Natche family home under threat of eviction by settlers, Beit Hanina. (Photo: Michael Salisbury)
Driving Palestinians out of their homes in "east" Jerusalem is, as you can imagine, a dirty business. But its not terribly difficult. The Palestinians are a vulnerable population, poor (70% subsist on less than $2 a day), completely unprotected by the law or Israeli courts, and targeted by determined Jewish settlers with all the money and political backing in the world – much of its coming, of course, from the US, mainly from orthodox Jews and Christian Zionists.
Police entering Natche home. (Photo: Felizitas Hoffmann)
Over the past few days settlers led by Arieh King have been harassing Palestinian residents of Beit Hanina where, according to King, settlers will "very soon" take over four houses, plus an additional two houses in the Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where violent nighttime evictions aided by the Israeli police have become commonplace. The immediate target of window-breaking, curses, violent encounters and now a police search of the home "for weapons" is the Natche family of Beit Hanina (see pictures).
King is the front-man for Irving Moskowitz, a wealthy owner of bingo casinos in Hawaiian Gardens, a poor Latino community near Los Angeles, who is bankrolling some 17 settlements around East Jerusalem to "buffer" the Old City and "Judaize" East Jerusalem (see the StopMoskowitz website.) A friend and benefactor of Netanyahu, Moskovitch was behind the opening of the tunnels under the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem in 1996 that resulted in the deaths of 80 Palestinian protesters.
The Moskowitz/King strategy is to establish settlements in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods, often in houses acquired by dubious and violent means. Among the settlements established or on the way are the City of David (Silwan), just below the al-Aqsa mosque; Ma'ale Zeitim and Ma'ale David in the Ras-el-Amud quarter on the southern side of the Mount of Olives; Beit Hoshen on the Mount of Olives, where several Palestinian families were violently evicted from their homes and which flies an enormous Israeli flag; Beit Orot, on the northern part of the Mount of Olives, where last year Mike Huckabee laid the foundations for an expanded settlement; the Shepherds Hotel and Sheikh Jarrah, now renamed Shimon Hatzadik; a plot in the village of Anata to the east of the Hebrew university; and now the homes in Beit Hanina.
While King, Moskowitz and other organized settler groups frame their taking of Palestinian homes as "reclaiming" Jewish properties from before 1948, Palestinians are legally prevented from even approaching the courts to reclaim their lost properties in "west" Jerusalem-- the homes, businesses and lands that once comprised 40% of the now all-Jewish part of the city. King works through a company called The Israel Land Fund that, according to its website, "is dedicated to enable all Jews (Israeli and non-Israeli citizens) to own a part of Israel. It strives to ensure that Jewish land is once again reclaimed and in Jewish hands. House by house, lot by lot, the Israel Land Fund is ensuring the land of Israel stays in the hands of the Jewish people forever."
Just how sleazy the settlement racket is can be gleaned from The Israel Land Fund’s website. It employs, we learn, three full-time employees who "are well versed in Arabic, and all served as officers in the Israel Defense Force." It adds menacingly and tellingly: "These skills are frequently called into play in their dealings with Arab sellers and with the local population in areas that the Fund is active." The Fund’s employees are proficient in English, we are told, "since the Fund’s main proponents are from the English speaking public."
The "process" of acquiring an Arab property, described on the website, also offers insights into King’s methods. First, "the buyers [i.e. Jews] will be shown properties or land they may be interested in purchasing, without directly identifying the property. This is to prevent the possibility of over-exposure of the property [read: the neighbors, or even the people living in the home who think they own it, might find out] which may result in the cancellation or withdrawal of the property by the seller [not necessarily the owners nor the people who believe the home belongs to them] or cause damage to the deal." Only when "the buyers" are sufficiently committed will The Fund then conduct negotiations on their behalf. "It is only at this stage, once the ILF is convinced of the seriousness and authenticity of the buyers, that the ILF will reveal the seller and enable the buyer to visit the property."
The "settlement business" cannot function, of course, without extensive official support. Settler groups and their lawyers are able to keep even weak or non-existent cases in court for years with the help of their deep pockets and compliant judges. Palestinians, even those with strong cases, simply cannot afford the expenses of litigation. If a Palestinian or his children run afoul with the law, especially in cases of alleged stone-throwing, the settlers, through their lawyers and sympathetic police, can extricate the person – for a price, often his home. The municipality is enlisted either to threaten families who are targeted for various building violations with fines or to issue demolition orders against their homes, and building permits elsewhere are used as inducement to get Palestinians to leave targeted areas, such as Silwan.
Deals are also struck. Rumors are that the Natche home in Beit Hanina will be offered to a poor Palestinian family in the Old City whose home is small and cramped but is strategically located for purposes of judaization. Poor and vulnerable families are enticed to sell for exorbitant sums (hence we don’t want to "over-expose" a potential property), or houses are "bought" from an absentee relative in some far-off country and the family evicted in the middle of the night without even knowing their home was sold. (Good lawyers can solve any legal complications.)
Um Suleiman after the police raid. (Photo: Felizitas Hoffmann)
So from the Natche family to the judaization of Jerusalem, compliments of a California bingo parlor-cum-casino operated on the backs of low-income Latinos and English-speaking Jewish "buyers".