Razing a Racket

building demolitionYou’re the mayor of Jerusalem. And it all comes down to you.

You’re dealing with 11 illegally built Palestinian apartment buildings on your city’s northern outskirts. They’re within the municipal boundaries alright, but they’re outside the security barrier.

You rub your head at another only-in-Israel moment no other mayor in the world deals with. The apartments were illegally built. Heck, the cops even arrested a few Palestinians for fraud involving the land some of those buildings were built on. But it ain’t safe for building inspectors to travel outside the security barrier to neighborhoods like Ras Hamis and Ras Shehada, which is why the Palestinians managed to brazenly build nine and ten-story buildings now occupied by hundreds of people.

You know they created a black hole for documenting legal ownership. Arab money from abroad is sometimes used to acquire Jerusalem properties. Preserve Islamic heritage, they claim. Yeah, right. You can’t help but wonder if those buildings are part of a larger racket.

And in the absence of inspections, you’re certain the people who built those buildings played fast and loose and with health and safety regulations.

Evict ‘em all and demolish the buildings?

That’s what any other mayor would do.

But nothing’s a no-brainer in Jerusalem. In your city, you don’t just deal with the usual bevy of bureaucrats, politicians, community activists, and legal beagles.

In Jerusalem, the Palestinians boycott local elections, yet they prefer living under your jurisdiction than with the corrupt, inept Palestinian Authority. They vote with their feet. You also have to consider foreign diplomats pontificating from far away about the peace process, a motley assortment of shady NGOs, and foreign reporters ready to sensationalize anything you do. Many of them aren’t local taxpayers.  All politics is local. Except for here.

Till now, you pretty much managed to defuse the home demolition issue. Demolition orders went down on your watch, partly because of US and EU pressure, and partly because the threat of heavy fines helps maintain some semblance of law and order. But hitting people in the wallet only goes so far. Palestinian squatters backed by the right combo of lawyers, NGOs, and journalists can fight city hall. It’s the price we pay for democracy, you repeatedly remind yourself.

Turn a blind eye?

That’s the easy way out. But it only takes one slum fire or building collapse for the you-know-what to hit the fan. And when it does, the same people who urged you to leave the apartments alone will accuse you of discrimination and neglect.

Only in Israel.

Of course, only-in-Israel moments can work for you too. Last week, your national leaders released a bunch of terrorists, then accelerated construction projects in the eastern part of Jerusalem. That gives you some leverage.

But there’s no getting around the headlines. You already know what they’ll say.

Israel Evicts Hundreds of East Jerusalem Palestinians

World Condemns Large Scale Israeli Demolition Plans

The buck stops with you.

What would you do?

(image via YouTube/sdblahm67)

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