The Shin Bet security service arrested two high-profile Palestinians on Saturday amid concerns that real estate dealers would be harmed after the revelation this month that Jews had taken over a Palestinian house in Jerusalem’s Old City.
“People are afraid that they will be killed in order to intimidate others,” one Palestinian source said. The revelation this month has sparked theories in the Palestinian media about who sold the house that abuts the Temple Mount in the Old City’s Muslim Quarter. The house is thought to have been acquired by an Israeli right-wing nonprofit group, Ateret Cohanim.
On Thursday, the Israeli police prevented an investigative effort by a local sheikh in order to avoid disclosing the names of the people involved in the sale.
The building had belonged to a well-known family whose head, Adeeb Joudeh, holds the symbolic keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The family tried to sell the house to Fadi al-Salamin – a Palestinian businessman in the United States and a critic of corruption in the Palestinian Authority. Salamin is close to Mohammed Dahlan, a rival of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
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The PA foiled the sale by freezing the accounts of Joudeh and Salamin. Joudeh then sold the building, allegedly for 2.5 million shekels ($680,000), to a broker named Khaled Atari, an associate of senior PA officials. Atari registered the building with a company registered on a Caribbean island. A few months later the settlers moved in.
Last week senior figures in East Jerusalem began investigating the matter. Atari said Salamin had asked him to sell to settlers, but Salamin denied this. On Thursday the police arrested people involved in the investigation, on suspicions Atari had been threatened.
Sources close to Dahlan are charging the PA with thwarting the original deal with Salamin to facilitate the sale to settlers.
Joudeh and Atari have published ads in the Palestinian media rejecting allegations that they knew of or took part in the transfer of the house to Jews, but their messages have done little to assuage local Palestinians.
Salamin sharply criticized the PA. “It’s an amazing plot – they incriminate you, take the money and kill or imprison you, but this time it didn’t work because they left too many loose ends,” he told Haaretz.
“I’m not dead or under their control, I’m in America and can obtain important information. They didn’t take into account the way people think – Jerusalem isn’t the West Bank,” he added.
“You can’t sell anything you want to, and people aren’t affected by rumors. There’s more freedom to speak out against the [Palestinian] Authority in Jerusalem. If I were in the West Bank I’d be jailed. They’d take my money and appear as heroes. “
The police said that “after we learned about threats, suspects were detained. The police seek to extend the detention of those arrested. The investigation continues and will be thoroughly pursued.”