Foreign tourists visit the archeological site of the biblical City of David located in the mostly Arab Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, 2011
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Arieh King, director of a right-wing settler organization which targets the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem, told an Israeli newspaper on Thursday that up to 500 Israeli families would move into Sheikh Jarrah within the next decade.
“Sheikh Jarrah, or Shimon Hatzadik, is going through a revolution,” King told The Jerusalem Post
, using the Israeli term for Sheikh Jarrah, named after the tomb of the biblical figure Simeon the Just, which is believed by Jews to be located in the neighborhood.
King reportedly said that his organization, Israel Land Fund (ILF) — which receives tax-deductible status as a nonprofit in the United States — currently has “four main compounds that were working on.”
“In our next phase we plan to house families in two more compounds – one of 300 housing units and the other of 200 housing units,” he said, adding that in some 10 years, the organization should have approximately 400 to 500 Jewish families living in the Palestinian neighborhood.
King uses the 1970 Legal and Administrative Matters law to push for the eviction of Palestinians and the settlement of Jews in Sheikh Jarrah.
According to the law, Jewish Israelis are permitted to claim ownership over property believed to have been owned by Jews before 1948 during Ottoman or British rule. However, such a law does not exist for the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees who were displaced from their lands and homes during and after the establishment of the state of Israel.
Israelis have claimed that Sheikh Jarrah was once the site of a 19th century Jewish community. Many families in the neighborhood have been embroiled in legal disputes for decades, as various Israeli settlers have attempted to claim ownership over their homes.
In 2009, King and his organization were behind a wave of evictions in Sheikh Jarrah, when the Um Kamel al-Kurd, Ghawi, and Hanoun families were evicted from their homes by Israeli settlers under Jewish ownership claims.
The evictions sparked widespread protests in Sheikh Jarrah. At the same time, a group of Israeli settlers took over the front section of the al-Kurd family home claiming that their ancestors had once owned the plot of land; eight years later, the family has continued to live side-by-side with the Jewish extremists.
The families that King has targeted for evictions are all 1948 refugees, who fled their homes during the establishment of Israel.
The Palestinian residents either had their homes built for them in the neighborhood by the United Nations, or were provided homes by the Jordanian government, who repurposed properties previously owned by Jews — thousands of whom fled East Jerusalem during the 1948 war — to house hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees following Israel’s creation.
ILF works to assist Jewish Israelis to take control of properties in Sheikh Jarrah, Beit Hanina, and Beit Safafa, where they believe Jews had once lived.
King told The Jerusalem Post that the ILF provides legal and financial assistance to Israelis looking to move into the neighborhood.
His statement could also back up claims made by Palestinian residents in Sheikh Jarrah, who have long pointed out that the settlers in the neighborhood receive direct financial incentives to stay in the properties.
The al-Kurd family has said that different settlers constantly move in and out of the front of their home, leading the family to believe that either ILF or Nahalat Shimon — another settler organization active in the neighborhood — are directly providing the settlers with a monetary incentive to keep the home occupied.
According to King, his organization also at times physically helps the settlers to access Palestinian homes and provides “security” for them.
King explained to The Jerusalem Post that these eviction cases were merely a case of a landlord ending a contract with a tenant, saying that if the Palestinian tenants lived in London or Los Angeles, the landlord would have “kicked them out a long time ago.”
However, King failed to mention that his organization works through a legal framework that applies rights to Jewish Israelis that are not afforded to Palestinians, even those with Israeli citizenship.
Meanwhile, Palestinians in East Jerusalem are not considered Israeli citizens, as the Israeli government has provided the population with temporary Jerusalem residency permits, which can be revoked at any time for a variety of reasons, making Jerusalemite Palestinians even more vulnerable to settler-driven evictions.
In addition, according to the international community, Sheikh Jarrah is part of occupied Palestinian territory, despite Israel’s de facto annexation of the territory.
Thus, the transfer of the Israeli population onto Palestinian territory is considered illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention, while the UN has said Israel’s settlements could amount to a war crime.
Israeli rights group Ir Amim has noted that Israeli settler plans
have long focused on taking control of the entire neighborhood and then demolishing it to establish a massive Jewish settlement.