Ateret Cohanim, an organization that seeks to settle Jews in East Jerusalem, recently asked the courts to evict another nine Palestinian families from East Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood.
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This brings the total number of Palestinian families whom the group is seeking to evict to 72. All live in a section of Silwan called Batan al-Hawa.
In the early 20th century, this area was a Jewish neighborhood housing Yemenite Jews. The land was owned by the Benvenisti Trust, which Jerusalem’s Jewish community established in 1899 to finance construction of the houses.
In 2001, Ateret Cohanim became Benvenisti’s trustee. Its appointment was supported by the Justice Ministry’s custodian general and approved by the Jerusalem District Court. Ever since, it has been waging a legal and economic campaign to evict Palestinian residents of the area from their houses.
Most of the Palestinians in question have lived there since the 1950s or 1960s. Altogether, about 80 families live on land that the state transferred to the trust, and Ateret Cohanim seeks to evict them all and replace them with Jewish families.
Over the last two years, the legal proceedings have accelerated, and several families have already been evicted. About a year ago, for instance, the Abu Nab family was evicted from their home, which used to be the neighborhood’s synagogue. The building is now being renovated for use as a synagogue once again, and a few days ago, a large Star of David that lights up at night was installed on the roof.
Over the past two weeks, Ateret Cohanim sought two additional eviction orders from the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, though the cases are unlikely to be settled for years. One is against the Shihada family, which occupies five apartments, and the other against the Ghaith family, which occupies four. Altogether, dozens of people live in these nine apartments.
A few dozen Jews currently live in Batan al-Hawa, most of them in a building called Beit Yonatan. There are almost daily clashes between local Palestinians and Israeli police and security guards protecting the Jewish families. Two other buildings whose Palestinian residents have been evicted over the past year are currently being renovated so that Jewish families can move in.
If all the other Palestinians in Batan al-Hawa are evicted, this would enable the establishment of a sizable Jewish neighborhood in the heart of Silwan, surrounded by tens of thousands of Palestinians.
Ateret Cohanim is also trying to build another building near Beit Yonatan, but the plan has been delayed by the regional planning committee’s board of appeals, which recently ordered the local planning committee to reconvene to consider objections to the plan.
“The Israeli government that is helping to evict residents of Batan al-Hawa from their homes, which they purchased legally, is the same government that is violating the rules of ethics and good government by leaving residents of Amona on lands owned by Silwad,” said Aviv Tatarsky, a researcher with the Ir Amim NGO, referring to an illegal West Bank outpost which the High Court of Justice has ordered evacuated because it was built on privately owned Palestinian land.
“Escaping the blind ally of the ‘entire Land of Israel’ policy will be possible only if Palestinians’ rights in Jerusalem are recognized and the need for both peoples to reach a diplomatic agreement is internalized,” said Tatarsky of Ir Amim, which strives to make Jerusalem a more equitable city for Israelis and Palestinians.
Attorney Avraham Moshe Segal, who represents the Benvenisti Trust, said, “Various courts, first and foremost the Supreme Court, have ruled that the trust is the sole owner of the land, and we expect the courts’ rulings to be honored to the letter.”