In late October, settlers took over 2 additional buildings in Silwan, with an additional 9 residential units. The details of these takeovers are as follows:
Where: The latest takeovers are in the area of Silwan close to the existing (illegal) settlement property known as Beit Yehonatan. This is the area of Silwan known to Israelis as the Yemenite section, having been settled by Yemenite Jews in the late 19th century; the area was abandoned by the Jewish Yemenite residents after the Palestinian uprising in Silwan in 1929. This area is distinct from the Wadi Hilweh section of Silwan, where earlier this month settlers took over 7 buildings comprising around 22 units.
Who: This latest takeover was spearheaded by the Ateret Cohanim settler organization, which was also the force behind the (illegal) settlement of Beit Yehonatan. This is in contrast to the takeovers in Silwan earlier this month, which were the work of the Elad settler group. These two groups, notably, are to some degree rivals, and there have in the past often been tensions between the Elad settlers and the Beit Yehonatan settlers.
How: It appears that similar to the takeover in Silwan earlier this month, these latest takeovers were accomplished through clandestine purchases.
Background: Over the past 15 years, there have been a number of attempts by the settlers to establish a settlement enclave in this section of Silwan. A number of legal proceedings against Palestinian residents have ensued, the status of which are not known to us at this time. The one previous major settler “success” in the area is Beit Yehonatan – a 7-story building constructed by settlers in the mid-2000s (named in honor of convicted U.S. spy Jonathan Pollard). Notably, Beit Yehonatan was built without a building permit – a fact to which the Jerusalem Municipality, working hand in glovewith the settlers, turned a blind eye. The Jerusalem Municipal Legal Adviser, finding this situation unacceptable, sought to force the issue, indicting the settlers for the illegal construction and obtaining a conviction. This ruling was upheld by all courts of appeal, including the Supreme Court. The Attorney General has subsequently instructed Mayor Barkat – repeatedly – to evacuate and seal the building, as per the court order. Barkat has for years defied these legally binding instructions, in essence absolving himself and the settlers of carrying out court orders for which there is no further appeal – and sending a clear message that in East Jerusalem, settlers are above the law. It is worth noting that, along the way, Barkat also fired the Legal Adviser who insisted on the execution of the court order against Beit Yehonatan.
Implications. Prior to the takeover of these two new properties, the settler presence in this section of Silwan was limited to the 7-8 families residing (illegally) in Beit Yehonatan. These new takeovers double the settler presence in the area – a densely-populated area that is without question the most volatile and violent of anyplace East Jerusalem (involving far higher dangers to settlers than is the case in the Wadi Hilwah/City of David section of Silwan). The properties are accessible only through narrow streets and alleys, and each exit and departure of the settlers must be accompanied by specially-dedicated Israeli security. Indeed, the new settler properties – like Beit Yehonatan – will necessitate a huge increase in the Israeli security presence in the area, Israel Border Patrol and private security guards (whose mission to protect the settlers already costs the Israeli taxpayer more than $20 million per year). For this reason alone, the government of Israel cannot claim it bears no responsibility for these "private" settlement initiatives. Simply stated, were it not for government support on the security front, settlers could not take over properties in Silwan or live there.
Timing: The takeovers came at an interesting political moment. A day earlier, Netanyahu once again asserted the right of Jews to live anywhere in Jerusalem. His statement was in contrast to comments made by Israel's new president, Reuven Rivlin, a right wing revisionist (and no fan of the two-state solution) who nonetheless spoke out against the previous Silwan takeovers:
Jerusalem cannot be a city in which the building is done in secret, or whereby moving into apartments is done in the dead of night. We must bear the responsibility of keeping Jerusalem sovereign. We need to take the reins, and manage Jerusalem in an active and straightforward way, with care and thoughtfulness…
What can be done? Netanyahu continues to insist that he has no responsibility for or authority over "private" settlement initiatives like this one in East Jerusalem. As we have written previously, this argument doesn't pass the laugh test:
Nowhere in East Jerusalem does Israeli rule disclose the manifestations of occupation, and nowhere is that occupation more toxic, than in Silwan – where it is the declared goal of the settlers, and the undeclared goal of government of Israel (as articulated in recent days by government Ministers Naftali Bennet and Uri Ariel) to turn Silwan into a Jewish neighborhood – an extension of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City.
- 90% of the settlers’-controlled properties in Silwan (including their homes) are government properties illegally transferred to the Elad settlers. All of the archeological sites and national parks in the area – which are all part of the public domain and owned by the Government of Israel – have likewise been handed over to the control of the settlers.
- Former senior leaders of Elad are now the Director General of the Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs, the head of the Jerusalem District Parks Authority, and in serving in other prominent roles in other relevant government bodies. Overall, virtually all of the powers and authorities of the government of Israeli in Silwan, and in relation to Silwan, are either carried out in accordance with the settlers' ideology, or outsourced to the settlers.
- Palestinian residents leading the opposition to the settler takeover of Silwan are subject to constant harassment.
- Notably, the recent takeovers were not initially secured by the police (who themselves are at the beck and call of the settlers) but by the settlers’ private security firms – security that is paid for by the government of Israel (and thus by the Israeli taxpayer) to the tune of $20 million dollars annually.
- Were it not for the massive, systematic and ongoing support and collusion between the Elad settler and the full range of relevant Israeli governmental bodies – including in the form of large government funding – there would be no settlement in Silwan, including these recent transactions. Now that this settlement exists, it could not be maintained without this high level of government of Israel support.