Israel’s land-grab campaign in Old City’s Muslim quarter

3/30/2007 2:00:00 PM GMT

The Israeli government is supporting a land-grab campaign that involves the construction of a Jewish settlement in the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City.

The construction of new homes for Jewish settlers in the Muslim quarter is the first since Israel took control over the Old City nearly four decades ago.

The project, called the Flowers Gate development plan, would involve the construction of more than 20 apartments to expand an adjacent enclave that only houses two Jewish families. The Israelis also plan to build a domed synagogue that would alter the skyline of the Old City.
The plan is part of a growing land-grab campaign by Jewish settler organizations to change the ethnic and physical character of the Old City’s oldest Arab neighborhoods.

The Israeli government finances the projects that meet the settlers’ goals, which they say would ensure that Israel gets the Old City and a nearby valley known as the Holy Basin in any final peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Surrounded by crenelated walls, the Old City is divided into four quarters — Armenian, Christian, Jewish and Muslim — that contain some of the holiest sites in Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

The settler organization Ateret Cohanim already began showing prospective settlers the piece of land designated for the synagogue and apartments.

Israel’s move to expand the Jewish presence in the Old City and Holy Basin, a cause of serious concern over the past century, had been largely dormant since a 1992 state commission found that government agencies were illegally channeling public money to private settler organizations.

Palestinian landlord Nasser Karain, whose home is at the center of the Israelis’ “land-grab” campaign, said that his Jewish neighbors, whose children are escorted to school by armed guards, have offered several times to buy his property for millions of dollars. He refused the most recent bid just months ago.

“I wouldn’t want anyone in this place except family,” said Karain, born 63 years ago in the house he inherited from his father. “I’d be afraid they’d sell to settlers.”
Israel seized the Old City, the Holy Basin valley and the rest of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East War.

It later annexed East Jerusalem in a move not recognized internationally.
The Jewish population of the Old City, all lives in the Jewish quarter, makes up about 9 percent of the city’s 35,400 residents. About 250,000 Palestinians live in East Jerusalem.
Israel considers all of Jerusalem its “eternal and indivisible capital”.

But the Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of an independent future state they hope to establish in the occupied West Bank and in the Gaza Strip.

— AJP and Agencies

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