East Jerusalem's Silwan neighborhood.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The executive director of the Ateret Cohanim organization on Tuesday patently denied the Palestinian Authority’s claim this week that east Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood is undergoing “systematic ethnic cleansing” at the hands of settler organizations abetted by the Israeli government.
On Monday, the PLO’s Negotiation Affairs Department issued a press release stating that Ateret Cohanim and the Ir David Foundation (Elad) are colluding to alter the “historic character” of the neighborhood.
“[Israeli policies] in Silwan aim not only to alter the historic character of the area and to consolidate Israeli control over the Old City of Jerusalem... but also contribute to the systematic ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem,” the PLO wrote.
The statement added that the Israeli government “has provided settlement organizations with political, legal, and procedural support to expand illegal settlements throughout east Jerusalem, especially Silwan.”
The press release was issued following the Tuesday morning demolition of a two-story Arab home that was illegally under construction in the neighborhood.
Ateret Cohanim is an organization that helps facilitate purchases of properties for Jews in Arab neighborhoods by ideological investors from Israel and abroad.
The organization has helped investors legally acquire numerous apartments in Silwan over the years for a small number of Jewish families, including a number of units inside a former Yemenite synagogue in May.
Elad operates the City of David National Park, which draws more than 500,000 tourists annually.
In June, the National Planning and Building Committee approved Elad’s Kedem Center, an archeological facility that would sit atop Silwan’s Givati parking lot excavation site, adjacent to the Old City.
The left-wing NGOs Ir Amim and Emek Shaveh unsuccessfully attempted to block the center in a joint High Court petition, claiming that it would result in “destruction and damage to the fabric of ancient Jerusalem.”
Elad stated that the center will “strengthen the capital by celebrating its shared history.”
Noting that Silwan was once a thriving neighborhood of Yemenite Jews before Arab rioting displaced the Jews living there, Ateret Cohanim’s executive director, Daniel Luria, said on Tuesday that the PLO’s claim of ethnic cleansing is nonsensical.
“The return and/or establishment of Jewish life in the heart of Jerusalem – whether it be to the City of David, to the old Yemenite Village of Shiloah, or to any neighborhood in Jerusalem – is the natural, moral and historical right of the Jewish people,” Lauria said.
“The Israeli courts have effectively recognized the historical Jewish character of the area, and the Jewish title to many of the properties in the area. It was a thriving Yemenite community of 144-150 Yemenite families, before it was decimated and destroyed by Arabs in the riots and pogroms of 1929 and 1936-37.”
Luria added that Jewish ownership of the disputed land was recognized as far back as the British Mandate.
“Even the British authorities at the time recognized the Jewish character of the area, and after removing the last remaining Yemenite Jews from the village after the riots of 1937 due to their inability to protect the Jewish residents, the British promised in writing that the Jewish refugees should be able to ‘shortly’ return to their homes.”
Moreover, Luria condemned the PLO’s assertion that Ateret Cohanim seeks to ethnically cleanse any neighborhood it purchases Jewish homes in.
“Ateret Cohanim does not believe that any area or neighborhood in Jerusalem should be ‘judenrein’ as professed by certain world leaders and by intolerant Arab groups who refuse to accept Israel’s right to exist, and who incite to violence against Jewish residents of Jerusalem,” he said.
“If Arabs can purchase homes in Ramot Eshkol, French Hill or in East Talpiot, and can live side-by-side with Jewish residents in predominantly Jewish neighborhoods, then surely the rightful heirs to this land, the Jewish people, have the right to purchase and live in old Jewish neighborhoods in what may be predominantly Arab neighborhoods in the heart of historical Jerusalem.”
Luria asserted that peace in Silwan will only take root when the Arab community renounces anti-Semitic doctrine, and teaches their children about tolerance and coexistence.
“When they stop encouraging their children to throw Molotov cocktails and stones at Jews, when they educate to ‘love, not hate, thy neighbor,’ and when they finally accept that the true son of Abraham has returned home to Jerusalem and to the land of Israel, then and only then, we will have taken a big step towards true peace in this holy city of Jerusalem,” he said.