Jewish settlers seize Palestinian house in Jerusalem’s Silwan after alleged purchase

A general view of East Jerusalem's Silwan neighbourhood (Mostafa Alkharouf - Anadolu Agency)

Qassam Muaddi

The New Arab  /  March 24, 2022

Jewish settlers took over a Palestinian house in the Palestinian town of Silwan in Jerusalem on Tuesday. The house is a two-bedroom apartment on the rooftop of a three-story building that belongs to the Hileisi family, whose eight members live in the building, including two elderly and four children.

“Israeli [Jewish] settlers arrived in the morning and broke the front door,” Majd Hileisi, a family member, told The New Arab.

“At first I saw the Israeli police, who protected the settlers, so I thought that they had come to demolish the house,” he added. “A week ago, they demolished another property of mine because it was built without a permit, as most houses and properties in Silwan.”

According to Hileisi, the Jewish settlers are claiming the property of the roof-top apartment.

“They said that the apartment on top belonged to them and that they had bought it, but they didn’t show any papers. When we asked to see some papers, the Israeli police officer told me that we should ask at the court,” he said. 

Palestinian media reported that the apartment had been allegedly sold by Majd Hileisi’s brother.

“My brother disappeared three days ago and no longer answers his phone,” said Hileisi.

“He has been separated from his wife for two years. She and their five children live with us and also do not know where he had gone,” stressed Hileisi. “If he did sell the apartment to the settlers, the family will publicly renounce as a member of our family.” 

“In case there was an actual purchase, it is still illegal,” noted Khaled al-Zeer, an activist at the Wadi Hilweh Information Centre, a group that monitors Israeli settlement expansion settlements in Silwan, told The New Arab.

“The house is collectively owned by the Hileisi brothers,” pointed out Al-Zeer. “The alleged seller decided to build the apartment on the rooftop, and all his brothers and sisters signed concessions to their share in the rooftop to him, except two, which means that he cannot sell the property.”

Al-Zeer and Hileisi both noted that the family, with the help of residents of Silwan, will file an appeal in Israeli courts against the alleged purchase and takeover.

“Purchases are often made by organized settler groups,” Khalil Tafakji, a Palestinian expert on Israeli settlements in Jerusalem and director of the maps unit at Jerusalem’s Orient House, told The New Arab.

“The Elaad and Ateret Cohanim organizations are the ones operating in Silwan,” explained Tafakji. “Silwan is important to Jewish settlers because it is the immediate southern west of Jerusalem’s old city, where Israel plans to build the City of David biblical thematic park.”

According to Tafakji, “Israeli purchases do not take into account if the property is collectively owned, which many are because of shared inheritance across large numbers of siblings. As long as there is one member willing to sell, Israel focuses on that, and these sales always happen in secret.”

“This is only one of many methods used by settler organizations and Israeli authorities to take over Palestinian property in Jerusalem,” he added. “The most common method is demolitions for lack of building permit, and relying on Israel’s Jewish property law and the Absentee’s property law.”

Israel’s Absentee’s property law allows the state to confiscate property if the owner is out of the country, while the Jewish property allows any Jewish Israeli to claim property that had Jewish owners any time before 1948.

Settler organizations in Silwan work in cooperation with Israeli government bodies, like the Absentees’ Property Custodian, the General Custodian and the Ministry of Finance.

According to the Palestinian human rights organization, Al-Haq, Israeli settler organizations “receive backing and protection from the Israeli government” and the collusion between two “has been documented, even if it is still difficult to estimate its extent.” 

For its part, Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem notes that the pressure on families who live on a property the settlers covet for themselves “often puts them in a cruel dilemma – agree to leave in return for significant sums of money, or refuse and still risk losing the property (a very real possibility given the expulsion of other families in the neighbourhood), accruing serious debt and suffering harassment.”

Some 68 Palestinian families are threatened with expulsion in Silwan. Human rights groups’ records show an increase of 39% in the number of new construction sites designated for Jews in Palestinian neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem.

Qassam Muaddi is The New Arab’s West Bank reporter, covering political and social developments