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Jerusalem Plan to Demolish Palestinian Homes Raises Tensions

Israeli authorities say they are moving ahead with plans to demolish more than 20 homes in Silwan, an Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem. Israeli officials want to clear the land to build an archeological park on a site - just outside the walled old city - where Jews believe the biblical King David walked. Silwan's Palestinian residents accuse Israel of trying to expel them in order to strengthen the Jewish presence in East Jerusalem, seized by Israel during the 1967 War.

An Israeli notice that her home is due to be demolished has kept Aida Risheq, a mother of seven, awake at night.

"The situation is very bad. I look at the eyes of my children," she said. "They will be kicked out on the streets. I have children, and we have no other home."

Risheq's home, like many others in this crowded, low-income neighborhood, was built without a permit on land that Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 Arab Israeli war.

Israel annexed East Jerusalem but the move has not been accepted by the international community.

For Elisha Peleg, a member of the Jerusalem City Planning Committee, the effort to build the park in Silwan is a matter of much-needed redevelopment.

"East Jerusalem is part of the united Jerusalem and therefore it is about time to start making the whole area organized to have good services," he said.

Silwan's Palestinian residents see things differently. Fakhri Abu Diab heads a resident's committee.

"They want to demolish our houses because in the future they want to implement their plan to bring in settlers and build their gardens," he said. "At the end of the day, they have their political agenda: They don't want us, as Palestinians, as Arabs, in this area."

Some Palestinian activists use the term "ethnic cleansing" to describe what they see as an Israeli campaign to rid East Jerusalem of Arabs.

City officials condemn the accusation.

Elisha Peleg: "What exactly is the allegation?"
Reporter: "Ethnic cleansing."
Elisha Peleg: "It's rubbish. It's not true. These people violate the law. They invade an area that does not belong to them. They build without a building permit. Now they are complaining that someone is doing something wrong to them."

Aida Risheq says she did build without a permit, but she says she feels entitled to live here because she inherited the land from her father and grandfather.

"What we want is to live in peace, and have our legitimate rights," said Risheq. "Every human being should be allowed to live in peace in his house. This is my house. I did not take anyone's home. This is mine."

Risheq and other residents say they've been told the demolitions may not happen for several months.