Thursday, March 05, 2009

Jerusalem Slams 'Disinformation'

Hana Levi Julian Jerusalem Slams 'Disinformation'

The city of Jerusalem responded on Thursday with a biting, detailed statement to what it called the "disinformation campaign" that was conducted during this week's visit to the capital by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Clinton on Wednesday slammed Israel's demolition of buildings in the northern and eastern neighborhoods of the city. "Clearly this kind of activity is unhelpful and not in keeping with the obligations entered into under the 'Roadmap,'" she said.
"It is an issue that we intend to raise with the government of Israel and the government at the municipal level in Jerusalem," she told reporters in Ramallah following her meeting with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, senior Abbas aide Saeb Erekat and other officials.

Most news reports stated, as did the Hebrew-language Ha'aretz, that "Israel had issued orders for the demolition of 80 Palestinian homes in eastern Jerusalem it says were built illegally. But Palestinians say they cannot receive proper building permits from Israeli authorities, and the planned demolitions are means to assert Israel's control over the disputed city."

Carefully avoiding any accusations against the American official, the city instead placed the blame in its statement on journalists, saying it "rejects many recent claims made in the media" and offering to "provide further information on the topic."

Few, if any media provided details as to where the illegal structures were located, or information about the process that led to their demolition. However, it is unlikely that Clinton was not provided with these details during her meeting with local and national leaders.

Prior to this week, Miller said that only 28 demolition orders have been carried out since January: 11 on structures in the western section of Jerusalem and 17 on structures in the Arab neighborhoods in the eastern part of the capital.

Upholding the Law Equally in Jerusalem

Mayor Nir Barkat promotes investment in infrastructure, construction, and education in eastern Jerusalem, but at the same time intends to uphold the law throughout Jerusalem equally, explained the mayor's spokesman, Stephan H. Miller.

"According to administrative procedure, orders can be given to stop work on illegal construction at the beginning and throughout the process of construction. Often, illegal construction has come at the expense of public land designated for the residents themselves, he explained."

Most of the 80 illegal buildings that were demolished in the Emek HaMelech neighborhood were built in recent years without permits. Petitions to the Interior Ministry filed by residents of the buildings were rejected, said the city, because the area is intended for public recreational use.

"The area of Emek HaMelech is one of the most important areas with regards to the history of Jerusalem, with holy sites important to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike," said Miller. Its importance as a tourist destination to "more than three billion people of faith around the world," Miller pointed out, makes it an area that must be treated "with the utmost strategic importance. Emek HaMelech is not intended for residential development but rather is intended to be an open public space. This position is concurrent with positions taken during the British Mandate and going back to Ottoman control of the area," Miller explained.

The one building that was demolished in the neighborhood of Jabel Mukabar – not Silwan, as previously reported by many news agencies – also was built illegally without a permit, in open space. The demolition was only carried out after the Supreme Court rejected an appeal against it.

In the northern neighborhood of Shuafat, five empty, unfinished buildings were knocked down. "They had already been given instructions to stop construction, which were not honored," the city noted. "The orders pasted on the buildings also explain how the order can be appealed in the court of law if any injustice is felt."

However, Miller added, there is a dilemma in Shuafat: "Almost no public areas remain for public construction for the residents of the neighborhood." The area in which the illegal buildings were located, said the city, included land that was earmarked for public schools and institutions for the benefit of the local residents themselves.

"According to the Mayor of Jerusalem, administrative orders have been issued to unlicensed buildings continuing the process of construction throughout all of Jerusalem, West and East, without bias," Miller noted pointedly.

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