Israeli Security Forces Raid PA Offices in West Bank Over Sale of Jerusalem Home to Jews

Israeli soldiers confiscated bags and computers and acted violently, employees say ■ Police have recently enforced a stricter policy against individuals in the PA who have acted to uncover Palestinians who sold properties to Jews

File photo: A man is seen from a window as Israeli flags fly on top of a house in Silwan neighborhood of east Jerusalem, August 27, 2015.
AP

Border policemen and Shin Bet security service agents on Sunday raided Palestinian Authority offices in A-Ram, north of Jerusalem, in connection with the sale of a home in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City to Jews. 

The police officers seized files and computers, with employees claiming the security forces acted violently and that four employees needed medical attention. Adnan Husseini, the Palestinian minister for Jerusalem affairs, was there at the time. 

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The Knesset Interior Committee held a hearing last week on the risks faced by Palestinians who sell properties to Jews in East Jerusalem. The hearing was held following the PA’s arrest of Issam Akel, a resident of East Jerusalem who holds American citizenship, two weeks ago in Ramallah on suspicion that he sold his home in Jerusalem’s Old City to a Jewish right-wing association.

Documentation of Israeli officers raiding PA offices north of Jerusalem

At the hearing, right-wing MKs reprimanded the police representative for allowing the PA to operate in East Jerusalem and not doing enough to release Akel. Also at the hearing, MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi) said: “Why don’t you pick up the phone and call the responsible person in the PA and tell him that either the guy gets back within an hour or two or buildings start to fall? What if this was a Jew from Tel Aviv?” 

Since the hearing, it seems police have taken a tougher attitude toward the PA’s Jerusalem District Governor, Adnan Ghaith, who was apparently involved in Akel’s arrest. On Thursday, officers from the Jerusalem police raided a sports club in the Silwan neighborhood, where they arrested several people and dispersed a rally that was led by Ghaith. Israel arrested Ghaith two weeks ago on suspicion of involvement in Akel’s detention and released him a few days later; he was arrested again during the raid on the club but was released after several hours.

About a month ago, a similar affair sparked a storm in the PA. In that case, Palestinian residents of the Old City discovered that a large building near one of the entrances to the Temple Mount had been transferred from Palestinian to Israeli hands. In recent years, it was rumored that the building had been sold to a settler nonprofit, and when Jews began occupying the building last month accusations were hurled between senior Palestinian officials in Jerusalem and the PA, particularly between the associates of PA President Mahmoud Abbas and associates of his rival, Mohammed Dahlan.

The building belonged to the Joudeh family, a prominent family in East Jerusalem. The head of the family, Adeeb Joudeh, is the custodian of the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. 

Adeeb Jawad, the custodian of the keys of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Olivier Fitoussi

The Joudeh family had wanted to sell the property for some time. About two years ago they agreed to sell it to a man named Fadi al-Salamin, a Palestinian political activist who lives in the United States and is considered close to Dahlan. Salamin is also highly critical of Palestinian Authority corruption.

Palestinian sources claim that the PA torpedoed the sale of the house to Salamin, which prompted the Joudeh family to hire a broker named Khaled Atari, who reportedly has ties to senior people in the PA, particularly to the head of Palestinian intelligence, Majad Faraj. Atari purchased the building last April for 2.5 million shekels ($694,000) and transferred its ownership to a company he holds that is registered in the Caribbean. Six months later, Jews moved into the house.

The Palestinian Joudeh family, one of two families entrusted with the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, published an unusual statement after the sale, saying that it has decided to take away the church’s key from Adeeb Joudeh. In the family’s statement, it was said that the keys would be transferred to another family member until the issue was clarified.

The Joudeh and Nuseibeh families were the two families, both Muslim, entrusted with the keys to the church in the 12th century, in an effort to halt the bloodshed between rival Christian groups. Adeeb Joudeh has served as the custodian of the church’s keys for many years.

Last month, several senior figures in East Jerusalem, led by Sheikh Abdullah Alkam of the Shoafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem, began a process akin to arbitration regarding the man behind the sale of the building to Jews. Recent police action has stopped that process.