Arieh King’s sovereignty bid

‘The savior of land in east Jerusalem’ says purchasing homes for Jews in Arab neighborhoods does not contribute to unrest.

Apartment blocks in Nof Zion. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Apartment blocks in Nof Zion.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
‘Today the popular method is to do things on a large scale,” says Arieh King. “When you buy one house, you don’t have much of an effect; you don’t bring about changes on the ground.”
King, a member of the Jerusalem City Council, is better known in the capital by his unofficial title: the savior of land in east Jerusalem. As the director of the Israel Land Fund, he is continuing and expanding on the work that began when the Ateret Kohanim organization bought property in the Old City’s Muslim Quarter and Jews purchased homes in the Silwan neighborhood.
“What’s changed is that people are no longer talking about one more house or one more room.
Instead, we’re talking about an entire street, and eventually the whole neighborhood. This is how the neighborhoods of Ma’aleh Hazeitim, Nof Zion and the Shepherd Hotel compound came into existence. And just recently, Jewish families moved into Silwan – it’s only nine buildings, but there are 27 apartments,” he says proudly. “That’s a good number.”
And yet, he says, “today sovereignty is much more important than owning one more house. And that can only be achieved when Jews occupy an entire neighborhood, or alternatively by enforcing the law. If you give me a small amount of money today, that’s not enough to purchase a large building or a neighborhood – so I’ll use it to bring cases against the government, the city and the police in court, since they are not enforcing the law in east Jerusalem.”
But isn’t doing so fomenting unrest? “Well, this is certainly not our goal,” he says. “I want things to go smoothly, just like [in September], when Jews moved into the City of David [in Silwan].”
Yet a few days after that development, there was a murder in the neighborhood.
“I know all the families that sold their homes [to the Jewish residents], and the man who was murdered had no connection with any of them – none,” he asserts. “The violence in east Jerusalem has no connection with the Jews who are settling in these neighborhoods. There’s no correlation between the Jews moving in and the violence. Hamas and operations like Operation Protective Edge affect the level of violence in east Jerusalem. The left-wingers don’t understand that if 27 apartments were sold, then there are 27 Arab families that are happy to receive the money, move away and build a nice life for themselves. They’re not interested in politics.”
Most of the time, he says, he pays these families more than their homes’ market value.
“They just want the cash,” he says. “But the State of Israel doesn’t give them the chance. I formed an organization called Hagar, which is named after our forefather Abraham’s concubine, the mother of Ishmael. Abraham carried out against her what today we call ‘transfer’ – but against her will. What I advocate is voluntary transfer. If you offer Arab residents the option to leave, they will take the money and run.
There are many more Arabs than Jews who’ve left Israel for economic reasons.”
He further attests that “each deal is unique. It depends on who the seller is, who the buyer is and what the property’s like. I don’t remember even two deals that were exactly alike. Sometimes the buyer lives in Israel, sometimes it’s a company, sometimes there are a few buyers. Sometimes the deal involves one building or a few buildings, one seller or several together. It mostly depends on whether the seller knows the property is being sold to Jews.”
In an effort to protect the sellers, many times the sale takes place as a series of transactions.
“The original owner sells his property to an Arab, who sells to another Arab, who sells to a Jewish buyer.
All of this is done to protect the seller from being harmed or losing his life, since that would negatively affect future sales. Some of the middlemen don’t live in Israel. Most of the sales are made possible by assistance from the Palestinian Authority. There have been cases where people were attacked even months after a transaction took place.”
In the past, it required a considerable amount of effort to locate Arabs who were willing to sell their property. But today, this situation has changed.
“Nowadays they are coming to us,” he says. “We receive two or three proposals a day. We end up with about 15 serious offers a month.”
What changed? “The psychological factor,” he says. “It’s no longer a big deal for Arabs to sell to Jews. Partly due to the construction of [the security barrier], and partly just because so many Arabs are selling to Jews, so people see that it’s not the end of the world.”
But why would Arabs sell to Jews and not just to other Arabs? “Money, money, money,” King replies. “And sometimes Arabs want to anger their neighbors on purpose. Some do it for revenge – to retaliate for something the neighborhood or a family did to harm them, so bringing Jews to live in the neighborhood is their revenge.”
KING, 41, grew up on Kibbutz Alumim in the Negev and has a degree in Islamic studies from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He learned the ropes from Matti Dan of Ateret Kohanim and David Be’eri from the City of David, then set out on his own to found the Israel Land Fund. For years he has been walking the alleyways of east Jerusalem, going from village to village and neighborhood to neighborhood, buying houses and helping Jews move in. And then a year ago, he was elected to the city council on the United Jerusalem list.
For 18 years he has been living in Ma’aleh Hazeitim, a Jewish enclave on the outskirts of Ras el-Amud, separated from the rest of the neighborhood by a fivemeter- high concrete wall.
There are eight neighborhoods on the eastern side of this wall. Although the residents of these neighborhoods are required to pay taxes to the government, the level of services they receive is low by any standard. Once every few months, the municipality arranges for the water company, tax authority and other services to come into the neighborhood for a few days – under heavy police escort – so they can get their work done. Every month, the rocks keep flying until the last policeman leaves.
King believes that “every neighborhood under Israeli sovereignty should at least have a police station. But instead, the feeling in east Jerusalem is that there is no enforcement of laws regarding parking, transportation, noise from construction – in short, it’s the wild, wild East.”
And, he says accusingly, “the mayor of Jerusalem and the Israeli government both have a hand in this. It was the Likud government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at its head that gave the instructions that Jews should not enter these eight neighborhoods in Jerusalem. And these guidelines have been enforced so well that two years ago Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat suggested handing them over to the Palestinian Authority. Would a right-winger make such a suggestion?” Relations between King and Barkat, who had just begun his second term as mayor, started off on the wrong foot, since King supported contender Moshe Lion’s mayoral campaign. And whatever was left of their relationship was blown to smithereens a few weeks ago, when King brought a suit in court against the plan for the Arav a-Swahara project that Barkat was promoting. Barkat responded by stripping him of his municipal duties.
“By 2030, there’s going to be an Arab majority here.
Barkat doesn’t understand the severity of his actions,” King says.
Barkat has been refusing for years to seal up Beit Yonatan, the illegal Jewish building in Silwan.
“If I could, I would go by myself to seal up Beit Yonatan today,” King says passionately. “Beit Yonatan has been the worst plague upon Jewish settlement in east Jerusalem – for two reasons. First of all, it has been turned into a symbol. For three years now, everyone has been talking about ‘Beit Yonatan, that building belonging to those Jewish criminals.’ And all this despite the fact that it’s the only building in the area that was actually built with a permit. Second of all, because of this one small building, almost no illegal Arab construction has been destroyed. I told Matti Dan, ‘Gather all the media and seal those two floors so that we can then turn to Barkat and say, ‘Let’s see you enforce the law regarding the 600 building violations in Silwan and 40,000 in all of east Jerusalem.’” KING IS not interested in being the mayor of Jerusalem – at least that’s what he claims. But if he were mayor, he says, he would “first of all expand the borders of the city and annex Ma’aleh Adumim, Gush Etzion and Givat Ze’ev. A city that has nowhere to build has no future.
Residents of Jerusalem have nowhere to live.”
Asked about real-estate prices in the eastern part of the city, he says that “an apartment that would cost NIS 1.6 million in the western part would cost NIS 800,000 in east Jerusalem. There’s a mad construction boom taking place in east Jerusalem.”
And yet he well understands the reasons most middle-class Jewish families are not hurrying to buy apartments in Jebl Mukaber or Sur Bahir, despite the attractive prices.
“I try very hard to bring non-religious Jews to live here,” he says. “We have houses in Beit Hanina – a nice complex populated with young, secular couples. We have a house in Beit Safafa, where another secular guy lives.”
Asked if he takes his own kids to the child welfare clinic in the neighborhood, he replies, “No, because I want my wife to feel comfortable. The nurse there doesn’t speak Hebrew, and I’d have to send her with a bodyguard.”
So life there is not a bed of roses.
“Of course not. But I view our living there as meaningful, because we are part of a buffer zone in east Jerusalem. Unfortunately there are Jewish Israelis who are now living in buffer zones against their will – in East Talpiot, Pisgat Ze’ev, Givat Ze’ev and French Hill.
These people’s lives have turned into a nightmare – much worse than where I live. At least I feel backed by my ideology, but some of the people in the other areas vote Meretz, and now they find themselves living on the front line because residents of Jebl Mukaber are making their lives a living hell.”
In July, after three Jewish teenagers were kidnapped, King was quoted as saying, “Who will avenge them as Phinehas did?” – a reference to the biblical priest who slew the tribal prince Zimri in the desert.
“I was speaking at the Chabad Conference, and this line was in the context of Chabad devotedness,” King explains. “I said that for me, Chabad emissaries are like Phinehas the Priest, who was fanatical in his devotion to God. Zimri had taken a non-Jewish woman – and not just anyone, but a member of an enemy nation – and yet no one did anything about it. As a result, there was a plague in the State of Israel – pardon me!” he corrects himself quickly, “among the People of Israel. And so Phinehas went and stabbed the two of them. What I said was that I see Chabad members as people who are devoted to the welfare of every single Jew.”
Asked how he felt when Arab teen Muhammad Abu Khdeir was murdered shortly after the Jewish teens’ bodies were found, he replies, “Crazy. The people who killed him were mentally ill. This is not a Jewish way of doing things – to take an innocent boy who didn’t do anything. And I said this many times, that this is not my way.”
He adds that “after the murderers were apprehended, I went to see Muhammad Abu Khdeir’s family. First of all, because they live in Beit Hanina and I’ve helped Jewish families move in there. We wanted them to know that we do not condone this type of activity.”
He recalls an incident two years ago, when there was a “price tag” attack in Beit Hanina.
“They punctured the tires of 12 cars not far from the Jewish houses in the neighborhood. That day, I went right away and handed the mukhtar a check – from my own personal account – to cover the expense of each and every tire. I wanted to put out the fire as quickly as possible. The residents knew that the Jewish neighbors had nothing to do with it.”
Yet there are those who feel King’s activities are creating more reasons for the Americans to condemn Israel.
“In my experience, there hasn’t been one case in which the prime minister stood up for Israel’s rights, where the US government didn’t give in at the end,” he argues. “We have to live our lives. It’s the Americans’ job to scream and yell, and it’s our job to continue building and settling, and not to let the Americans upset us.”
King believes that better days await us.
“Until the world becomes sane, we need to buy time.
This is what happened with the Soviet Union, and what’s happening in Europe now. By 2020, after Europe has become completely saturated with Muslims, they will finally understand and back us up. The US is like a broken reed. I think that the US needs us more today than we need it.”
Translated by Hannah Hochner.