The Israeli occupation is determined to alter the face of Jerusalem, especially in the area of Al-Aqsa Mosque, by taking control over land and real estate in Silwan district in East Jerusalem.
The relentless assault against the property and the character of the city and the efforts to combat it on the part of Jerusalemites and other grassroots and religious forces have brought the plight of the occupied people in East Jerusalem to the fore again.
Although the occupation authorities’ designs on Palestinian property in East Jerusalem have existed since the beginning of the occupation, they have picked up pace over the past seven years, according to Alaa Al-Rimawi, director of Al-Quds Centre for Israeli and Palestinian Studies.
Some of the occupation’s means to acquire property are surreptitious. It creates special settlement societies using Arabic names in order to purchase land in the West Bank and then real estate in Jerusalem neighbourhoods.
Palestinians secretly connected with the occupation and other Arab fronts lent themselves to the process. So, too, have money transfers from Arab countries in the names of philanthropic societies.
Al-Rimawi maintained that such ruses, which often depend on morally weak individuals, did not account for a great proportion of the land acquisitions.
However, he acknowledged that it was a situation that was very difficult to monitor. “During recent years we in the Al-Quds Centre picked up on only a handful of cases. However, if the phenomenon is repeated it could be dangerous because some of the properties that have been illicitly transferred are situated in strategic locations near Al-Aqsa Mosque or in Palestinian Arab neighbourhoods adjacent to the mosque precinct. This threatens to weaken the cohesion of the Palestinian demographic structure and facilitate the spread of the occupation.”
He stressed that the Jerusalem municipality, to which East Jerusalem has been annexed, was also armed with powers to confiscate land in property under the pretext of the occupation authority’s laws.
“You’ll find, for example, lands that have been confiscated by the occupation’s armed forces and buildings that have been used for public services and that have also been confiscated by the municipality which is constantly working to expand the scope of confiscations.”
Al-Rimawi underscored another important tactic that has recently been the source of heated controversy: the confiscation of church property. As church-owned properties are spread across many different parts of the Holy City, the municipality’s drive to seize possession of them “poses a grave threat to the security of the city and its real estate”, he said.
Still, despite this grim picture, there was a growing grassroots resistance. “We now have a Jerusalemite awareness that is embodied in the families who have exposed individuals that play any part in the transfer of property to the occupation,” Al-Rimawi said.
He added that cultural and religious figures in Jerusalem, both Muslim and Christian, have taken a firm stance against all who lend themselves to occupation’s methods of acquiring property and that they are backed by Palestinian parties which are also fighting the phenomenon.
However, he stressed, greater coordination and cohesion is needed. In this framework, Al-Rimawi emphasised the role that the Arab and foreign press needed to play in conveying the full and accurate picture of the plight of the people of Jerusalem who are the victims of sustained economic blockade, restrictions against their businesses, employment bans and frequent random arrests.
“This necessitates a genuine Arab stance in support of us in Jerusalem, whether by contributing to the restoration of the old Jerusalem homes, especially in light of the occupation’s opposition to restoration activities, or by contributing to the development of the educational sector in view of the Jerusalem municipality’s current attempts to take control over that sector in order to disseminate ignorance and ‘Israelify’ the curricula. It is essential to support the Jerusalemite individual to enable him to remain steadfast.”
The Palestinian Fatwa Authority has also cautioned Jerusalemites against selling property in Jerusalem without obtaining a recommendation for the purchaser from the religious authorities.
At the same time, rights lawyers maintain that it is possible to annul most of the contracts signed with settlement societies on the basis of the illegalities involved in securing these contracts.
In a recent demonstration of Jerusalemites’ growing awareness and determination to safeguard their city and its property, demonstrators last week refused to allow the coffin of Alaa Qirsh into Al-Aqsa Mosque and two other mosques on the grounds that he had colluded in the transfer of properties to settlers in the Old City.
According to news reports, Qirsh was among six workers from Jerusalem who had died in a car accident near the Dead Sea on Sunday.
Video clips shared by several activists from Jerusalem purported to show an argument in a hospital courtyard involving members of Qirsh’s family after they were told that his body would not be allowed into Al-Aqsa Mosque.
According to news sites, it was a member of his own family who had confirmed that he had colluded in the transfer of the title of a 300 metre-square house in Al-Saadiya neighbourhood of Old Jerusalem.
According to that family member, whom the sources did not name, the inhabitants had been evacuated in 2010, since which time the family had disowned Alaa.
The same source said that the family did not oppose the refusal to hold prayer ceremonies for the deceased and that they would not hold condolence ceremonies for him in deference to appeals from the Palestinian people and prominent figures in Jerusalem who called for the harshest punishments against all who collude in the illicit transfer of property to the Israeli occupation.
Since occupying East Jerusalem and the vicinity, Israeli occupation authorities have usurped around 140 Palestinian properties in Silwan and the vicinity of the Old City using the laws it concocted for the purpose, subterfuge and forged deeds.
Their ultimate aim is to alter the demographic balance in Jerusalem in favour of Israeli settlers and to force out thousands of native Jerusalemite families.
Zionist settlers have used many devices in order to get title to Palestinian homes and properties. In addition to those mentioned above, they frequently resorted to the Absentees’ Property Law passed by the Knesset in 1950 and which facilitated the confiscation of land, property and assets belong to Palestinians who had been expelled or forced to flee their homes in 1948.
This “legal” instrument is now being increasingly used to confiscate and acquire title and usufructuary rights to properties in territories occupied in 1967 and in East Jerusalem in particular.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 8 November, 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Jerusalem, property heist