Work has begun on a new neighborhood in East Jerusalem for former defense establishment employees, adjacent to the neighborhood of Armon Hanatziv. The land for the project, which is to include 180 residential units, was expropriated in the 1970s from residents of Sur Baher, an Arab neighborhood that is also adjacent to the site. Employees of the Bailiff’s Office and the Israel Land Authority uprooted dozens of olive trees on the future building site on Monday.
The ILA announced the project back in October 2012, in the wake of a cabinet resolution passed in May of that year to build housing for members of the police and the military in Jerusalem. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel petitioned the High Court of Justice against the project on the grounds that it discriminates against Arab home buyers. The High Court rejected the petition after the government claimed that about 20 percent of service members are “minorities.” Officials in Peace Now note that few if any Palestinians living in Jerusalem serve in the security forces.
The Construction and Housing Ministry drew up plans for the neighborhood, and four years ago the ILA issued an eviction order against the landowners, the Nimr family of Sur Baher. The family planted six dunams (around 1.5 acres) of olive trees during those years. The government won its case in the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court after Judge Elazar Nahalon ruled that the family should have objected to the expropriation when it was being carried out, in the 1970s, and not 40 years later.
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The ILA said in an announcement Tuesday that ILA inspectors, accompanied by says: police and Border Police officers, took possession of the site and removed the trees. “The area was cleared and prepared for sale, and no-trespassing signs were posted.” The announcement said the 60 uprooted olive trees were transplanted in a national park in Jerusalem. A campaign to market the land for the project is scheduled for the near future.
Yoav Sasson, the Jerusalem-area director of land preservation in the ILA said: “The squatters arrived at the site one fine day and planted trees there, trying to establish facts on the ground. The ILA conducted a legal battle, at the end of which it was decided that they are squatters and must remove the trees by themselves, but they didn’t do so, and therefore the inspectors were forced to clear the trees from the land to enable its sale.”
In a response, Peace Now said “This was not a legitimate expropriation for public purposes, but rather an invalid expropriation that takes land from one community (Palestinians) and allocates it to another (Israelis). The U.S. ambassador can see this ugly situation from the window of the embassy, which is located only about a kilometer away from the olive grove that was uprooted: the reality of a divided Jerusalem of discrimination and deprivation.”
At the same time, not far from there, work began on the new access road to the U.S. Embassy. On Monday the Jerusalem Municipality finance committee approved 5.7 million shekels ($1.6 million) from the Housing Ministry to build the road.