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Israeli Government on the Move to Occupy More Muslim and Christian Property in Jerusalem

posted on: Jul 6, 2022

Israeli Government on the Move to Occupy more Muslim and Christian Property in Jerusalem
Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem at risk of encroachment by Jewish settlements — Photo Agence France-Presse

By: John Mason / Arab America Contributing Writer

The Israeli government has started to register land ownership in the area of al-Aqsa Mosque. That would put the sanctity of the Mosque at risk. Adding insult to injury, the government is using funds to help Palestinians to harm them. In the same breath as Muslim Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem protested more Jewish settlers, Christian Palestinians also had something to protest.

Fear of Israeli government registering land near Al-Aqsa Mosque for new settlements

Rights groups speculate that the government is trying to register land south of al-Aqsa Mosque as state property. It has already started to register land ownership in that area. That would put the sanctity of the Mosque at risk. The justice ministry labels this the ‘settlement of land title procedure.’ Umayyed Palaces are also included in this area near the southern wall of al-Aqsa. The Caliph built these palaces in the 8th century and used them during his visits to Jerusalem.

In securing this land, the Israeli government, according to Middle East Eye (MEE), is using a ruse. Their ploy is to tap a fund to “reduce socio-economic gaps” and “create a better future” for Palestinians. The fund would in effect pay for registering land for illegal settlements. That would lead to further dispossession of Palestinians.

The result of the government’s control of this land could be catastrophic. According to MEE, such dispossession “carries possible disastrous ramifications for hundreds of Palestinian homes in Abu Thor.” It could also lead to “an acute potential for escalating tensions due to its highly sensitive location in close proximity to Al Aqsa.”

Israeli Government on the Move to Occupy more Muslim and Christian Property in Jerusalem
Umayyad Palaces date to the 8th century, where Muslim Caliphs stayed when visiting Jerusalem Photo–Wikimapia

Changing the ownership of the Umayyad Palaces is invalid under the Geneva Convention. Any Israeli control of East Jerusalem violates international law. That law “stipulates that an occupying power has no sovereignty in the territory it occupies and cannot make any permanent changes there.”

The Israeli authority ended the registration of land in East Jerusalem shortly after the 1967 war. That left this symbolic land open to disputed ownership. With 90% of the land unregistered, the government began its so-called settlement of land procedure in 2018. The fear is that this ruse is being used “as a tool to seize more land in East Jerusalem, leading to the expansion of Israeli settlements and further Palestinian dispossession.”

Israel uses funds earmarked for Palestinians to register lands near al-Aqsa

Adding insult to injury, the Israeli government is using funds to help Palestinians to harm them. Such designated monies would help Palestinians narrow their economic disparities. They would also help Jerusalem residents improve their life quality. The Muslim religious trust that administers the al-Aqsa Mosque compound has reacted angrily to this pretext.

The primary purpose of registering land south of the Temple Mount is to turn the land over to Jews. They believe they have a hold on much of the land dating to before the six-day 1967 war. According to Haaretz, “The first step in the registration process is the issuance of a public notice to anyone claiming ownership in the area where registration is being carried out, requiring that claimants provide proof of ownership.”

So far, Jerusalem’s Palestinians have rebuffed any cooperation. They claim, “the Custodian for Absentee Property might claim ownership of all or part of it. The law permits the custodian to seize property if it is registered to someone who is or was residing in an enemy country.” Such a situation favored Jews, which has led to establishing Jewish neighborhoods.

We have treated problems with Palestinian land ownership in East Jerusalem in these pages before. Friction among Palestinians and Jews in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah is one example we’ve reported. Such friction preceded last year’s war in Gaza. The issue was that the land registration procedure there resulted in most of the land ending up in Jewish hands.

Israeli Government on the Move to Occupy more Muslim and Christian Property in Jerusalem
Palestinians protest Israeli government’s acquisition of their homes as part of its ‘land registration’ process — Photo FLASH90

We leave the final word to a Haaretz quote from a human rights attorney: “The land [registration] that has been advanced through the resolution, which was meant to benefit the Palestinian residents of the city, is being exploited by the government in a cynical manner to steal their land and so that the state can take control of land and advance the interests of the Jewish settlers in the east of the city. Now things have already been stepped up a notch. The [registration] next to the Al-Aqsa Mosque is an attempt at Israeli control of the most sensitive area of the city.”

Palestinian Christian properties in Jerusalem are also at risk from the incursion of Jewish settlers

In the same breath as Muslim Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem protested more Jewish settlers, Christian Palestinians also had something to protest. Archbishop Atallah Hanna, head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem, according to the Middle East Monitor (MEM), “has called for urgent and unified action to nullify suspicious deals through which important real estate owned by the church in occupied Jerusalem has apparently been sold to illegal settler associations.” He insisted that the issue was political–not legal.

The patriarch clarified that properties stolen by Jewish settlers are an “authentic part of the Christian Quarter and the Orthodox Patriarchate.” These properties comprise the Imperial and Petra Hotels and other Palestinian-owned properties in the Jaffa Gate area. Archbishop Hanna noted that these properties are directly linked to the Christian presence in this especially sacred space.

Israeli Government on the Move to Occupy more Muslim and Christian Property in Jerusalem
Archbishop Atallah Hanna, head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem, has called for “urgent and unified action to nullify suspicious deals through which important real estate owned by the church in occupied Jerusalem” Photo Arab

The Patriarch noted further, “the Christian endowments in Palestine are not a commodity offered in a public auction but are part of the history and heritage of the Holy City and every corner and every inch in Jerusalem city means history, heritage and authenticity to the Palestinians.”

Last week, the Supreme Court of Israel rejected a petition filed by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. Instead, it accepted the plea of the Ateret Cohanim settler organizations. They had claimed ownership of the Church’s assets in the Jaffa Gate area in the Old City of occupied Jerusalem.

Such an action controverts international law. That law dictates that “all Israeli settlers and the settlements in which they live are illegal.”

In a related response, US Presbyterian Church declares Israel an apartheid state

In a vote of the US Presbyterian Church 225th General Assembly, it declared Israel an ‘apartheid state.” It also designated Nakba as Remembrance Day. Furthering its stand, the Church Committee on International Engagement passed a resolution recognizing that “Israel’s laws, policies, and practices regarding the Palestinian people fulfill the international legal definition of apartheid.” The Church claims over 1.7 million members. The Church also affirmed the “right of all people to live and worship peacefully” in Jerusalem.

Sources

“Israeli move to register land adjacent to al-Aqsa Mosque raises fears of the takeover,” Middle East Eye, 6/27/2022

“Israel Moves to Register Lands Near Al-Aqsa Using Funds Earmarked for Palestinians,” Haaretz, 6/26/2022

“Archbishop calls for ‘urgent’ action to save Christian properties from Jewish settlers,” Middle East Monitor, 6/20/2022

“US Presbyterian Church declares Israel ‘apartheid state’, create Nakba Remembrance Day,” The New Arab, 6/30/2022

John Mason, PhD., who focuses on Arab culture, society, and history, is the author of LEFT-HANDED IN AN ISLAMIC WORLD: An Anthropologist’s Journey into the Middle East, New Academia Publishing, 2017. He has taught at the University of Libya, Benghazi, Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, and the American University in Cairo; John served with the United Nations in Tripoli, Libya, and consulted extensively on socioeconomic and political development for USAID and the World Bank in 65 countries.

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