JERUSALEM (Ma’an) — Israeli settlers reportedly attempted to take over a tract of land belonging to a Palestinian family in the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan on Monday, claiming that it had been owned by Yemenite Jews prior to the creation of the state of Israel.
Rafaat Basbous, the owner of the land in the Batn al-Hawa area of Silwan, located just south of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City, said that 20 workers escorted by Israeli forces and settlers raided the land adjacent to his family’s home and started delimiting the area with barbed wire.
The settlers told Basbous that they had obtained a court order stating that the land belonged to Jews.
When the residents of the area confronted the settlers in an attempt to stop them from seizing the land, Israeli forces assaulted the Palestinians, pushing them away and using pepper spray against them, Basbous said.
The Wadi Hilweh Information Center said that Basbous’ land was located in a five-dunam (1.23 acre) area that settler organization Ateret Cohanim had been planning to take over, claiming that six tracts of land in Batn al-Hawa had been owned by Yemenite Jews since 1881.
The Wadi Hilweh center said that 30 to 35 buildings are built on the targeted lands, adding that 80 families had lived there for dozens of years after purchasing them from previous owners legally, adding that the families had the legal documents to prove their ownership of the lands.
The center added that the Israeli settlers’ attempts to take over the lands in Batn al-Hawa started eight years ago, but that most of the residents had been able to maintain their properties until now.
Ateret Cohanim is an Israeli pro-settlement nonprofit organization — receiving tax-deductible donations from the United States through its financial intermediary American Friends of Ateret Cohanim — which focuses on “Judaizing” East Jerusalem through a Jewish reclamation project working to expand illegal settlements and facilitate Jewish takeover of Palestinian properties across the “Green Line” into Palestinian territory.
Ateret Cohanim, along with other pro-settler organizations, commonly uses Israel’s 1970 Legal and Administrative Matters law to evict Palestinians from their homes. According to the law, Jewish individuals are allowed to claim ownership of property if they can prove the property was under Jewish ownership before 1948.
However, the law only applies to Jews and does not apply to Palestinians who were dispossessed of their lands and properties during and after the establishment of Israel in 1948, despite their right being upheld in international law in UN General Assembly Resolution 194.
Ateret Cohanim has also worked to purchase property from Palestinians to increase Jewish presence in East Jerusalem while deterring Jewish families from selling property to Palestinians.