Police on Monday shut down an office in East Jerusalem allegedly used by the Palestinian Authority to monitor land sales to Jews by Palestinians.
In a statement, police said that the office in the Beit Hanina neighborhood compiled the names of East Jerusalem residents suspected of selling their properties to Jews. The office operated on behalf of the Palestinian security services in Ramallah, according to police.
The East Jerusalem facility, which operated under the guise of a geographical consulting office called the Arab Studies Society, compiled a database of Palestinian landowners in East Jerusalem and tracked changes on the ground, police said.
Police arrested Khalil Tafakji, a cartographer heading the Mapping and Geographic Information Systems Department of the Arab Studies Society. Tafakji also heads the Maps and Survey Department at Jerusalem’s Orient House, which operated as the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s headquarters in the city until the building was shuttered by Israel in 2000.
Police said that during the raid a large number of documents were seized, along with computers.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who ordered the closure of the facility, said in a police statement that the office’s operations were “part of the plan by the PA to harm our sovereignty in Jerusalem and to terrorize Arabs who sell their properties to Jews in the city.
“I will continue to work with determination to prevent Palestinian authorities from gaining a foothold in Jerusalem,” he added.
Police said that the order of the office’s closure will be in effect for six months.
Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat condemned in a statement the “illegitimate” and “provocative” closure and arrest, calling it part of Israel’s attempts to “erase any Palestinian” in Jerusalem.
Under PA law, those convicted of selling land to Israelis face the death penalty, though Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has not authorized the implementation of executions since his election in 2004.
Although Israel de facto annexed East Jerusalem in 1980, the Palestinians claim the eastern half of the city as the capital of their future state.
Land deals between Palestinians and Israelis are usually done in secret because of the danger to the Palestinians involved.
Scams are commonplace. Sometimes, Palestinians sell land they don’t own, or take the money without turning over the property. Other times, Israelis falsely claim they’ve purchased Palestinian land and produce fraudulent documents. After successful sales, Palestinians often relocate abroad for fear of possible vigilante attacks against them.
Agencies contributed to this report.