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Israel's public security minister visits new synagogue in Silwan

Aug. 27, 2017 5:28 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 27, 2017 5:56 P.M.)
Gilad Erdan tours Silwan
JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- Israel’s Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan paid a visit to a newly established synagogue in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in occupied East Jerusalem under heavy military protection on Sunday.

The synagogue, which was inaugurated on Thursday, was set up in a building owned by the Palestinian Abu Nab family, according to Zuheir al-Rajabi, the head of a local committee in the Batan al-Hawa area of Silwan.

Israeli settlers occupied the property, which consisted of five apartments, in 2015, after having called for its evacuation since 2004, claiming that the building had been a synagogue for Jews of Yemeni origin in the late nineteenth century.

Some 300 Israelis, including Israel’s Minister of Agriculture Uri Ariel and Israeli lawmakers, attended the synagogue’s inauguration on Thursday.

Al-Rajabi highlighted that settler group Ateret Cohanim, which has been behind several Palestinian evictions in occupied East Jerusalem, claims that 5,200 square meters of land in Batan al-Hawa was owned by Yemeni Jews in 1881.

Al-Rajabi previously told local watchdog the Wadi Hilweh Information Center that since settlers seized the Abu Nab property, there has been a marked increase in assaults and provocative acts by settlers, their security guards, and Israeli forces against the locals of the neighborhood.

Ateret Cohanim -- which receives tax-deductible donations from the United States through a financial intermediary -- focuses on “Judaizing” East Jerusalem through a Jewish reclamation project working to expand illegal settlements and facilitate Jewish takeover of Palestinian properties across the Green Line into Palestinian territory.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) denounced the settlement project as a “new act of Israeli aggression” that represented a “grave violation” to the Islamic character of the city.

PA spokesperson Yousif al-Mahmoud argued that the establishment of the synagogue had “nothing to do with religion,” and that it was “purely a politically motivated act.”

Silwan has been a central target in the Israeli settler movement in East Jerusalem, as it was allegedly once the site a 19th century Jewish community from Yemen.

According to Israeli law, Jewish Israelis are permitted to claim ownership over property believed to have been owned by Jews before 1948 during Ottoman or British rule.

However, such a law does not exist for the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees who were displaced from their lands and homes during and after the establishment of the state of Israel.

Many Palestinians moved into homes or plots of land that had once been owned by Jews following the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their lands in historic Palestine during the creation of the Israeli state in 1948.

This law is used by various settler organizations in Jerusalem to forcibly evict Palestinians from their homes and replace them with Jews, in order to shift demographics in the area. Hundreds of Palestinians in East Jerusalem are now vulnerable to settler-driven evictions owing to the law.

On Friday, Israeli authorities notified several Palestinian homeowners in Silwan that their houses were slated for demolition.

According to the international community, Silwan is part of occupied Palestinian territory, despite Israel’s de facto annexation of East Jerusalem in 1980. Thus, the transfer of the Israeli population onto Palestinian territory is considered illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention, while the UN has said Israel's settlements could amount to a war crime.
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