Legal Wrangle Ensues After Settlers Seize Six Arab Homes
JERUSALEM (AP) _ Armed Jewish settlers backed by ultra-conservative legislators seized six homes in an Arab neighborhood Wednesday, a move that was certain to add to Israeli-Arab tensions over settlement in the occupied territories.
Police ordered the settlers to leave, saying they were endangering public order. But the presence of legislators led to a compromise allowing the settlers to occupy one home while ownership claims were argued in court.
One Arab family was dislodged from its home in the neighborhood of Silwan, within sight of Jerusalem’s Old City walls, and a second Arab said his family was temporarily ordered out of their home by settlers with submachine guns.
Secretary of State James A. Baker III was to return to the Middle East this weekend as he seeks to convince Israel and the Arabs to attend a peace conference in which the future of Arab east Jerusalem could be a key issue.
Israel annexed the area after it was captured in the 1967 Middle East war. Palestinians would like Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state.
The takeover was led by Ateret Cohanim, a far-right settler movement whose goal is to move Jews into the city’s Christian and Muslim neighborhoods.
The Bush administration, which repeatedly protested the new settlements, last month delayed congressional consideration of an Israeli request for $10 billion in loan guarantees to help settle Soviet immigrants.
Science Minister Yuval Neeman, a leader of the right-wing Tehiya Party, came to Silwan to support the settlers and said he would be pleased if the action thwarted the proposed peace conference.
″This is certainly a fitting response to things that the president of the United States and Secretary Baker have said recently about Jerusalem,″ said Neeman.
The U.S. position is that east Jerusalem is occupied land, and its future must be negotiated along with that of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights, all seized by Israel during the 1967 war.
The Ateret Cohanim action angered those who support a peace conference.
Legislator Dedi Zucker of the Citizens’ Rights Movement told Israel radio he had proof the government financed the move and said it was an attempt ″to sabotage all chances of dialogue with the Arabs.″
The office of Housing Minister Ariel Sharon issued a statement saying: ″It is the right of Jews to live in any area of united Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, like any other place in the land of Israel.″
Israeli right-wingers use the phrase ″land of Israel″ to refer to Israel proper and the occupied territories.
Israeli newspapers recently reported that Sharon plans to build 4,000 housing units for Israelis in Jerusalem’s Arab sector.
During Wednesday’s takeover, Ateret Cohanim issued a statement saying the area seized was in ″the heart of ancient Jerusalem where King David built his capital after conquering the area from the Jebusites″ in 1000 B.C.
While the settlers said all the houses involved were abandoned or had been purchased, Jamil Ahmed Abasi said he returned from a family wedding to find his one-room, stone house taken over by Jewish settlers. He said he had lived there since 1967.
″This is my house, not anybody else’s 3/8″ shouted Abasi, waving the house keys as his weeping wife and five children stood nearby.
The home where Abasi lives was sealed, and the settlers remained in a second home.
Moussa Abasi, a relative, told Israel radio he was forced out of the home by armed settlers.
″They pointed a gun at my head. ... They told me shut up and leave the place,″ he said.
Bearded settlers danced and sang the Israeli national anthem as they put up barbed wire around the house they will remain in until legal claims are settled.
Last year, Ateret Cohanim took over a hospice in the Christian quarter of the walled Old City near the Temple Mount. Later, the Greek Orthodox Church sued, saying it owned the building. Settlers have remained in the building as the case is worked out in court.
Jerusalem has about 140,000 Arab residents, most of whom live in east Jerusalem, and 360,000 Jews in the western sector and suburbs.