by Letty Cottin Pogrebin,
From now on, I can never say I didn’t know. This, thanks to
Hagit Ofran, director of Peace Now’s “Settlement Watch,” who
spends four hours schlepping us around East Jerusalem to see
Palestinian properties that have been expropriated by the
Israeli government or by Jewish settlers. We’re a six-member
delegation from Americans for Peace Now, the U.S.
counterpart of Ofran’s group, and we’ve come to assess the
All the world knows by now that Interior Minister Eli Yishai
announced the approval, during Vice President Biden’s visit,
of 1600 new housing units to be built for Jews in Ramat
Shlomo. But Ramat Shlomo is just the tip of an iceberg that
expands by the day as ultra-Orthodox and radical right-wing
settlers work overtime to Judaize Palestinian neighborhoods
in East Jerusalem.
When Israel unilaterally annexed the area in 1967, creating
a metropolis three times the size of Jerusalem’s pre-war
borders, its 70,000 Arab residents were given residency
status, not full citizenship. Today there are 250,000
Palestinians in the city, a third of its population.

They pay taxes and receive social security and health benefits,
but can’t hold passports. They have voting rights in the
municipality; theoretically, they could win a third of the
seats in the Jerusalem City Council, but they don’t exercise
their vote as a statement of opposition to Israeli control.
Despite the annexation of East Jerusalem, which has never
been recognized by the international community, the city has
for years remained two separate entities. Arabs didn’t
wander about in Jewish neighborhoods and Jews rarely
ventured into the Arab section.

Then the settlers started planting themselves here, there, and everywhere, to advance their “undivided Jerusalem” agenda, and with their presence to make all Israelis feel the whole city belongs to them. Like settlers in the West Bank, those in East Jerusalem ar busy creating “facts on the ground” to interrupt Palestinian
contiguity between East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and
prevent the Palestinian Authority from claiming the Arab
part of the city as their capitol (a quid pro quo for any
permanent agreement).
As the settlers take over one Arab house and hilltop after
another, they demand security protection for themselves and
their large families, further draining Israel’s strained
budget. According to Hagit Ofran, Peace Now’s settlement
watchdog, for every settler house, the government has to
fund three round-the-clock guards, private police who
perform like an escort service.

In the Old City, Ofran has seen two little boys running down the street with two big guards with guns running after them to protect them. Protecting settlers costs Israeli taxpayers 54 four million
shekels a year.
Since 1967, the Jerusalem municipality has issued five times
as many housing permits for Jews than for Palestinians.
Lately, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat has been condemning as
“illegal” Palestinian homes that no Israel government paid
attention to before. Because East Jerusalem never had zoning
laws or urban planning oversight, Palestinians simply jerry-
built their houses to accommodate their growing families.
Suddenly, the authorities are closing in.
On past trips to the Territories, I’ve toured the large
settlements initiated by the government on land confiscated
beyond the Green Line to create a ring around the city and
isolate it from West Bank. Today, with Hagit Ofran, we’re
looking at Jewish enclaves stuck smack in the middle of Arab
neighborhoods expressly to Judaize East Jerusalem and make
it difficult for any government to negotiate a shared city.
Chutzpah is too tame a word for this behavior. My mother
would have called it a shonde (disgrace).
Case Histories
Nof Zion. The new Jewish neighborhood in the Palestinian
village of Jabel Mukaber looks like a gated community in
Arizona. A sign advertises “3, 4, and 5-room luxury
apartments.” The development overlooks a Palestinian village
and has a view of the Temple Mount. One hundred twenty units
have been built, only thirty sold. Recently, a wealthy Jew
bought the unsold units and lowered the price for each unit
to 1.5 million shekels. (About $400,000)
Abu Dis. A large house stands atop a bare hill near the
abandoned Palestinian parliament building. Built in the ’90s
when the town was to become the capitol of the new state,
the Parliament was never occupied because the Oslo Accords
were never fulfilled.

The present residents of the house on the hill are settlers from a group dedicated to establishing Jewish residences in Palestinian neighborhoods, mainly in the Muslim quarter of the Old City — Ateret Cohanim, whose supporters advocate destroying the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aksa mosque, two sites sacred to Islam, and replacing them with Israel’s Third Temple. Ateret Cohanim has filed plans to build eight hundred housing units in Abu Dis.
Beit Yonatan. You can’t miss the six-story building towering
over its Silwan neighbors. Draped with an enormous Israeli
flag, and named for Jonathan Pollard, the American convicted
of spying for Israel, Beit Yonatan was built by Jewish
settlers without a permit. After years of litigation, the
structure was finally declared illegal.

The Supreme Court ordered it sealed, the inhabitants evicted, the building demolished, yet settlers continue to live there, guarded by Israeli security. Somehow, when Jews want to build a park or
a parking lot, the Jerusalem Municipality manages to declare
Palestinian homes illegal and confiscates or destroys them.

But the occupants of Beit Yonatan have dug in their heels
and the building still stands because Nir Barkat, Mayor of
Jerusalem, and Eli Yishai, Minister of the Interior (who
embarrassed Netanyahu when Biden was there) have thrown up
obstacles to the court order every step of the way.
The King’s Garden. Mayor Barkat has announced plans to
demolish eighty-eight Palestinian homes to make way for King
Solomon’s garden, an archeological park in the Bustan
neighborhood of Silwan, the biblical site of the City of

Though the mayor said the park would be created “for
the benefit of the world and for the benefit of tourists and
for the beauty of the city of Jerusalem,” on March 2nd,
Prime Minister Netanyahu asked him to postpone the
demolition because of the “distorted picture” the king’s
garden might present to “parties interested in sowing
The Elad Association. Just south of the Temple Mount, lie
the remains of the wall that enclosed Jerusalem before the
Old City existed. A remnant of the ancient wall is set deep
in the earth at the base of large hill that workers are
excavating with huge, ear-splitting machinery. Hagit Ofran
says the government has assigned control of this and other
archeological sites to the Elad Association, a powerful
organization dedicated to the Judaization of the area.

Elad paid the Israel Antiquities Authority for the license to
dig, but much of its excavation has been carried out
illicitly or in secret and extended beyond the area
licensed. An Israeli flag flies at the excavation site.

To establish it as a tourist attraction, Elad appropriated
public land and put pressure on Palestinians to sell their
houses or property. Some Palestinians sold because their
houses were “illegal,” or they needed the money, or the
settlers came up with legal documents and the Palestinians
couldn’t prove their ownership.
A Palestinian house purchased by the Jewish National Fund
for Elad to use as a visitor center proved too small, so the
Association blasted into the hill to carve out more space.
In the process, they found caves and structures that predate
King David’s reign — exciting, but not enough to justify
aggressive, dangerous, illegal excavations. A year before
our visit, one of their tunnels collapsed.
I notice a group of tourists on a porch high above us
listening to a guide. “Elad clearly understands the
potential of archeological sites to connect Jews with their
history and cement their feelings of attachment to East
Jerusalem,” says Ophran.

“The Palestinians also have a history here but they can’t sell it to tourists or tell their story.” As we leave the site, we notice a barrier across a road. Turns out it’s the road to a mosque and it
was closed because Elad found something here from Herod’s
era. “They take the public domain and make it their own.”
Mount of Olives. The graveyard’s Visitors Center stands on
illegal ground in the most sensitive area of the Israel-
Palestinian conflict. “Elad encourages Jews to come and pray
on the graves of their ancestors and the great rabbis,” says

We’re looking at a house in the middle of the
cemetery with settlers living in it. Thus far, the
government has given the cemetery ninety-five million
Ras el-Amud. The former police station in this East
Jerusalem neighborhood was bought by the Shalem Foundation,
a subsidiary of Elad, in partnership with an association of
Bukharan Jews. They filed a plan to demolish the building
and replace it with 104 housing units but the planning
procedure for such a large compound can take years.

So in the meantime, they’ve applied for a permit to build fourteen
units in the vacated building, a less onerous proposition
since, by law, owners who make use of an existing structure
don’t have to file a building plan.
Beit Orot. This compound on the Mount of Olives was bought
by the right wing American millionaire Irving Moskowiz back
when Teddy Kolleck was Mayor of Jerusalem in a deal that
required Jews to build a Palestinian school if they wanted
to build a yeshiva. The yeshiva exists. The Palestinian
school is still on paper
The Wholesale Market. Locally known as Al-Hisbe, the market
that overlooks the Mount of Olives and the Kidron Valley is
slated to become a shopping mall, hotel, and parking lot,
the construction of which requires the demolition of a
Palestinian kindergarten.
The Glassman Campus was financed by a Canadian couple who
say they’re committed to establishing Jewish hegemony from
Highway #1 through Sheik Jarrah to Mount Scopus. Their next
plan is to develop a four million shekel Biblical Park to
strengthen the area’s “national and religious elements.”
Sheikh Jarrah. We stop at the tomb of Shimon Hatzadik, a
sage from the time of the Second Temple, whose name will be
given to a 200-unit development in Sheikh Jarrah if the
radical settler organization which has already evicted
several families succeeds in demolishing an entire
Palestinian neighborhood. This is the enterprise that
sparked an international protest and brought 3000 people out
to demonstrate last Saturday night.

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