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Israeli settler group receives approval for construction of 4-story building in East Jerusalem

June 15, 2016 6:28 P.M. (Updated: June 16, 2016 12:04 P.M.)
A picture taken on August 29, 2013 shows a Palestinian flag fluttering in front of buildings in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan.(AFP/File Ahmad Gharabli)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israeli authorities Wednesday approved a building permit for a pro-settlement organization to construct a four-story building in the area of Batan al-Hawa in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in occupied East Jerusalem, according to a statement by Israeli human rights group Ir Amim.

Israel’s Local Planning and Building Committee approved the permit for the building that will expand the control of the controversial settler group Ateret Cohanim further into the heart of the Silwan neighborhood -- a Palestinian area targeted by settler groups due to its close proximity to the the Al-Aqsa Mosque, referred to as the Temple Mount by Jews and revered as the holiest site in Judaism.

Ateret Cohanim is an Israeli pro-settlement nonprofit organization -- receiving tax-deductible donations from the United States through their financial intermediary American Friends of Ateret Cohanim.

The group focuses on “Judaizing” occupied East Jerusalem through a Jewish reclamation project working to expand illegal settlements and facilitate Jewish takeover of Palestinian properties across the “Green Line” into Palestinian territory.

The Batan al-Hawa neighborhood is one of the most densely populated areas in East Jerusalem, where hundreds of Palestinians reside.

Ateret Cohanim reportedly applied for the permit to construct the four-story building in September -- however, earlier reports indicated the building would be three-stories -- after purchasing the land plots from the General Custodian without tender and without publicizing the property’s sale to local Palestinian residents.

The approval of the building permits were frozen for several weeks due to political pressure. However, according to Ir Amim, a meeting was held Wednesday morning and the building permits were approved following a discussion and a vote that took place before opposing committee members arrived.

Ir Amim added that although the building permit stated the construction would be designated to three parcels of land allegedly owned by the Moshe Benvenisti religious trust -- a group of Israeli lawmakers who work for Ateret Cohanim -- municipality maps have indicated that one of the parcels of land is not owned by the group.

The recent approval of construction for an additional settlement building in Silwan coincides with the group’s larger plans to populate areas around the Al-Aqsa Mosque with Jewish settlement housing.

The Wadi Hilweh Information Center obtained a map last year that detailed the group’s plans of confiscating 5200 square meters of land in the Batan al-Hawa area of Silwan under claims that the properties were owned by Jews from Yemen since 1881.

Under Israel’s 1970 Legal and Administrative Matters Law, Israeli Jews can legally evict Palestinians from their home if they can prove that the property was Jewish-owned before 1948 when Israel was established.

However, the law only applies to Jews and does not apply to Palestinians who were dispossessed of their lands and properties during and after the establishment of Israel in 1948, despite their right being upheld in international law in UN General Assembly Resolution 194.

Several Palestinian families have already been evicted from Batan al-Hawa due to the group’s activities, as the lands being targeted for settlement expansion comprise of 30-35 residential apartments housing 80 families.

The settlement plan would see the displacement of more than 300 Palestinians residing within the targeted area.

The parcel of land slated for construction which is reportedly not owned by Ateret Cohanim is located outside the parameters of the 88 units that have been central to the group’s plans of developing illegal settlement units to take over the Palestinian neighborhood, according to Ir Amim.

The human rights group stated that this indicates that the settler organization has plans to develop illegal settlements beyond the land purchased by the group.

Silwan has two main concentrations of illegal Israeli settlements: one cluster of settlements is run by the pro-settlement organization Elad and controls the area near the Old City walls, adjacent to the City of David National Park, with the other area controlled by Ateret Cohanim in the heart of the densely-populated neighborhood of Silwan.

Ateret Cohanim has also targeted Palestinians who hold “protected status,” which refers to certain Palestinians in East Jerusalem who held rental agreements with the Jordanian government before 1967, when Israel occupied the Palestinian territory.

The leaseholder is considered a protected tenant for three generations. However, when the last family member of the third generation dies, the family loses the status.

Once a family has lost their protected status, the settler group can then begin the process of evicting them to make room for Jewish settlers.

The organization has also worked to purchase property from Palestinians to increase Jewish presence in East Jerusalem while deterring Jewish families from selling property to Palestinians.

Israeli watchdog Peace Now said in October that settlers affiliated with Ateret Cohanim had doubled in population size in the Batan al-Hawa neighborhood over the past year.

There are an upwards of 300,000 Israeli settlers residing in East Jerusalem, with at least 500 living in Silwan among a population of 45,000 Palestinians.

The presence of Israeli settlers in occupied Palestinian territory is considered illegal under international law according to the Fourth Geneva Convention.
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