Monday, January 10, 2011

Goodbye, Shepherd Hotel

We bid goodbye to another landmark of Palestinian Al Quds, the Shepherd Hotel. Yesterday, bulldozers moved in and demolished part of the building. Meirav Zonszein, an Israeli-American journalist and a regular contributor to +972, which offers "independent commentary from Israel and the Palestinian territories," points out that the demolition coincided with a moment when American media were distracted by the tragic shooting in Arizona. You can read her brief report HERE.

Background: The Shepherd Hotel was built in the 1930s, when Jerusalem was the capital of British mandatory Palestine, by Hajj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Palestine and representative of the Muslim community of the country. Originally planned as a residence, the building was later used as a hotel but remained in the hands of the Husseini family, one of the notable families who already played a major role in the life of Arab Al Quds when the city was ruled by the Ottomans. Though Hajj Amin became persona non grata after 1936, when he made himself the reluctant leader of the anti-Zionist Arab revolt that had broken out in response to massive Jewish immigration from Europe, he was originally a loyal civil servant, appointed by non other than Sir Herbert Samuel, and believed, as did all the notables, that the British would deliver Arab independence as promised in the Husayn-MacMahon correspondence of 1915. Much ink has been spilt over the Mufti's later alliance with Hitler in Berlin, a fact that was again emphasized at the occasion of the demolition of his erstwhile residence, as was mentioned in the NYT report on the event, today.

After 1967, the State of Israel took possession of the hotel under the "absentee ownership law" that has played a major role in the expropriation of Arab lands in Jerusalem and elsewhere. Later, the property was sold to Irving Moscovitz, an American Jewish gambling millionaire, who has been supporting the radical Jewish settler group Ateret Cohanim and others who aimed to implement the program, first publicly expressed by Ariel Sharon at the time of the first Intifada, that there should be no neighborhood of Jerusalem without Jewish residents. As Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat is reported to have commented, the move on Israel's part to destroy the hotel in Sheikh Jarrah and make room for a new Jewish housing development in the middle of one of the first Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem built outside of the Old City is politically motivated. According to NYT,

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said in a statement that the demolition “is part of the political program of the Israeli government to pre-empt any solution on Jerusalem.”

He added: “Israel continues to change the landscape of Jerusalem, aiming to change its status and turn it into an exclusive Jewish city.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton roundly condemned the destruction of the Shepherd Hotel as detrimental to the piece process.

More background to the Shepherd Hotel:
An older but still illuminating article by Gershom Gorenberg, published in the American Prospect in 2009.

Laura Rozen in the Politico-blog of January 10, 2010, on Irving Moscowitz's contributions to Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the new GOP chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

A Jerusalem Post report from January 10, 2011,on the affair, with many quotations of opinions on the controversy.

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