Right-wing activists and Palestinians have engaged in a bidding war over a three-room house in East Jerusalem this week, driving the price of the unassuming structure to over NIS 11 million ($3 million) in a feud embodying the struggle for land in the capital. The auction could resume Thursday.
The house on Dalman street in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem is only 72 square meters (775 square feet) and one of its rooms is a storage room with no windows, according to a report in the Hebrew daily Haaretz.
Like many homes in the area, the property was owned by a Jewish family until 1948, when Jews were forced to flee the city during Israel’s War of Independence. Decades ago, Palestinian families moved into the area, and now most pay rent to Jewish heirs of the original owners or to the Israeli government, Haaretz reported.
The same Palestinian family has lived in the house on Dalman street for over 50 years, according to Channel 13 news.
A few months ago the Jewish owners of the house decided to sell the property, but following a dispute over the sale a court decided that the house would be sold to the highest bidder and the profits divided among the heirs.
“It’s really not a fancy house, but it’s very meaningful,” right-wing activist Aryeh King told Channel 13.
The Israel Land Fund, a right-wing organization headed by King that promotes efforts to settle Jews in the West Bank and in Arab-majority neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, organized bidding on the home, Haaretz reported. The group has been contacting property owners in the area to encourage them to evict Palestinian families.
“I won’t let my kids eat [if it means] I’ll buy the house,” one neighborhood activist told Channel 13.
Right-wing activists initially offered the family around NIS 900,000 for the property, around NIS 200,000 higher than the home’s true estimated value, but the family refused to sell.
“We put an offer on their table, from our side, the Jewish side, to buy the plot for much more than it’s worth, but nonetheless, they went ahead with parallel negotiations,” King told Channel 13.
Palestinians interested in buying the house approached the family, leading to the bidding war between the two sides on Tuesday. In one day, the price skyrocketed to over NIS 11 million. It was not clear who had placed the highest bid by the end of the day, but bidding was scheduled to be renewed on Thursday.
In a Facebook post published Thursday morning, King castigated the sellers of the house for holding Jerusalem “ransom.” He went on to say that the Jewish bidders would not continue placing bids on the house.
Bs”dThere's just no easy way to say it. The Holy City of Jerusalem is being held for ransom.Several weeks ago, The…
If the winning bidder is not able to pay the auction price, they will pay a fine, and the buying rights will go to the other party. Haaretz noted that the Palestinian family that bid on the house cannot pay the auction price on its own, and neighborhood activists have claimed the Palestinian Authority would help them with funding.
It is unclear what the bidding war will mean for the future of the land struggle in East Jerusalem, with some activists believing that the astronomical price will encourage more Jewish owners to sell their properties, and some saying the price will simply dissuade right-wing activists from trying to buy houses in the area.