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(photo credit: Abe Selig)
As condemnations over the eviction of two Arab families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah continued to pour in from around the world this week, renovations at a second disputed home on the other side of the east Jerusalem neighborhood were humming along unabated.
The home, which was the scene of multiple protests last week, is another tender nerve in east Jerusalem, as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's statements that Jews may build anywhere in the capital have increasingly rubbed up against statements to the contrary from the United Nations, the United States and others in the international community.
While Palestinians view the increasing Jewish presence in east Jerusalem as a process of "Judaization" intended to jeopardize Palestinian claims, Jewish activists said that they see their work as a "re-Judaization" of an area that was once home to a vibrant Jewish community and has extensive Jewish roots.
"This used to be a Jewish neighborhood and this house belonged to Jews," right-wing activist Aryeh King said, as he sat outside the work site. King heads the Israel Land Fund (ILF), an organization that purchases land for Jews in east Jerusalem and is overseeing the renovations at the property.
"Before 1948, there was a Jewish community living in this section of Sheikh Jarrah, and we want to restore that," King said. "The Arabs that live here know the truth."
But Sheikh Jarrah residents last week told The Jerusalem Post that the home in question had belonged to an elderly woman, Mrs. Hijazi, who had recently passed away, and that the Jewish claimants had falsified ownership papers for the house.
King rejected those claims, and asserted that the Jewish ties to the neighborhood were undeniable.
"This house right here was a synagogue," he said pointing at a nearby building. "It was one of four that were here before '48, and the locals know it."
King also blamed foreign left-wing activists and Hamas or Fatah representatives - not locals - for stirring up opposition to his plans.
"The leftist organizations and Hamas or Fatah - for us they are the same thing - plan and support the protests, and when they come in from outside, the local residents feel as though they have to join in," he said. "Otherwise, this is a quiet, safe area, and the residents don't cause any problems."
But the outcry, both domestic and foreign, over the Jewish presence in east Jerusalem, including Sunday's evictions of the Gahwi and al-Hanoun families and the ILF's plans to move Jews into the Hijazi house, has only intensified in recent weeks, providing little evidence that King and his supporters will garner much international sympathy.
On Monday, the EU joined the chorus of condemnations over Sunday's evictions, expressing "serious concerns" over the move, which they called "illegal under international law."
King however, dismissed such criticism as "hypocritical," and said that he believed it would simply pass.
"It's a conflict based on a political background," he said. "But it will pass, like waves in the sea."
King also said that the fact that the Supreme Court had not only ruled in the ILF's favor regarding the Hijazi house, but had also allowed for Sunday's evictions, proved that Jewish claims in the neighborhood were substantial.
"We're talking about a Supreme Court that is, without any question, a leftist Supreme Court," King said. "So the fact that they would rule in our favor shows that we brought undeniable proof."
In that vein, King said it was within local residents' interest to "make a deal" with him, instead of fighting plans to move more Jews into the area.
"We prefer to do things peacefully and quietly," King said. "And Palestinians in east Jerusalem who know me, know that this is true. They know that I only do things 100 percent legally, and that while we have rights to these properties, we are willing to work things out. We are willing to help the residents relocate, but if they choose to butt heads with us, that obviously changes things.
"Once others see that we are winning court cases, that we are right, I think they'll realize this more and more," King continued. "But I'm not under any pressure to move quickly here, I'm patient, because I believe that we will be here for hundreds, if not thousands of years to come."
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