Palestinians fear expulsion for Jerusalem high-tech hub

A Palestinian man works at a shop in Wadi El-Joz, in occupied East Jerusalem. (AFP)
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Updated 09 June 2020

Palestinians fear expulsion for Jerusalem high-tech hub

  • The $600 million project has allocated 250,000 square meters (2.7 billion square feet) of land for the technology park

JERUSALEM: Palestinian business owners in occupied East Jerusalem are worried they will be forced to shut up shop by Israeli authorities over plans to build a vast high-tech hub in their neighborhood.
The main thoroughfare through the Wadi El-Joz area, close to Jerusalem’s Old City, is lined by mechanic workshops and usually hums with the sound of car horns.
But business owners are facing an uncertain future, with fears that more than 200 premises could be forced to close including garages and popular restaurants.
Fathi Al-Kurd, whose workshop opened in 1966, is worried that he and his two sons will not be offered another location.
“My son has four children, if he doesn’t work for a week his children will starve,” the 77-year-old said.
“We can’t confront this government, but we ask that they at least provide us with an alternative,” he added.
His son Muhannad Al-Kurd, a car electrician, said a municipal official visited them last summer and warned “eviction is coming.”
East Jerusalem was occupied by Israel in 1967 and later annexed in a move never recognized by the international community.
The Jerusalem municipality aims to create a “new high-tech center” that would “reduce social gaps and economic inequality in East Jerusalem,” according to city hall.
The $600 million project has allocated 250,000 square meters (2.7 billion square feet) of land for the technology park. A further 50,000 square meters has been earmarked for other businesses, and the same amount for hotels.
Several Palestinian families own land in the industrial zone of East Jerusalem, including Naif Al-Kiswani who says they will inevitably be drawn into the Israeli project.
“I want to be compensated financially and given licenses to build shops, businesses and flats,” he said, sitting inside his hardware store.
Al-Kiswani confirmed that talks about the redevelopment were underway with Israeli officials, with a meeting planned soon between Palestinian landowners and Jerusalem’s deputy mayor.
“The project exists and our refusal won’t change anything, but we must not lose everything,” he said.
Concerns over the redevelopment come as businesses are gradually reopening, after measures to tackle the novel coronavirus brought the city to a standstill.
Muhannad Al-Kurd said his income fell by 70 percent in recent months and the new project could bring further financial losses.
“This eviction will make us start from scratch,” he said.
Wearing a face mask at the garage where he works, Khalil Al-Hawash said the project aims to “empty the city of Palestinians.”
Standing in front of a sign for the garage in both Arabic and Hebrew, he wanted to know whether there would be compensation or help to relocate elsewhere.
Economist Mohammed Qirsh says if the business owners are expelled without financial redress the impact would be “devastating.”
Some of those affected by the redevelopment plans aim to form a committee to challenge the decision.
The president of the Palestinian Chamber of Commerce in Jerusalem, Kamal Obidat, described it as a plan to “liquidate” parts of the city and “Judaize” them.


US ‘disappointed’ by Turkey mosque move on Hagia Sophia

People, some wearing face masks, pray outside the Hagia Sophia museum in Istanbul on July 10, 2020 as they gather to celebrate after a top Turkish court revoked the sixth-century Hagia Sophia's status as a museum, clearing the way for it to be turned back into a mosque. (AFP)
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US ‘disappointed’ by Turkey mosque move on Hagia Sophia

  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has chipped away at the Muslim-majority country’s secularism, announced Muslim prayers on July 24 at the UNESCO World Heritage site

WASHINGTON: The US said it was “disappointed” by Turkey’s decision to turn the Byzantine-era monument Hagia Sophia back into a mosque and urged equal access for all visitors.
“We are disappointed by the decision by the government of Turkey to change the status of the Hagia Sophia,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.
“We understand the Turkish government remains committed to maintaining access to the Hagia Sophia for all visitors, and look forward to hearing its plans for continued stewardship of the Hagia Sophia to ensure it remains accessible without impediment for all,” she said on Friday.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has chipped away at the Muslim-majority country’s secularism, announced Muslim prayers on July 24 at the UNESCO World Heritage site.
A magnet for tourists worldwide, the Hagia Sophia was first constructed as a cathedral in the Christian Byzantine Empire but was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.
Erdogan’s announcement came after the cancellation of a decision under modern Turkey’s secularizing founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to preserve the church-turned-mosque as a museum.

We understand the Turkish government remains committed to maintaining access to the Hagia Sophia for all visitors, and look forward to hearing its plans for continued stewardship of the Hagia Sophia to ensure it remains accessible without impediment for all.

Morgan Ortagus, State Department spokeswoman

Erdogan went ahead despite an open appeal to the NATO ally by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, an evangelical Christian who frequently speaks about religious freedom.
In a statement last week, Pompeo called the museum status an “exemplar” of Turkey’s “commitment to respect the faith traditions and diverse history” of the country and said a change risked “diminishing the legacy of this remarkable building.”
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden also said on Friday he deeply regretted Turkey’s decision.
Biden called on Erdogan to reverse it “and instead keep this treasured place in its current status as a museum, ensuring equal access for all.”