A group of Jews moved into recently purchased buildings in the East Jerusalem Arab neighborhood of Silwan overnight Monday, prompting an angry protest by local residents in which a border policeman was lightly injured.
The move-in was timed for the dead of night to mitigate security concerns, and also to potentially embarrass Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is currently in the US to attend the UN General Assembly and to meet with US President Barack Obama and other officials, the NRG news site reported.
The structures in the neighborhood, which abuts the Old City, were purchased over the last several years by an American-based company, Kendall Finances, one of several groups seeking to expand the Jewish presence in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem.
Despite their attempt at stealth, members of the Jewish group were confronted by a large crowd of Arab residents, who harassed them with shouts, rocks and fireworks until they were dispersed by riot police. The injured officer, who was hit by a rock, was treated at the scene.
Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat blasted the new settlement in a statement, saying: “This morning, illegal Israeli settlers protected by occupation forces entered seven buildings in the neighborhood of Silwan.”
He claimed that “a total of seven Palestinian families were left homeless” as a result.
Erekat accused the Israeli government of being run “by the settlers and for settlers. It serves the objective of altering the character of Jerusalem through isolating, containing and confining Palestinian existence, allowing for more Israeli land grabs and attempts at changing the identity and demography of Palestine and particularly of occupied East Jerusalem.”
The move was organized in part by Elad, an NGO that oversees the Ir David archaeological park, also in Silwan, and is dedicated to facilitating Jewish settlement in Arab East Jerusalem. In recent years several new Jewish neighborhoods or complexes have sprung up in heavily populated areas of East Jerusalem, often accompanied by protests or legal challenges. Ir David itself houses about 50 families in a small community.
Silwan residents said that they questioned the sale of the buildings, which comprise some 25 apartments in total, to Jews, and noted that the buildings belonged to three established families in the neighborhood. However, Avi Segal, a lawyer for Kendall Finances, said that the company “chose to invest in Jerusalem houses, and they were purchased legally.”
The mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Muhammad Hussein, said he was unfamiliar with the details but called the entry of Jewish residents to Silwan a “criminal act” that furthered the “Judaization” of Jerusalem. He called on the Israeli government to stop the settlers and arrest them.
Left-wing politicians criticized the move. Meretz chairwoman Zahava Gal-on warned that it could “inflame the city” and said that increasing the population of “Jewish settlers in Silwan is part of a strategic plan to establish right-wing, Jewish enclaves in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem.” That plan, she charged, was designed to prevent a contiguous East Jerusalem and to block the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Jerusalem city councilman Pepe Alalu, also of Meretz, called the move-in a “provocative” act by people who want to continue the tense situation in the city, and said that “no one can argue that Silwan is an Arab village, with no place for Jewish settlement.”
Meanwhile, right-wing MKs praised the development. Deputy Transportation Minister Tzipi Hotovely of Likud welcomed “the trend of strengthening East Jerusalem… Jews have the right to purchase homes in East Jerusalem and to live there without molestation, especially since no one is stopping the trend of Arabs taking over Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem.”
MK Ze’ev Elkin, also of Likud, praised the move as one that would help ensure that one of the “most important historical sites from Jewish history remain accessible to the entire Jewish people.”
The Ir David area, also known as the City of David, is believed by some archaeologists to be the site of the original palace of King David, the biblical ruler of Israel and conqueror of Jerusalem.
The new Jewish residents of Silwan are part of a larger trend of returning the area to its “historical owners, the Jewish people,” MK Moti Yogev of the right-wing Jewish Home party said, and added that Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem helped to ensure that a “united Jerusalem” remained as Israel’s capital.