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Palestinian Residents Brace for Demolition of Homes in East Jerusalem


Palestinians in East Jerusalem are protesting what they say are preparations by Israel to demolish scores of Arab homes. The Arab residents accuse the Israelis of trying to push them out of Jerusalem, which both Israel and the Palestinians claim as their capital.

Ayda Risheq prepares her morning meal, and wonders if this will be her last day in this modest, concrete block home she shares with her husband and six children.

She says the demolition could be today, tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow. She does not know. She says crews came to the neighborhood this week, surveyed the area and saw how, with what tools and equipment, they could knock it down.

Risheq's is one of more than 80 families in this neighborhood near Jerusalem's Temple Mount and Al-Aqsa mosque whose homes Israel plans to tear down.

Arabs have historically known the neighborhood as Silwan. In the past two decades, Jews have called it the City of David, a part of what thousands of years ago was the ancient Jewish capital.

The neighborhood has become a flashpoint in the fight over Jerusalem. Arab families like Ayda Risheq's inherited the land and built homes on it mostly in the years after the 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict, when Israel seized the land and annexed East Jerusalem in a move that has never been sanctioned by the international community.

Israeli authorities say the dwellings, which largely went up without building permits, are illegal construction. For the past three years, the municipality has wanted the buildings demolished and turned into a park.

A few meters from the Risheq home, protesters have set up a tent where they have been staging a sit-in for months. Activist Abdel Halim Shaloudi, a member of the Committee for the Defense of the Territory of Silwan, believes the Israelis' real motive is to drive out the Arabs and make this a Jewish area.

"[There are] 88 houses, which include more than 2,000 people that live in it," he said. "They want to throw them out because King David was here more than 3,000 years ago and they want to make this King David's garden, according to their religion."

As with the broader Arab-Israeli conflict, religion, history, and land are at the heart of this dispute.

For residents like Ayda Risheq, being forced to leave her home is more than a matter of finding a new place to live. She said this is Muslim land and she believes it will always continue to be Muslim land. She said Jewish claims are only an excuse to drive people like her from the land.

Risheq and other residents have been hoping to avert the demolition by applying for building permits and offering to pay fines.

The Jerusalem municipal authorities, however, are showing no signs of budging. A statement by the mayor's office this week said no new orders have been issued on the matter of the neighborhood and affirmed that the area is not intended for residential development, but rather for use as an open public space.

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