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Israeli minister adds West Bank church compound to settlement bloc

Jan. 6, 2016 11:12 A.M. (Updated: Jan. 6, 2016 7:23 P.M.)
Palestinian protesters clash with Israeli soldiers outside the Beit al-Baraka chuch compound in the southern West Bank. (MaanImages/File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon has decided to incorporate a southern West Bank church compound into the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, Israeli daily Haaretz reported Wednesday.

The 38-dunam (9.3 acre) compound, known as Beit al-Baraka, is located to the north of al-Arrub refugee camp in the southern West Bank district of Hebron.

An investigative report by Haaretz in May last year alleged that American millionaire Irving Moskowitz purchased the site through a Swedish company in 2012 with the intention of turning it into a settlement outpost.

Since then, Palestinians have staged regular protests outside the compound, often with Palestinian political and religious leaders in attendance.

The church lies in a sensitive location between the Gush Etzion settlement bloc and the cluster of settlements around Hebron, and its incorporation into Gush Etzion would see a near continuous line of settlements between Jerusalem and Hebron.

Haaretz, which has followed the case closely, reported Wednesday that the Gush Etzion regional council had sought Yaalon's approval to add the compound to it's municipality's jurisdiction.

"Yaalon has agreed to this request, and the military commander in the territories signed off on the order," Haaretz reported. "This means the property is now officially part of the settlement bloc."

Haaretz's investigation earlier this year alleged that a Swedish company established in 2007 had been used to cover up the sale and transfer of Beit al-Baraka in 2012 to a settler organization funded by Moskowitz.

A pastor who headed the church that previously owned the compound, Keith Coleman, told Haaretz he thought it had been sold to a Swedish company called Scandinavian Seamen Holy Land Enterprises in March 2008 that would revive its use as a church.

However, Haaretz discovered that "the Swedish group was established in Stockholm in 2007, and seems to have been used as a cover for transferring the ownership of the compound to the settlers. The group does not seem to have any offices."

The Swedish company registered the purchase with the Israeli Civil Administration in 2012.

The company was then dissolved, with ownership handed over to an American nonprofit organization, American Friends of the Everest Foundation, funded by Irving Moskowitz and working towards the eventual "Judaization" of occupied East Jerusalem.

Haaretz reported that representatives of the compound's new owner said they were not planning to allow settlers to move into the buildings, "but information obtained by Haaretz indicates that the property is intended to become a settlement."

There are more than 500,000 Israelis living in illegal settlements across occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
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