JERUSALEM – Israeli forces today arrested a group of Jewish activists who attempted to reclaim ownership of a Jewish-owned Jerusalem property that had been illegally settled by local Arabs.
The incident ensued in an area widely expected to be handed over to the Palestinian Authority as a result of Israeli-PA negotiations aimed at forming a Palestinian state. Much of the land in question, however, is legally owned by a Jewish nonprofit organization that purchases property for the stated purpose of Jewish settlement.
Tens of thousands of Arabs moved into the neighborhood, known as Shoafat, the past 15 years and constructed there illegally.
Earlier today, a group of about 160 Jewish activists entered the five-acre Jewish property in Shoafat to reclaim it on behalf of the site’s owner, identified as Israeli citizen Eliyahu Cohanim, who had given the group power of attorney over the site.
Cohanim said he had been dismayed that Arabs were constructing illegally on his land and that the PA was planning to build in the area, including on Cohanim’s land.
The Israeli government over the years has done little to stop rampant illegal Arab construction in northern and eastern neighborhoods of Jerusalem, which now have Arab majorities.
Aryeh King, chairman of the Jerusalem Forum, which promotes Jewish construction in Jerusalem, said he informed the Israeli Border Police of the Jewish group’s intention to enter the property today with permission of the owner.
A Border Police force arrived on the scene and asked the group to leave the home, claiming they were disturbing the peace.
When the group refused, many members were arrested and taken in for questioning.
King said his group decided to act today due to the illegal Arab construction:
“We did this after the Arabs started this week to build an illegal structure on the spot; this is after the municipality has already demolished a structure on this property once before,” King said.
While the property in question is owned by an individual Jew, the Jewish National Fund, a U.S.-based nonprofit that purchases land in Israel for the stated purpose of Jewish settlement, owns large swaths of the Shoafat neighborhood, in which tens of thousands of Arabs now illegally reside.
A WND investigation last year found Shoafat was purchased legally on behalf of JNF using Jewish donations in the early 1900s. The Israeli government manages the land on behalf of the JNF.
Much of the illegal Arab construction in Shoafat took place in the past 15 years, with some apartment complexes built as late as 2004.
Internal JNF documents obtained by WND outline illegal Arab construction on the Jewish-owned land. A survey summarized on JNF stationery conducted in December 2000 and signed by a JNF worker states, “In a lot of the plots I find Arabs are living and building illegally and also working the JNF land without permission.”
King last year released a study detailing how while Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was mayor of Jerusalem from 1993 to 2003, the Jerusalem city hall deleted files documenting hundreds of illegal Arab building projects throughout eastern sections of Jerusalem. King said he forwarded his findings to Israel’s state comptroller for investigation.
King charged Olmert told senior municipal workers not to enforce a ban on illegal Arab buildings.
The Jerusalem municipality released a statement in response to the allegations claiming the threat of Arab violence kept it from bulldozing illegal Arab homes.
“During the years of the intifada, the municipality had difficulty carrying out the necessary level of enforcement in the neighborhoods of eastern Jerusalem due to security constraints,” the statement read.
Today’s incident comes amid a flurry of rhetoric from senior Israeli officials suggesting largely Arab sections of Jerusalem should be severed from the rest of the city for a future Palestinian state.
“Whoever thinks it’s possible to live with 270,000 Arabs in (eastern) Jerusalem must take into account that there will be more bulldozers, more tractors, and more cars carrying out [terror] attacks,” Olmert said earlier this week, referring to two incidents this month in which Palestinian residents of eastern Jerusalem deliberately plowed bulldozers into pedestrians, buses and passenger vehicles, leaving three dead in the case of the first attack.
Vice Premier Chaim Ramon, a top Olmert deputy, told the Knesset this past weekend:
“Whoever thinks the problem of Jerusalem and terror are specific, and that destroying one house or another will help, is burying his head in the sand. The main question is, does the government want [Jerusalem Arab neighborhoods of] Jebl Mukaber or Sur Bahir as part of Israel or not.”
To interview Aaron Klein, contact M. Sliwa Public Relations by e-mail, or call 973-272-2861 or 212-202-4453.