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 Palestinian Presence in Old City and Surrounding Neighborhoods under Mounting Pressure

October 9, 2018

Last week, two evictions were carried out in the heart of contested Jerusalem, one in the Old City and one in Silwan.  Serious in themselves, these evictions must be seen in the context of mounting pressures on the Palestinian presence in the Old City and surrounding band of neighborhoods – a well-integrated program of evictions and touristic settlement carried out by private settlers with direct backing of the state, along with wide scale demolition threats and use of national parks as a political tool to thwart Palestinian community development while boosting private settlement inside Palestinian neighborhoods. 

On October 3, settlers took over a 2-unit building in the Wadi Hilweh section of Silwan (site of the City of David National Park and future Elad Headquarters, the Kedem Compound), displacing 2 families – 7 people, including two children.  For decades, the building had been in Elad’s sights and after protracted attempts to gain possession, the building has now fallen into its hands.  The site includes a sizeable empty lot that could be used to facilitate tours to the future underground tunnel that will run between the Siloam Pools and the Kedem Compound, future headquarters of Elad.  

Over the past three plus decades, Elad has steadily executed its mission to settle Wadi Hilweh, taking over a total of some 75 homes.  During that time, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) awarded this radical, ideologically driven settler group daily management of the City of David, the most significant touristic settlement site in Jerusalem.  The City of David has become a platform for Elad to disseminate its singularly nationalistic Jewish narrative to some half a million people each year, erasing both pre-King David history and the presence of Palestinians in Silwan.  The state has also been intimately involved with promotion of the Kedem Compound (the future seat of Elad to be located directly across from the City of David, within meters of the Old City walls and Al Aqsa), atop which the new cable car will alight. Please see more in Ir Amim’s seminal report, “Shady Dealings in Silwan,” an expose of the deeply entrenched relationship between the state and private settlers in Silwan.

In the middle of the night, between October 3 and 4, settlers took over a two-story building (3 units) at a strategic junction in the northern section of the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, just one block from the Haram al-Sharif.  This takeover was executed by the Ateret Cohanim settler organization, active predominantly in the Muslim Quarter and Batan al-Hawa, Silwan. Press reports indicate suspected involvement of the PA. 

In Batan al-Hawa, aided by the Israeli General Custodian, Ateret Cohanim is in the unique position of waging a singular, large scale takeover in a Palestinian neighborhood – the most significant settler takeover since Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967. Since 2015, fourteen families have been displaced and based on the General Custodian’s conveyance of two parcels of land to a trust managed by Ateret Cohanim, the settler group now has the legal foundation to evict another 84 families.  Please see Ir Amim’s and Peace Now’s joint report, “Broken Trust” for details and analysis.

Today, there are roughly 2,500 private settlers embedded in the hearts of Palestinian neighborhoods.

Roughly 180 Palestinian homes are under threat of eviction in East Jerusalem, mostly focused in the Old City and surrounding Palestinian neighborhoods – the “Holy Basin” to settlers and the state.  In addition to Elad and Ateret Cohanim, Jerusalem councilman Arieh King is actively working to solidify his foothold there. King moonlights as head of the Israel Land Fund, created to fulfill “the desire of Diaspora Jews to take a more active role in redeeming the land of Israel, especially in Jerusalem.”  On Septemember 20, Ir Amim reported that the District Planning and Building Committee would deposit for objections two plans in the Um Haroun section of Sheik Jarrah, site of the Shemasneh eviction in the summer of 2017. The two plans, one for construction of a six-story building of three units and one for a six-story building of ten units, would require the evictions of the Palestinian families living in the current buildings. Both of these plans are being promoted by King, who promises to put 400 more radical nationalist Jews in Sheikh Jarrah over the next decade. Recently it was revealed that the Israeli General Custodian rented empty plots in Um Haroun to King.

Approximately 45 families are under threat of eviction in Um-Haroun and another 30 or so across Nablus Road in the Kerem Alja'oni section of Sheikh Jarrah.  Please refer to this joint Ir Amim-Peace Now alert for additional background.

Private settlement activities – including touristic settlement – have disastrous implications for Palestinians in Jerusalem, the relationship between Palestinians and Israelis in Jerusalem, the two state solution, and the Old City as home and historic center of the three major monotheistic world religions. It is vital that the traditional calculus of settlement building be readjusted to 1) treat these coordinated efforts to consolidate control of the Old City and surrounding Palestinian neighborhoods with the same urgency afforded to settlement building throughout the whole of East Jerusalem; 2) ensure a holistic response that regards private settlement inside the Old City Basin and touristic settlement not as individual phenomena but as multiple elements of a unified and politically lethal strategy. Please see Ir Amim’s recent paper, “Circumventing Red Lines: The Paradigmatic Shift in Israel’s Policy on Jerusalem,” for more on the central role of the Old City Basin in Israel’s strategic agenda for the city.

Please address all inquiries to:

Betty Herschman

Director of International Relations & Advocacy

Ir Amim (City of Nations/City of Peoples)





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Twitter: @IrAmimAlerts





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