is asking the court to amend the ruling so that the demolition order falls on it, not the homeowner. Lawyers familiar with the subject say this is a very unusual request and one that is quite problematic legally.

3. Most of the private Jewish lands in East Jerusalem were purchased before 1948. Most are also managed by the administrator general since, in a majority of cases, the identity of the landowner is unknown. Evicting the Palestinians who live on these lands would require an ethical, if not legal, debate about other private lands in Jerusalem – those that were owned by Palestinians.

The municipality says that hundreds of Palestinian families live on private Jewish lands. It can be conservatively estimated that tens of thousands of Jewish families (including most of Jerusalem’s Jewish population) live on land that was once owned by Palestinians. But unlike the Jewish lands, these lands were either expropriated – in the territories conquered in 1967 – or legally taken from their owners on the basis of the Absentee Property Law in areas conquered in 1948.

4. Despite his best efforts, Barkat failed in his attempt to regularize construction in East Jerusalem. The number of building permits issued for East Jerusalem, and the number of building plans approved there, pale in comparison to both the demand and amount of illegal construction that takes place there. But at least a practical use for the city’s Palestinian residents has now been found: if not as residents with equal rights in a united city, then at least as a club to be wielded when trying to scare or threaten the Supreme Court.

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