In early June, the City of Jerusalem said it would explore alternatives to demolition, though it contends the Palestinians had no permits and built without regard to urban planning. Even so, the prospect of the largest single destruction of Arab homes in East Jerusalem in almost four decades had already set off political undercurrents that reached to London and Washington.
Over 1,000 Palestinians live in the 88 affected homes, and Palestinians had received orders to tear down 64 of the homes before the city agreed to reconsider, said Sami Ershied, one of the lawyers appealing the orders.
Palestinian ministers said that Palestinians were discriminated against when applying for building permits in East Jerusalem and that unilateral measures there by Israel would undermine the peace process. They also criticized Israeli attempts to change the city's demography, especially in the east, where about 200,000 Palestinians live.
Peace groups, made up of both Palestinians and Jews, opposed the demolitions and gave tours of the area to diplomats and journalists.
Pay special attention to that bit about discrimination against Israeli Arabs with regards to building permits, as this is a method which Israel has typically used to put more and more Arab land into Jewish hands. Israeli Arabs are consistently denied permits to develop their own land, often for the flimsiest of bureaucratic reasons. After a period of time, usually a few years, that land will be siezed by the Israeli government under eminent domain and be sold at very friendly prices to Jewish settlers who will then move in and build a mini-fortress (such as this one) in the midst of the Arab neighborhood. This process can only be understood as low-intensity ethnic cleansing: Force the Arab people out, move the Jewish people in, bit by bit.
Here's a first hand account of what the people of Silwan are going through, written by an Israeli peace activist.
You have to imagine what it feels like to wake up one morning in your own house, the house your grandfather built long before the state of Israel existed, and to find the official notice on the wall. Your home, where you have lived your life, is soon to be destroyed; you and your children will be refugees. It must seem unreal; a house is so stolid and enduring a presence, a thing of mortar and stone as well as intimate refuge. Now the intimacy has been violated; you are threatened, afraid, exposed. A long line of condemned homes stretches all the way up the hill, toward the wall of the old city. In the protest tent where we have come to plan the next moves, a large-scale aerial photograph is pinned to the wall, each of the 88 buildings circled and numbered. Abed points to number 9, his grandmother’s home: the man who built it, her grandfather, died 100 years ago, so the house goes back to the 19th century, Turkish times. Anywhere else it would be preserved as a historic monument, but in Israel-Palestine such considerations are irrelevant; Israel, or Sharon, wants this plot of land, like all the rest.
This is part of the war that Israel is waging against the Palestinians Arabs. I get extremely frustrated when I see references to the violence framed as "the insane cycle of Palestinian suicide bombing and Israeli retaliations," usually by people who clearly should know better, because this leaves out the most important part of the equation, which is the Israeli occupation, the brutality and day-to-day inhumanity of which cannot be overstated. Palestinian resistance, of which suicide bombing is one particularly egregious element, is first and foremost a response to that occupation. And Palestinians understand, as far too few Americans seem to, that the occupation exists primarily to facilitate land grabs like the one happening in Silwan.