Dozens of Israeli settlers moved into two homes in the predominantly Arab neighborhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem overnight Sunday. The move effectively doubled the number of Jews living in the central part of Silwan, where relatively few Jewish families had lived before.
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The settlers bought the homes from S.K., a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem who is rumored to have served as a straw buyer. His identity is not being revealed as he could not be reached for comment. However, in a meeting last week between him and other Palestinian residents in the area, he denied plans to sell the homes to a third party.
The settlers are said to be affiliated with Ateret Cohanim, a religious Zionist organization that buys properties in the Old City and elsewhere in East Jerusalem to settle Jews. Members of the group accompanied the settlers as they moved in overnight.
The buildings were purchased in the last year by foreign companies prompted by the Committee for the Renewal of the Yemenite Village in Shiloah ("Shiloah" is Hebrew for Silwan). The structures are several hundred meters apart from one another; one of the homes can accommodate four families while the second can house five families.
One of the buildings is being called Frumkin House, and is named for Gad Frumkin, the grandfather of former Shin Bet chief Carmi Gillon, who established a community for Yemenite Jews in pre-state Israel. The settlers claim those Yemenite Jews left the village due to riots and then sold their houses but left the local synagogue intact. They said Sunday night's movebrought the site "full circle."
In another incident three weeks ago, settlers from the Ir David Foundation, commonly known as Elad, moved into homes in the Wadi Hilweh part of Silwan, which is adjacent to the Old City and is populated by dozens of Jewish families. In Sunday's case, though, the settlers are in central Silwan, where few Jewish families live.
In recent months, Jewish families in the area have encountered violence such as stone-throwing, fire bombs and fire crackers being hurled at their cars and homes. They are accompanied by security guards from the Housing and Construction Ministry when entering and leaving the vicinity.
"The entrance of additional settlers into Silwan is another step that closes the door to a diplomatic solution," said Oshrat Maimon, the policy advocacy director at Ir Amim, a non-profit group that "seeks to render Jerusalem a more equitable and sustainable city for the Israelis and Palestinians who share it."
Such actions "are always carried out with the sponsorship and support of the authorities – whether directly or by way of millions of shekels from the state budget and turning a blind eye," Maimon said. "The residents of Silwan are once again waking up to a gross intrusion into their neighborhood," which undermines the peace process and quality of life for both peoples, she said.
President Reuven Rivlin on Sunday addressed the increasing violence between Jews and Arabs in East Jerusalem. "The violence between Jews and Arabs in Israel has reached new heights and relations between the groups have reached a new low," Rivlin said at a conference on xenophobia organized by the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities.
The wave of violence isn't limited to one group or another and permeates all of Israeli society, Rivlin said.
"There is violence on soccer pitches and in academia," he said. "There is violence on social networks and in daily discourse, in hospitals and schools. It's time to admit honestly that Israeli society is sick – and this sickness must be treated."
Later on Monday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed an amendment to the Jordanian code of law, adopted by the Palestinian Authority, according to which anyone found guilty of selling or leasing Palestinian lands to an enemy state or its citizens will receive a life sentence of forced labor. Before the amendment, the law allowed the presiding judge in such cases to use his discretion in delivering the sentence.