By Omar Radwan
On Sunday, Israeli bulldozers demolished the historic Shepherd Hotel in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem. This hotel was built in the 1930s as a home for the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini. He never lived there and was exiled by the British in 1937. Following the 1948 war the house, like the rest of East Jerusalem, was under Jordanian administration. It was then converted into a hotel, catering mostly to pilgrims. However, after the 1967 war, when Israel occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank it was confiscated by the Israeli government under the infamous "Absentee Property Law". Under this law, which is simply a device for the theft of Palestinian land, the Israeli government gave itself the power to take over all land owned by Palestinians who were not present on their property at a certain date. As an occupying power, Israel has no authority to implement this law in East Jerusalem, which is recognised by the international community as illegally occupied land. Having illegally confiscated the hotel, the Israeli government sold it in 1985 to Irving Moskowitz, a Jewish-American billionaire who is also a fervent supporter of Israeli settlement in the occupied Palestinian territories and a backer of the extremist settlers' group, Ateret Cohenim (Crown of the Temple Priests). Moskowitz's plan is to build 20 apartments for Israeli settlers on the site where the hotel stood.
Moskowitz's demolition of the hotel has received worldwide condemnation. U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said that the U.S. was "very concerned" about this act which "contradicts the logic" of a negotiated settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. The European Union High Representative, Catherine Ashton was more forthright in her condemnation saying that settlements were illegal under international law and that the European Union did not recognise the annexation of East Jerusalem by Israel. The UN secretary general, Ban Ki Moon, also denounced the demolition. The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu has tried to distance the Israeli government from what has happened, saying that it was carried out "by private individuals in accordance with Israeli law". However, it was Netanyahu's government which approved Moskowitz's plans in June 2009, arousing the ire of the Obama administration at the time. This government has constantly shown that it is willing to go much further than its predecessors in the construction of settlements and the displacement of Palestinians. The Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem has been under sustained assault ever since Netanyahu took power, with Palestinian families being evicted from their homes to make way for Israeli settlers. Moskowitz's plans do not stop at the demolition of the Shepherd Hotel – he also wishes to demolish Palestinian houses in the surrounding area and build 200 more apartments for settlers.
While condemnation of the demolition has come from all sides, this is very unlikely to have any impact on Israel's policy. The demolition seems to have been deliberately carried out when the eyes of the world and the United States in particular were elsewhere – on the shooting of Congresswoman Giffords in Arizona. This has ensured that it has received very little media coverage.
Secondly, while the United States and the EU have been willing to verbally condemn the demolition, they are not willing to take any punitive action against Israel, as Israel and its supporters know well. There is no talk of sanctions or diplomatic measures and Israel knows that the United States will veto any condemnatory resolution by the Security Council. Neither will the United States and the European Union take action against individuals and organisations in their countries who finance and support Israeli settlement building.
Irving Moskowitz can rest assured that the United States government, for all its criticism of the demolition of the Shepherd Hotel, and of settlement building generally, will not bring any charges against him for his actions, even though his "purchase" of the Shepherd Hotel from the Israeli government and his destruction of it are both illegal under international law. The fact that Moskowitz was the top contributor to the election campaign of the chairwoman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee shows the depth of the ties between the financiers of illegal Israeli settlement and the US government. Instead of standing up for international law, the U.S. government wages war on the British charity Interpal, which it has categorised as a "specially designated global terrorist" for the crime of alleviating the suffering of poor Palestinians.
In Britain, Moskowitz's counterpart is Poju Zabludowicz, another billionaire businessman who has invested heavily in Israeli settlements and who has also been an important donor to the Conservative Party and to David Cameron's campaign to become leader of that party. In Israel recently, the Christian evangelical television station God-TV took part in a project to plant trees on land in the Negev Desert stolen from the Bedouin Arab minority, with the aim of forcing the Bedouin out of that area. God-TV is owned by a company based in the UK called the Angel Foundation, but once again this company is safe in the knowledge that it will avoid prosecution for its actions.
The United States and Europe have declared their opposition to settlement activity time and again and have been vociferous in their condemnation of the latest outrage but their fine words are not matched by their actions. It is time that they stopped shedding crocodile tears and took action against those responsible for the ongoing takeover and ethnic cleansing of Palestine.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.