Against the backdrop of the pending evacuation of the illegal West Bank outpost of Amona, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat earlier this month threatened that such a precedent would require him to demolish “thousands” of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem - homes purportedly built on lands that were owned by Jews prior to 1948. On November 17th, Barkat upped the ante on that threat, when the Jerusalem Municipality announced plans for the immediate demotion of 14 buildings in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina, home to some 40 families.
Barkat’s claim that thousands of such properties could be demolished based on this pretext is patently false, as a new OCHA report (discussed below) reveals. However, regardless of the actual numbers of homes involved, the danger is clearly real. And equally clear is the fact that the analogy drawn by Barkat between the evacuation of an illegal West Bank settler outpost and the destruction of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem is disingenuous and misleading. It draws a false parallel between the actions of the occupier – those who have all the power in making laws that work to the advantage of its own citizens; and the occupied – those living under a system designed to subordinate their rights and interests to promote the interests of the occupier and its citizens.
This is not the first time that Barkat has used the threat of carrying out retribution against Palestinian residents of Jerusalem in order to position himself as the hero and protector of the settlers. For a decade, Barkat has refused to carry out a Supreme Court verdict compelling him to evacuate and seal the illegally built settler complex, Beit Yehonatan, in Silwan. In failing to carry out this verdict, he has defied direct orders of the Attorney General, and he went so far as to fire the previous municipal Legal Adviser (who insisted the Court verdict be implemented). Barkat has “justified” his inaction on Beit Yehonatan by arguing that, were he to carry out the law with respect to this illegally-built settler complex, he would also be compelled to undertake massive demolitions of illegally-built Palestinian homes – bearing in mind that for decades it has been extremely difficult, and in some areas virtually impossible, for Palestinians to obtain permits to build legally on their own and in Jerusalem. It is also worth bearing in mind that Barkat is already demolishing Palestinian homes in Jerusalem at a pace and scale we have not witnessed since 1967.
Those who care about Jerusalem should keep a sharp eye on this matter. Barkat is no mere a bystander or grandstander. He not only has the authority to instruct his legal adviser to indict Palestinians for illegal construction (as has already started, pursuant to these latest threats), but he also has the direct authority to hand down demolitions orders and see them carried out.
The fact that someone with such powerful prosecutorial and judicial powers repeatedly threatens to use them to protect the illegal actions of settlers is an abuse of power of staggering proportions. Against the backdrop of Barkat’s campaign to be elected by the Likud to a senior ministerial position, no one should be surprised by these threats, and nobody should let down their guard. As evidenced by these latest demolition orders, there is a serious chance that Barkat will move to make good on them – turning the office of the Mayor of Jerusalem into, in effect, the headquarters of what will now be an official, government arm of the “price tag” movement.