Jerusalem police demolished today a wood shack in Silwan that had served as a Palestinian community center and children’s playground. Near the bulldozer, orchestrating and photographing the demolition I saw Evyatar Cohen, the head of the Jerusalem district of the National Parks Authority, formerly senior manager of the Elad association. It’s not the first time that I see him supervising demolitions in East Jerusalem. I saw him in a demolition in Abu-Tor two months ago, and on videos from other demolitions from A-Tur and Issawiya.
The hut and the playground that was demolished today – during the construction
The Jerusalem municipality together with the National Parks Authority has recently begun using, as a demolition pretext, a special municipal bylaw for maintaining cleanliness. This bypasses the need for a regular demolition order which would allow the owner to appeal. The owner of the land had received such an order on August 2nd, 2011, following which he expended great effort and money to clean up the land and put up a beautiful playground for the benefit of the community. For the National Parks Authority, however, this was not enough. They wanted the structure demolished (or maybe they wanted to hinder the self-organization of the local Palestinian community, which does not receive such services from the municipality).
A group of Palestinians stood by, angry and shocked, pointing to a similar structure which settlers had put up just 50 meters away for the settler community and for visitors of the “City of David” site. This structure has never been threatened with demolition, and was never considered by the Parks Authority as needs to be cleaned.
I’ve tried to understand why the demolition came today. There are two possible explanations I can think of. First, today is to be a day of celebration for the settlers, because the regional planning committee approved a grandiose visitors center planned by Elad to be built at the “Givati” parking lot in Silwan. Or maybe it was last week’s visit by the German minister of development, who chose to see Silwan from the Palestinian viewpoint, was hosted in the now-demolished wood shack, offered coffee and impressed by community activity. It was the first such ministerial visit after dozens of ministerial visits to the City of David center, which is run by settlers.
No matter what the reason was, I thought how stupid my Municipality and the Parks Authority could be: Not only that the Municipality is not taking care of the basic services for the Palestinian residents, but instead it demolishes the center that the residents set up by themselves? What should the Palestinian children feel today, seeing their playground demolished? unfortunately this would probably not make them more supportive of Israel. And this, in my view, is the opposite of the Israeli (and Jerusalem’s) interest.