Three weeks after Border Police officers escorted seven Jewish families past Arab protesters into newly acquired homes in the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, nine additional families moved into two buildings there during the early hours of Monday morning.
Prior to the move, which has drawn international condemnation, President Reuven Rivlin on Sunday criticized such developments carried out under the cloak of night.
“It is our right to insist on building around Jerusalem, but it is our obligation to make sure that the decision is made by the authorities,” Rivlin said. “Our capital cannot be a city in which the building is done in secret, or where moving into apartments is done in the dead of night.”
Daniel Luria, spokesman for Ateret Kohanim, a right-wing organization that works to create a Jewish majority in Arab neighborhoods of east Jerusalem, said his organization helped facilitate the move, adding that the properties had been acquired by a company called Kudram Ltd.
“The buildings were legally and officially acquired from Arabs, who received full and more-than-appropriate payment by an overseas company... that was established by Jewish investors from Israel and around the world,” Luria said in a statement.
He praised the ongoing moves into Silwan, known to many Jews as Kfar Hashiloah, as a rightful return of Israelis to a neighborhood originally established by Yemenite Jews in the 1880s.
“A thriving Yemenite village (also referred to as Kfar Hatemanim) existed in the area from 1882, when there were very few Arab homes,” he said. “At its peak the Yemenite village numbered 144 families, but unfortunately the village was decimated by Arab riots in the 1920s and 1930s.”
According to Luria, the new buildings are to be called Beit Frumkin, in memory of Rabbi Israel Dov Frumkin, who helped the original Yemenite Jews in the late 19th century, and Beit Ovadia, in memory of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, late mentor of the Shas party and a former Sephardi chief rabbi, due to its close proximity to his grave.
Shortly after the move was announced, City Councilman Meir Margalit (Meretz), who holds the Jerusalem Municipality’s east Jerusalem portfolio, denounced the development as an unequivocal “disaster” that will only further stymie failed peace negotiations.
“The issue of settlers in Palestinian neighborhoods is a big obstacle for peace,” Margalit told The Jerusalem Post by phone. “Sooner or later we have to divide the city, and it appears that it will be more sooner than later.”
According to Margalit, if and when the city is divided into two capitals, such acquisitions will result in one of two scenarios – “the expulsion of Jewish settlers from east Jerusalem” or “leaving [settlers] to live under Palestinian sovereignty.”
He called both alternatives “bad for Palestinians and Israelis,” adding that it was the “result of the meal the settlers have cooked.”
Margalit went on to note the importance of Rivlin’s criticism and warning.
“[Rivlin] is not a leftist, like me, who has said for years that this is counterproductive – it’s the president of Israel saying it,” the councilman stated. “I call on all people to pay attention to what the president said and to draw the necessary conclusions from his words.”
Moreover, Margalit warned that apart from threatening peace negotiations, the move would only further exacerbate historically volatile Palestinian- Jewish relations, which boiled over last summer into rioting following the kidnapping and killing of yeshiva students Gil-Ad Shaer, Eyal Yifrah and Naftali Fraenkel; the revenge slaying of 16-yearold Muhammad Abu Khdeir; and Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip.
“I am not sure if the settlers will succeed in changing the Palestinian profile [in Silwan], but I am certain that they have created a major conflict within the Palestinian community,” he said. “In some ways they have succeeded in fragmenting the Silwan community, and this is very bad for Palestinians and Israelis because what we need now is peaceful community life, not to pit one group against the other. It is against our mutual interests and will only produce more division and explosions in east Jerusalem.”
Meanwhile, right-wing councilman Arieh King (United Jerusalem) lauded the move as “good news.”
“Around 80 years have passed since the Yemenites living in the Yemenite village fled for their lives. This morning their descendants returned to two of the properties,” he wrote Monday on his Facebook page. “Congratulations to those engaging in this holy endeavor; I hope the rate of population growth in the Yemenite Village continues to rise.”
Ze’ev Orenstein, director of international affairs for the Ir David Foundation (Elad), which acquires property for Jewish families in the City of David and helped facilitate last month’s move into Silwan, said Elad played no role in Monday morning’s controversial relocation.
The moves to purchase Jewish homes in Silwan over the past three weeks mark the largest Jewish acquisition there since the process of Jewish return to the neighborhood began in 1986, raising the number of Jewish-owned properties to over 30, local officials said.
Saeb Erekat, the Palestinians’ chief peace negotiator, dismissed the Israeli government as “a government by the settlers, for the settlers” following last month’s initial relocation of seven Jewish families.
“It serves the objective of altering the character of Jerusalem through isolating, containing and confining Palestinian existence, allowing for more Israeli land-grabs,” Erekat said.
Asked if there were any disturbances as the settlers moved into the contested neighborhood, police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld said no incidents of violence were reported in connection to the recent move by the families into Silwan. Rosenfeld added that police continue to regularly patrol the neighborhood to prevent any incidents from taking place.