Judging by past experience, there is a good chance that the right-wing Ateret Cohanim association will eventually evict the 51 Palestinian families living in the heart of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan. As Nir Hasson reported in Haaretz on Friday, Ateret Cohanim is now at the peak of its legal battle to remove some 300 Palestinians living in Batan al-Hawa. The legal argument that will allow the eviction has already been accepted in the past by the courts. Its basic point is that the Palestinians are squatters on land that has belonged to Jews for more than a century. But in contrast to the way settlers are presenting it, this is not a private property dispute between the families and the landowners. The eviction efforts are a clear manifestation of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians in Jerusalem.
- How Israel helps settler group move Jews into East Jerusalem’s Silwan
- Rightist group boosting efforts to evict Arabs, settle Jews in East Jerusalem
- The secret relationship between the government and the settlers
First, Israeli law allows only Jews to demand that property abandoned due to the 1948 war be returned. Most of the families living in Batan al-Hawa abandoned property in West Jerusalem or elsewhere; however, they have no right to ask for it back. Second, the department in the Justice Ministry that administers such properties, as well as the Jerusalem municipality, the Construction Ministry, the Israel Police and other authorities, relentlessly aid Ateret Cohanim in its plan to make Silwan Jewish.
Third, the Israeli taxpayer is footing the bill for the settlement being established in the heart of Silwan’s crowded casbah. The Jewish families living there are certainly the most heavily guarded since the 2005 evacuation of Netzarim in the Gaza Strip. According to an official familiar with the matter, it costs as much as 1 million shekels (about $258,000) a year from the Construction Ministry’s budget to protect each family.
Fourth, the Jewish settlement in the heart of Silwan undoubtedly contributes to increased violence in the city – violence from which both Israelis and Palestinians suffer. The police have already conceded a link between settlements and violence. Thus, this is not a private project by an extremist group, but a deliberate government policy for which the Israeli public is paying the price.
Beyond these problems, it must be remembered that the settlement project in the heart of Silwan is bound to fail. Settlement efforts there have been ongoing for more than 25 years. Hundreds of millions of shekels have been poured into it, and it has had the sweeping support of successive governments. Nonetheless, as in Hebron, the settlers remain a tiny minority, a minuscule percentage of the population.
Even if the current efforts are successful and all 51 families are replaced by Jewish families, nothing will change. Silwan will remain a Palestinian village with tens of thousands of inhabitants. This policy achieves nothing but to pour more oil on the fire and amplify the suffering of the Palestinian inhabitants. Consequently, the government must stop encouraging Jewish settlement in Silwan.