25 October 2018
Israeli settlers recently occupied two Palestinian buildings near Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem.
In the early hours of October 4, Israeli settlers stormed a building in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. According to Wafa, the “settlers moved into the building owned by the Joudeh family, which was used as a clinic” in the Aqbat Darwish area, near Al-Aqsa Mosque.
This was the second building in Jerusalem to be taken over in that period. A day prior settlers occupied a building in the Wadi Hilweh area of Silwan, situated just outside the walls of the Old City and below Al-Aqsa Mosque.
This is not the first time these areas have been targeted by illegal Israeli settlers, with Silwan in particular repeatedly facing attempts to drive Palestinian inhabitants from their homes. The “City of David” national park – a tourist site and archaeological dig run by right-wing settler group City of David Foundation (also known as Elad) – is situated in Batan Al-Hawa in Silwan and is frequently used as justification for such illegal activity.
In July, the Israeli Knesset advanced a new law that would allow residential construction in the “City of David” national park. According to a report by Haaretz, “the minutes of the [Elad] committee’s previous meeting in January made it clear that Elad and its leader, David Beeri, are behind the bill, which is designed to promote construction at the site.”
In August a “heritage centre” was opened in the park, with the inauguration attended by senior Israeli and US figures. A Palestinian resident of Silwan, Yakoub Al-Rajabi, explained that: “We know that this was a well-orchestrated plan to force us to leave […] And if we stay, it will paralyse us and isolate us in our homes”.
Since 2002, 700 Palestinians have been facing eviction from their land in Batan Al-Hawa. Their land was transferred to the Benvenisti Trust when Israel’s Justice Ministry issued title deeds to the organisation for the land in question. The trust is controlled by Ateret Cohanim, a right-wing organisation that encourages Jewish Israelis to settle illegally in Palestinian neighbourhoods of Jerusalem.
In June, Israel admitted that its decision to evict the Palestinians of Batan Al-Hawa was “flawed” and that it had not properly investigated the nature of the trust, or the Ottoman-era law that applies to the case. Despite the admission, a number of families have already been evicted from Batan Al-Hawa or are embroiled in court battles to save their homes.
Other areas of Jerusalem are also targeted for illegal Israeli settlement. According to statistics from the Jerusalem Institute, as of 2015 there were some 211,000 Jewish Israelis living in occupied East Jerusalem, amounting to 40 per cent of all inhabitants in these neighbourhoods. The statistics also demonstrate that the number of Israelis living in illegal Jerusalem settlements has grown consistently since the city was occupied in 1967.
In response to the latest ‘sales’, for the second time this year, the Palestinian Islamic religious authorities in Jerusalem reaffirmed a ban on selling property to Israelis, and warned that any Palestinian involved in such transactions would be accused of “high treason.”
The Palestinian Authority government set up a special commission of inquiry to investigate the circumstances surrounding the sale of the house, which is located only a few hundred meters from al-Aqsa, amidst some claims that it too was complicit in the deal.
The Joudeh family has vehemently denied selling the house directly to Jews. Two Palestinian solicitors whose names have been linked to the transaction have also denied involvement.
The heads of the Palestinian Fatwa Supreme Council, who met in east Jerusalem, issued a statement in which they renewed the ban on conducting property transactions with Israelis.
The statement reminded Palestinians of previous Islamic religious decrees prohibiting such transactions under the pretext that “the land of Palestine was an inalienable religious endowment [waqf] that can’t be sold” to non-Muslims.
“The council stressed that selling [property] to the occupation or facilitating the transfer of its ownership, through mercenaries, is a great betrayal of religion, the homeland, and morals.”
The council called on Palestinians to “fight at all levels” against those who violate the ban, and demanded that their families publicly disown them. It also said that the Palestinian security forces will chase those involved in real estate transactions with Israelis in order to make an example of them for others.
It ruled that all real estate transactions with the “occupation” are considered null and void under international law. It said that it was “unlawful for the occupier to purchase property or lands in line with international conventions.”
Palestinian Authority land laws, which were enacted during the Jordanian rule of the West Bank, prohibit Palestinians from selling lands to “any person or judicial body corporation of Israeli citizenship.
The Islamic council also lashed out at visits by Jewish settlers to al-Aqsa and warned they were part of an Israeli scheme to bring about a situation where the holy site “would be divided in time and place by force and at gunpoint.” It held the Israeli government and the US administration fully responsible for mounting tensions in the entire region.