News of Jews Taking Over House Next to Jerusalem's Temple Mount Spur Palestinian Media Uproar

Internal Palestinian political rivalries ultimately led Palestinian Authority to sell property to a broker, who immediately transferred it to a right-wing Israeli NGO, reports say

The house in Jerusalem's Old City, on Monday, October 8, 2018
Olivier Fitoussi

The unexpected revelation that Jews have taken over a Palestinian house in Jerusalem's Old City has sparked a flood of theories and accusations in the Palestinian media as to who exactly sold the house to them.

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Previously the house, which abuts the Temple Mount, belonged to one of the best known and distinguished Palestinian families in the city, the Joudeh family, which has kinship ties with the aristocratic Husseini family. The head of the family is Adeeb Joudeh al-Husseini al-Ghodayya, a well-known figure in the Old City, who – by virtue of his family heritage – is keeper of the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

A contested house in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan that was recently acquired by the pro-settler Elad organization, October 2018
Olivier Fitoussi

According to reports in the last week, the Joudeh family has 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 to be a crony of Mohammed Dahlan, a bitter rival of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Salamin is also highly critical of the Palestinian Authority headed by Abbas.

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. According to Israel's Land Registry, Atari purchased the house last April – and on the same day, transferred its ownership to a company registered in the Caribbean, named Daho Holdings.

Six months later, Jews moved into the house and it emerged that dwelling had apparently been acquired by the Israeli right-wing nonprofit Ateret Cohanim.

A view of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City, December 6, 2018.
Oded Balilty/AP

The fact that Jews moved into a house that once belonged to a respected Palestinian family, which is located so close to the sometimes-volatile Temple Mount, has now whipped up an uproar in the Palestinian press and social media. Sources close to Dahlan are charging the PA with thwarting the original deal with Fadi al-Salamin to facilitate the sale to Jewish settlers.

Adeeb Joudeh and Atari have both published ads in the Palestinian media rejecting allegations that they knew of or had been involved in the transferral of the house to Jews, but their messages have done little to assuage the Palestinian street.

In the last week the accusations have become shriller and new names of PA people who may have been involved in the debacle were cited, among them Majid Faraj, head of Palestinian intelligence, and Adnan Husseini, governor of Jerusalem on behalf of the PA.

Faraj has been mentioned as a possible successor to Abbas as PA chairman; his association with this affair arose because Atari is considered to be one of the intelligence chief's cronies. As for Husseini, by virtue of his position, he should have given his approval for the transaction. In a tape making the rounds recently, Husseini is heard calling Atari a “reliable person.”

Meanwhile, Sheikh Ikrima Sa’id Sabri, imam of the Temple Mount's Al-Aqsa Mosque, renewed the fatwa forbidding the sale of assets to Jews, and threatening “anyone who furtively transfers an asset to Jews” with excommunication. Upon death, the fatwa elaborates, the body of such an individual “may not be washed, wrapped in a shroud, prayed over or buried in a Muslim cemetery,” according to the 0202 East Jerusalem news website.

Elad's success in Silwan

Meanwhile, last week members of the Elad NGO succeeded – after a 25-year effort – to oust the occupants of a house next to a mosque in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan. The house, formerly belonging to the Masarwa family, is located in the Wadi Hilweh quarter, next to the national park that the pro-settler NGO runs.

Originally Elad tried to purchase the house by dint of the “abandoned property” law, under which, if the owners are considered to be missing after moving to a hostile country, the state may expropriate such a structure and lease it to settlers. Indeed, Elad has managed to do that in a number of other cases. However, the Masarwas’ lawyer, Danny Seideman, proved that the property's owners were not “missing.”

But eventually, after the owners died, Elad succeeded to acquire parts of the asset from various heirs; thereafter, the NGO appealed to the courts to dismantle any remaining legal obstacles to force the remaining heirs to sell their shares. Palestinian sources say that during the evacuation, seven people, including three children, were kicked out of the house. For its part Elad insists that it bought the structure legally, for its full price.