Just came back from the Old City, sad to have witnessed yet another take over of a house in East Jerusalem by the settlers. A group of some 20 Palestinians were sitting on plastic chairs in the Sa’adiye St. near the Herod Gate, and a bunch of Israeli policemen were standing in front of the entrance to what used to be, until last night, those Palestinians’ home.
Nine Palestinian families lived in the house rented by their family already from the 30’s. The land lord, a Palestinian who left to the US, apparently sold the house to the settlers. Few years ago they got to know that their land lord is no longer the Palestinian they knew, but a foreign company named “Blue Stars World Investments” representing the settlers. Last night, eight of the families went to a wedding, and as they came back, they found that their homes are occupied by a group of some 30 settlers, protected by the police. The ninth family didn’t go to the wedding and got to stay at home to find the settlers coming in.
This is a very big house in the old city. Some 50 people used to live in it till yesterday. Just in front of this house there is another house that was taken few years ago by settlers and on the other side of it – another house. This new house will expand dramatically the presence of the settlers in this area.
On the legal level, the Palestinians claim that they have the status of protected tenants which means that they cannot be evicted unless they violate some obligations. The settlers probably claim the story is a little different, and that they either sold their rights or lost them. When I came to the place, most of the media and the gatherings were gone. The families were waiting to hear from the court whether their urgent appeal to let them go back home was accepted. When the court order ordering the eviction of the settlers till Sunday, when the hearing of the main case takes place, there was a sigh of relief and joy. The Palestinians gave the order to the policemen and asked them to evict the settlers. The policemen didn’t do anything. The settlers appealed against the decision and the police was waiting for the decision. Later in the night the court accepted the settlers appeal and decided that the settlers may stay in the house.
I cannot tell from what I managed to hear and see who is right, legally. This is for the court to decide. However, Legal or not, for me, this action is most of all – a political act meant to create an irreversible situation in the Old City, so that when the talks on the final status comes, it will be much harder to get a solution. Meanwhile it creates more friction and tension to the delicate situation in the Old City.
This is not the first time that settlers move in Palestinian homes in the Old City. Since the beginning of the 80’s, the settlers groups managed to get hold of some 50 houses in the Muslim and the Christian quarters through using the absentee property law, or claiming Jewish property from before 1948 or through direct purchase from Palestinians. The timing is many times not accidental. Whenever there is hope for moving forward with peace – the settlers will do their best to prevent it or damage it. This time, it’s the efforts to go to the direct talks. Today the Arab league leadership set the terms that allows the Palestinians to go to direct talks with Israel. The settlers are making a provocation in order to torpedo these efforts.
This power that the settlers have through their settlement activity, to affect directly the political chances for peace, should be alarming for us all. The settlers’ project of making East Jerusalem more “Jewish” is not only about assuming ownership over properties, it is about the chances for a different and better future in this city.