Escorted by police, some 50 Jewish Israelis moved into a building in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan early on Thursday morning, claiming that the property belonged to Jewish immigrants before the establishment of the State of Israel.
Ateret Kohanim, a right-wing group that settles Jews in Arab areas of East Jerusalem, said in a statement that the move was timed to “avoid unnecessary friction with some of the local Arabs during the day.”
According to Daniel Luria, the director of Ateret Kohanim, the building was originally owned by Yemenite Jewish immigrants who were forced to leave the property during the tumultuous years before the creation of Israel in 1948. After that, he said, the land came under Jordanian control. During the Six Day War in 1967 Israel gained control of East Jerusalem — including Silwan — and the West Bank.
The settlement watchdog organization Peace Now accused the Israeli government of facilitating settlers’ activity by not preventing the move into the building, and by providing security to the new residents.
“Last night’s entry is not merely a private act, as it was aided by law enforcement authorities,” Peace Now said in a statement. “The government decided in the past not to allow settlement inside Palestinian neighborhoods, and it can do so again. In the meantime, its actions are supporting the dangerous expansion of the settlement in Silwan.”
The previous residents of the building were issued eviction orders earlier this month, the Palestinian Ma’an news agency reported.
The five-story building is in the Batn al-Hawa area of Silwan, a rundown neighborhood outside Jerusalem’s Old City that is home to several hundred Jewish residents and some 50,000 Palestinians.
Luria said that the legal rights to the property have been verified in courts over the past year. Palestinian residents say they are being unfairly evicted and illegally bullied into leaving.
“I have 11 people inside the house, where should I go?” said Jawaf Abu Sneineh, the only Palestinian resident who has still refused to vacate the building. He said he already paid the year’s rent. Abu Sneineh said his children were afraid of Jewish settlers suddenly living above them.
In May, Ateret Kohanim orchestrated a similar takeover of a building in Silwan.
That building, which Ateret Kohanim said was once the synagogue of Kfar Hashiloah, a village built for poor Yemenite immigrants on the slope of the Mount of Olives in the early 1880s, is owned by the Kfar Hashiloah hekdesh, or community trust. A long legal battle in the Jerusalem District Court between trust officials and members of the Abu Naab family, who had moved into the building, ended with the family being ordered to leave.
Jews lived in Kfar Hashiloah from the 1880s until 1938, at the height of the 1936-39 Arab riots, when the British removed them.
Rahel Jaskow and AP contributed to this report.