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Demolition Of East Jerusalem Hotel Draws Outcry

Israeli bulldozers demolish the Shepherd Hotel in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah on Sunday.
Uriel Sinai
Getty Images
Israeli bulldozers demolish the Shepherd Hotel in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah on Sunday.

There's been an international outcry over an Israeli operation to demolish a landmark hotel in predominantly Arab East Jerusalem.

The United States, European countries and the Palestinians have all denounced the destruction of the Shepherd Hotel to make way for Jewish housing.

Slowly but inexorably bulldozers sent by the Jerusalem municipality worked to tear down the Shepherd Hotel. As the stones were being dismantled, fury erupted in front of the building.

The Shepherd Hotel has long been a source of contention. It was built in the 1930s for the then-grand mufti of Jerusalem, who had dealings with Hitler and Nazi Germany.

After the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, when Israel captured and later annexed East Jerusalem, the hotel was declared "absentee property." The title was transferred to an Israeli firm, which sold it in 1985 to an American Jewish millionaire who supports settler groups.

Said Husayni's family claims ownership of the property. His family fought for years to retain the hotel. "It is very painful to see this happening. ... They want to destroy the Arab presence in Jerusalem; they want to end it," he says.

The Shepherd Hotel is in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah -- where more and more Jewish families have been moving into what had been a predominantly Arab area. Palestinians say Israel is "Judaising" East Jerusalem to cement its claim over the whole of the holy city.

The international community views East Jerusalem as occupied territory whose final status should be determined through negotiations. Condemnations have poured in from around the world over the demolition. And it seems that many Western countries are losing patience with Israel over the settlement issue.

A secret report prepared by the European Union diplomatic mission in Jerusalem made headlines in the Israeli press Monday; it recommends that the EU treat East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state. It goes on to suggest that Israeli settlers should be refused entry to EU countries, the EU should boycott products from settlers in East Jerusalem, and there should be EU monitors in place every time a Palestinian home in the city is demolished.

Israel, though, remains defiant.

The current Israeli government says Jerusalem is the undivided capital of the Jewish state.

Elisha Peleg, a member of the Jerusalem City Council, was at the Shepherd Hotel when the demolition was taking place Sunday.

"I don’t think the United States or any other country has the right to interfere in the interior issues in Jerusalem, and now is the time to build Jewish neighborhoods in this area because we have the right to build in any part of Jerusalem," Peleg says.

The demolition comes at a particularly sensitive time; peace talks have collapsed over the very issue of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The Palestinians are expected to table a resolution at the United Nations this week, condemning settlement activity.

Over the weekend, Chile joined a host of other Latin American countries that in the past few weeks have recognized an independent Palestinian state. The Palestinian leadership says it will be pushing more countries around the world to join them.

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Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.