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PA decries Torah scrolls-placing ceremony at settler-run synagogue in Silwan

Aug. 26, 2017 5:01 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 26, 2017 9:37 P.M.)
A view of Silwan neighborhood to the south of the Old City in occupied East Jerusalem (MaanImages/Killian Redden/File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The Palestinian Authority (PA) denounced a Torah scrolls-placing ceremony at a synagogue established by Israeli settlers in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in occupied East Jerusalem on Friday, according to Palestinian media, calling the act a “new act of Israeli aggression.”

According to Wafa news agency, some 300 Israelis, including Israel’s Minister of Agriculture Uri Ariel and Israeli lawmakers, attended the ceremony in Silwan, which was organized by settler group Ateret Cohanim. The group has been behind several Palestinian evictions in occupied East Jerusalem, including in the Old City.

Ateret Cohanim -- which receives tax-deductible donations from the United States through their financial intermediary American Friends of Ateret Cohanim -- 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.

PA spokesperson Yousif al-Mahmoud said that the move at the synagogue was a “new act of Israeli aggression against Jerusalem,” and represented a “grave violation” to the Islamic character of the city, Wafa reported.

Al-Mahmoud added that the establishment of the synagogue, which was advanced by Ateret Cohanim after it took over the property in 2015, had “nothing to do with religion,” and that it was “purely a politically motivated act.”

Al-Mahmoud stated that the Israeli government has used “biblical symbols and metaphors” as justifications to “serve colonial schemes… attempting to obliterate the Palestinian narrative.”

Silwan has been a central target in the Israeli settler movement in East Jerusalem, as it was allegedly once the site a 19th century Jewish community from Yemen.

According to Israeli law, Jewish Israelis are permitted to claim ownership over property believed to have been owned by Jews before 1948 during Ottoman or British rule. However, such a law does not exist for the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees who were displaced from their lands and homes during and after the establishment of the state of Israel.

Many Palestinians moved into homes or plots of land that had once been owned by Jews following the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their lands in historic Palestine during the creation of the Israeli state in 1948.

This law is used by various settler organizations in Jerusalem to forcibly evict Palestinians from their homes and replace them with Jews, in order to shift demographics in the area. Hundreds of Palestinians in East Jerusalem are now vulnerable to settler-driven evictions owing to the law.

On Friday, Israeli authorities notified several Palestinian homeowners in Silwan that their houses were slated for demolition.

According to the international community, Silwan is part of occupied Palestinian territory, despite Israel’s de facto annexation of the territory.

Thus, the transfer of the Israeli population onto Palestinian territory is considered illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention, while the UN has said Israel's settlements could amount to a war crime.
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