By Nir Hasson
[Originally published in Hebrew in Haaretz. Abbreviated English translation appears here]
Members of a Jewish settlement organization took possession of an apartment building in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem Monday morning, after the building with its six apartments had, apparently, been sold by its Palestinian owners to the organization’s people.
During the last year, Ateret Cohanim — an NGO that settles Jews in Arab areas of East Jerusalem — has greatly stepped up its efforts to occupy buildings in Silwan and in the Muslim Quarter. The new focus of the organization’s efforts is Al-Sadia, a Muslim Quarter neighborhood between Damascus Gate and Herod’s Gate. Palestinian residents of the area report that the settlers had a key when they entered the building, which was vacant of occupants, and encountered no resistance.
Channel 7 radio reports that Chief Rabbi of Safed, Shmuel Eliahu, known for his strident anti-Arab stances, arrived at the building this morning to pray with the new tenants and give them his blessing.
About a week ago, another Palestinian family living in the Muslim Quarter lost an appeal filed with the District Court, about an eviction order they had received from Ateret Cohanim people. The court rejected their argument that they were protected tenants and ruled that they will have to vacate the premises.
About 1,000 Jews live in the Muslim Quarter, half of them yeshiva students, Most of these students are linked to Ateret Cohanim which runs 20 buildings in the quarter.
In Silwan, on the other hand, another association, Elad, lost its case against a Palestinian family, and will have to vacate an apartment it occupied unlawfully.
Elad, which also champions Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem, took over the apartment, and about 20 more, in September 2014. The family argued that there had been no deal to sell the property. Elad lost the case and the appeal. Last week Elad vacated the premises, returning the apartment to the family.
Peace Now said the settlers moves were creating more tension in Jerusalem, distancing yet further the chances of making peace.
“Settling in the heart of a Palestinian neighborhood damages the chance of the two-state solution and exacerbates tensions in the delicate fabric of Jerusalem,” the settlement watchdog group said.
The Ir Amim NGO stated: “The Muslim Quarter is a Palestinian area and will be so in any future reality. By means of settler organizations in the Old City, the government is heaping more and more obstacles in the path of a future resolution, disrupting the lives of the Muslim Quarter’s residents and causing harm to Jerusalem and to all of Israel’s citizens.”