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Israeli settler group takes over Palestinian building in East Jerusalem neighborhood

Jan. 8, 2017 9:55 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 9, 2017 2:43 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma’an) -- Israeli settlement group Elad reportedly took over a Palestinian-owned property in the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan on Sunday, the Wadi Hilweh Information Center said.

According to the local NGO, nearly a dozen Elad guards raided a two-story residential building on al-Ein Street in Silwan belonging to Hani Sarhan on Sunday morning while its owners were away in Jordan.

Relatives of Sarhan who live in the area argued with the guards and brought out paperwork attesting to his ownership of the house.

The relatives said that Elad had claimed ownership of the building several years ago after using a Palestinian as a proxy to buy the house from Sarhan then transfer it to the settlement group -- a common practice by settler groups wishing to expand their presence in Palestinian-majority areas of East Jerusalem.

Once Sarhan realized the misrepresentation that had taken place, he took the case to Israeli courts and was able to reclaim ownership of the building three years ago, the relatives added, stating that Sarhan was planning to head once more to the Israeli justice system upon his return to East Jerusalem.

A spokesperson for Israel’s Jerusalem municipality could not be immediately reached for comment on the case.

On Dec. 30, Elad took over another building in Silwan, which it said it had purchased using a similar Palestinian “straw man” mechanism.

When asked about the involvement of Israeli police in that case, Israeli police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld questioned the validity of the reports, telling Ma'an at the time that Wadi Hilweh Information Center’s claims that Palestinian property had been taken over by settlers were “not serious” and “irrelevant.”

Jerusalem's Israeli city planning commission also approved a plan to build a three-story building for Jewish settlers in the heart of Silwan in December, introduced by Israeli pro-settlement nonprofit organization Ateret Cohanim -- the same day the Jerusalem municipality demolished Palestinian-owned structures in the neighborhood.

The Elad and Ateret Cohanim groups are a strong force in the Israeli settler movement in East Jerusalem, with Elad leading a takeover of 25 buildings in the neighborhood of Silwan in 2015, which constituted the largest incursion of Israeli settlers into a Palestinian neighborhood in the past 20 years, according to the the Applied Research Institute Jerusalem (ARIJ).

Also known as the Ir David Foundation, Elad aims to "rediscover and preserve the Biblical city of David," in an effort to connect Jews to their Biblical roots through tourism, archaeological excavation, and "Judaizing Jerusalem" by buying out homes in Palestinian majority neighborhoods.

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, a fact reaffirmed in a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s settlement policy which passed in December.
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