East Jerusalem House Price Soars Over $3m Amid Palestinian-settler Land Feud

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The Abdel Razeq family home in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem, January 23, 2019.
The Abdel Razeq family home in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem, January 23, 2019.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

In a battle between settlers and Palestinians, a small house in East Jerusalem has become a property worth 12 million shekels ($3.27 million).

A settler organization and a Palestinian family offered on Monday 12 million shekels in a public auction to buy the 72-square-meter house in the Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. The auction was supposed to be resumed on Wednesday, after being halted in wake of the high price. Locals are unsure what the effects will be.

The public sale concerns a three-room house, one of which is a windowless storage room, at 23 Dalman Street in Sheikh Jarrah. Like many houses in the area, the land on which it was built belonged to a Jewish family until 1948. Palestinian families moved into the area decades ago and many pay rental fees to the Jewish heirs or to the Custodian General. The Abdel Razeq family has lived at this address for decades.

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Over the past decade, settler organizations, in particular Jerusalem city councilman Arieh King’s Israel Land Fund, has contacted many such land heirs, and with their consent, the organization files suit on their behalf to evict the Palestinian families.

In the case of the house where the Abdel Razeq family lives, the Jewish heirs got into a conflict over the fate of the building. The Family Court ruled that the building should be put in receivership and sold to the highest bidder, with the proceeds to be divided among the heirs.

The tender was advertised last week in the Israel Hayom newspaper and prospective bidders were given a tour of the property. On Wednesday, the bidders gathered in the office of the receiver, attorneys Avraham Nagar and Yariv Peleg (who is also one of the heirs to the property). Before long, only King and the Palestinian family were still bidding, and continually driving up the price they were willing to pay.

Settler activist King had worked to raise donations to buy the house and started to attack the heirs. He wrote on Facebook on Wednesday that this it was “a black day for the Jewish people. A Jewish family is negotiating with the enemies of the Jewish people to sell a property that the family’s grandfather purchased a hundred years ago in East Jerusalem.”

He claimed that the Abdel Razeq family’s attorney offered 900,000 shekels, and the Israel Land Fund offered 20 percent more. “The lawyer kept the price rising the whole day at by eight in the evening we’d reached the incredible price of 11 million shekels! I am sure that the family members (which include a bereaved family) don’t know what their lawyer did/is doing,” he added. King also publicized the name of the Jewish family in an attempt to reach them without going through the lawyers.

Finally, King said Wednesday night after consulting with Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, he had decided to withdraw from the deal.

This means that the Palestinians can now buy the house on condition they are able to raise the money. King continued his scathing attack on the heirs who had put the house up for sale this way. “I am full of shame that people act this way about a place that their grandfather bought out of Zionist motives and a place where soldiers paid with their lives and were wounded, and they sell it just to make another profit,” he said.

It’s clear to all that the Abdel Razeq family cannot raise that kind of money on its own and will need outside help. Some neighborhood activists believe the Palestinian Authority has promised to help the family buy the house.

Palestinian activists in Sheikh Jarrah are divided as to how the high price will affect settler activity there. Some fear the price could spur more heirs to locate property in the neighborhood in order to sell it. Others hope the high price will deter settler organizations who would struggle to raise that kind of money for every house.

“It’s madness,” says local resident Saleh Diab. “It’s scary because now people will come to King and say they want to throw us out because the prices are sky high.”

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