On Sunday, bulldozers started tearing down a derelict but historic building in Jerusalem. In a thousand cities around the world, this would be local news or no news at all but ... this is Jerusalem and it made news around the world.
It’s called the Shepherd’s Hotel and it was built in the 1930s by the then Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin Al-Husseini, a close ally of Adolf Hitler. In 1985, an American Jewish millionaire bought the hotel. Now he wants to raze the old building and build in its place apartments for Jewish families.
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Why all the fuss? It’s because the building is in the eastern section of Jerusalem. That’s where the Palestinians want to establish the capital of a future Palestinian state and much of the world agrees.
That’s why U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the Israeli action. She said tearing down the hotel was a "disturbing development" that undermines efforts to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The European Union, Egypt and Jordan also condemned Israel.
The hotel itself is just one more symbol in the battle over Jerusalem. Since the Palestinians want eastern Jerusalem to be the capital of a future state, much of the world community says Israel shouldn't build there. Jerusalem was united under Israeli sovereignty after the 1967 Six-Day War and many Israelis believe the Bible promised the city as its eternal, undivided capital. So they won't stop building there.
The Israeli government made it clear it was not behind the demolition because it’s on private property and was “conducted by private individuals in accordance with Israeli law.” It also made clear, though, that there should not be a double standard on building in Jerusalem for Jews:
“There should be no expectation that the State of Israel will impose a ban on Jews purchasing private property in Jerusalem. No democratic government would impose such a ban on Jews and Israel will certainly not do so. Just as Arab residents of Jerusalem can buy or rent property in predominantly Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem, Jews can buy or rent property in predominantly Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem.”
They issued more background on the hotel here.
One analyst also raised this point: If a future Palestinian state is established, then why shouldn’t that state allow Jewish residents or building in its capital?
Regardless of the answer to that question, it seems clear, the validation of a Palestinian state and the status of the city of Jerusalem will be a growing source of contention and controversy world wide.