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Pro-settler group returns to court to evict 9 Palestinian families in Jerusalem

Nov. 16, 2016 7:06 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 17, 2016 4:13 P.M.)
A view of Silwa,n to the south of the Old City in occupied East Jerusalem. (MaanImages/Killian Redden/File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Ateret Cohanim, a pro-settler Israeli organization, has asked Israeli courts to begin the evictions of nine Palestinian families in the neighborhood of Silwan in occupied East Jerusalem, according to Israeli media.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that the total number of Palestinian families the settler group has attempted to evict has risen to 72, all of whom live in the Batan al-Hawa area of Silwan.

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 -- which focuses on “Judaizing” 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 Wadi Hilweh Information Center obtained a map last year that detailed the group’s plans of confiscating 5,200 square meters of land in the Batan al-Hawa area of Silwan, over claims that the properties were owned by Jews from Yemen since 1881.

The land in question houses around 300 Palestinians, or 80 families, living in more than 30 buildings, according to the center. The area under threat was reportedly owned by Yemenite Jews since 1881, but was later abandoned and repurposed for Palestinian housing after the Arab-Israeli war of 1948 which established the state of Israel and displaced some 750,000 Palestinians.

The land was reportedly owned by the Benvenisti Trust, a Jewish-run financial trust established in the late 19th century, while Ateret Cohanim became the group’s trustee in 2001, according to Haaretz. The trust is now made up of Jewish Israeli lawmakers who work on increasing Jewish presence in occupied East Jerusalem.

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

The area of Silwan has also been targeted due to its close proximity to East Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, known as the Temple Mount among Jews, which has remained a longstanding flashpoint for tensions between Palestinians and Jewish settlers illegally residing in East Jerusalem.

Ateret Cohanim, along with other pro-settler organizations, commonly uses Israel’s 1970 Legal and Administrative Matters law to evict Palestinians from their homes. According to the law, Jewish Israelis are allowed to claim ownership of property if they can prove it was under Jewish ownership before 1948.

However, the law only applies to Jewish Israelis, and not to Palestinians who were dispossessed of their lands and properties prior to and after the establishment of Israel in 1948, despite their right being upheld by UN General Assembly Resolution 194.

Ateret Cohanim has forced out several Palestinian families over the past few years, with some 30 families currently threatened with eviction in Batan al-Hawa, as hundreds of Palestinians have been targeted through discriminatory legal channels.

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.

In June, Israel’s Local Planning and Building Committee approved a permit for the group to construct a four-story building in Batan al-Hawa that would expand the control of the controversial settler group further into the heart of the Silwan neighborhood.

The Israeli human rights group Ir Amim said at the time that although the building permit stated the construction would be designated to three parcels of land allegedly owned by the Moshe Benvenisti religious trust, municipality maps have indicated that one of the parcels of land is not owned 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, displacing a Palestinian family in September from their home in the neighborhood of Saadiya in the Old City.

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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