Why Jerusalem's Real Estate Market Is Part Of The Mideast Conflict

Why Jerusalem's Real Estate Market Is Part Of The Mideast Conflict

6:33pm Nov 06, 2014
Israeli police stand near a residence in East Jerusalem where Israeli Jews have bought apartments in the predominantly Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan. The Palestinian seller said he sold the apartment to a Palestinian middleman and did not realize the
Israeli police stand near a residence in East Jerusalem where Israeli Jews have bought apartments in the predominantly Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan. The Palestinian seller said he sold the apartment to a Palestinian middleman and did not realize the
Emily Harris / NPR
  • Israeli police stand near a residence in East Jerusalem where Israeli Jews have bought apartments in the predominantly Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan. The Palestinian seller said he sold the apartment to a Palestinian middleman and did not realize the

    Israeli police stand near a residence in East Jerusalem where Israeli Jews have bought apartments in the predominantly Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan. The Palestinian seller said he sold the apartment to a Palestinian middleman and did not realize the

    Emily Harris / NPR

  • Palestinian stone-throwers take cover behind doors during clashes with Israeli police in Jerusalem on Thursday. For months, the streets of East Jerusalem have been tense, with frequent clashes between police and Palestinians.

    Palestinian stone-throwers take cover behind doors during clashes with Israeli police in Jerusalem on Thursday. For months, the streets of East Jerusalem have been tense, with frequent clashes between police and Palestinians.

    Ammar Awad / Reuters/Landov

  • Israeli security forces stand guard near Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock mosque in the Haram al-Sharif compound, one of the holiest sites in Islam. It's also the most sacred place in Judaism. Israeli police clashed with stone-throwing Palestinians inside a n

    Israeli security forces stand guard near Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock mosque in the Haram al-Sharif compound, one of the holiest sites in Islam. It's also the most sacred place in Judaism. Israeli police clashed with stone-throwing Palestinians inside a n

    Ahmad Gharabli / AFP/Getty Images

Daniel Luria raps on the tall metal door of a home in Jerusalem's Silwan neighborhood, which is predominantly Palestinian. Luria is with the Jewish settler group Ateret Cohanim.

One rap and a small window pops open. Luria identifies himself. Soon the door opens too.

Inside sit armed security guards. Israeli police, on a break from patrolling the neighborhood, are there as well. A large screen shows multiple feeds from security cameras around the building. One Israeli flag flies over the roof. Another hangs from the railing of a small balcony.

From this balcony Luria points right, left and straight ahead to show why Jewish people want to live here.

Up the hill from Silwan is what Jews call the Temple Mount, the hilltop in Jerusalem's Old City that is also sacred to Muslims. Below is the spring-fed valley that is thought to have once watered King Solomon's biblical garden. And directly across is the archaeological site known as the City of David, the revered Jewish king who slew the giant Goliath.

"This is the pumping station of the Jewish world," Luria says. "History, heritage, Jewish roots — all from this balcony."

Silwan is in East Jerusalem — the part of the city that was under Jordanian rule until Israel captured it in the 1967 war. Palestinians say East Jerusalem will be their capital someday. Israel says all of Jerusalem is its capital and cannot be divided.

So every house in this part of the city matters.

A few hundred Jewish Israelis already live in Silwan, mostly near the City of David site. But tensions flared recently when settler organizations turned up overnight in nine properties recently, including this one.

Luria says the Jewish investors who bought this warren of apartments from Palestinian owners may not make money from it, but they will earn an "ideological" return.

Palestinian stone-throwers take cover behind doors during clashes with Israeli police in Jerusalem on Thursday. For months, the streets of East Jerusalem have been tense, with frequent clashes between police and Palestinians.

Palestinian stone-throwers take cover behind doors during clashes with Israeli police in Jerusalem on Thursday. For months, the streets of East Jerusalem have been tense, with frequent clashes between police and Palestinians.

Ammar Awad/Reuters/Landov

"Today, Jews around the world — you can buy back Jerusalem," Luria says.

Across the valley, three of the five apartments in Izdihar En-Natsheh's family home are now occupied by armed Jewish men. The middle-aged Palestinian grandmother still lives in hers. Her brother sold two apartments without her knowledge, she says, and it's a stain on the family reputation.

"Everyone in Silwan is talking about us," En-Natsheh worries. "Even about me, who had nothing to do with the sale. They're cursing the whole family."

Palestinian activist Jawad Siyam, director of the Wadi Hilweh Information Center in Silwan, says Palestinians who sell to Israelis are criminals, because giving up land undermines the Palestinian dream of independence.

"It's East Jerusalem. It's part of the future Palestinian state," he says. "If we sell, we lose everything."

Israeli police stand near a residence in East Jerusalem where Israeli Jews have bought apartments in the predominantly Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan. The Palestinian seller said he sold the apartment to a Palestinian middleman and did not realize the ultimate owner was Jewish.

Israeli police stand near a residence in East Jerusalem where Israeli Jews have bought apartments in the predominantly Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan. The Palestinian seller said he sold the apartment to a Palestinian middleman and did not realize the ultimate owner was Jewish.

Emily Harris/NPR

But Palestinians often say they were fooled into selling to Jews.

En-Natsheh's brother, Adel El-Khayat, lives in Ramallah now. It's a major Palestinian city nearby, but across a barrier and checkpoint from Jerusalem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

The brother insists he sold to a Palestinian middleman, who had told him the apartments would be used by Muslims visiting the Al-Aqsa mosque. Jerusalem's holiest Islamic site sits on the same hilltop as the Temple Mount revered by Jews.

"I didn't need the money," he said. "I wanted to offer my houses to the service of Al-Aqsa mosque."

He says he was paid $150,000 for each apartment.

Last week, Israel's minister of public security, Yitzhak Aharonovitch, went to visit the new occupants of those apartments. Dozens of armed guards accompanied him. He invited Israeli media to watch him visit the now Israeli-owned apartments.

As he left, En-Natsheh confronted him. She told the minister that the new Jewish occupants are raising tensions in her neighborhood.

"I understand the homes were purchased," Aharonovitch said, and moved on.

But Silwan activist Siyam says this isn't a place of regular real estate deals.

"They want to make a Jewish majority here," he says. "It's not about being neighbors, or the right to buy wherever they want."

The contested holy sites up the hill have been the focus of recent violence in Jerusalem. If those are the fuse, says Israeli Daniel Seidemann, a leading opponent of Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem, the sacred and secular histories packed into the crowded valley below make Silwan almost as incendiary.

"This is literally where the tectonic plates of Israel, Palestine, Judaism, Christianity and Islam meet," Seidemann says. "So what starts in Silwan doesn't stay in Silwan."

Emily Harris is NPR's Jerusalem correspondent. Follow her @emilygharris

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The golden dome above Jerusalem's old city marks the hilltop holy to both Muslims and Jews. The battle to control it has sparked recent violence. And as NPR's Emily Harris reports, the real estate on the slopes below is also part of the fight.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Who is it?

DANIEL LURIA: Daniel Luria, Ateret Cohanim.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Daniel Luria, with the Jewish settler group Ateret Cohanim, knocks at a house in Silwan, a predominantly Palestinian neighborhood below Jerusalem's old, walled city.

At Luria's knock, a grated window pops open - then, after a few moments, the door. Armed security guards and Israeli police are inside. From a small balcony decorated with the Israeli flag, Luria points right toward the golden dome on the hill where Jewish holy temples once stood.

LURIA: There's the Temple Mount, the walls of the Old City.

HARRIS: Across the valley are ruins of an even older city where the venerated Jewish King David once ruled.

LURIA: The whole of the City of David in one swoop of the eye.

HARRIS: And to the left, a site Luria says was the garden of David's son, Solomon.

LURIA: He planted every conceivable tree here. He writes about it in Song of Songs.

HARRIS: Luria says the Jewish investors who bought this place from Palestinian owners will earn an ideological, more than a financial, return. A Jewish person today can own a piece of the rock, he says.

LURIA: His grandparents could only put money in some little charity box. Maybe it would get to Israel. His great-grandparents could maybe dream about, oh, l'shana haba, next year in Jerusalem. Today, Jews around the world, you can buy back Jerusalem.

HARRIS: Several hundred Jewish Israelis already live in Silwan. But tensions flared when settler organizations turned up overnight in nine properties recently. Across the valley lives a Palestinian woman whose brother sold.

(SOUNDBITE OF KNOCK ON DOOR)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken).

HARRIS: Three of the five apartments in this family home are now occupied by armed Jewish men. But Palestinian Izdihar En-Natsheh still lives in hers.

IZDIHAR EN-NATSHEH: (Foreign language spoken).

HARRIS: The middle-aged grandmother says, her brother insists he sold to a Palestinian. The brother tells us later he thought the house would be used by Muslims visiting Islam's holiest site in Jerusalem, by that golden dome on the same hill as the Jewish holy site. Still, En-Natsheh says she is furious.

EN-NATSHEH: (Through translator). The whole village is talking about us. Even they're talking about me and talking about others in the family that had nothing to do with the sale. The whole village is cursing the whole family.

HARRIS: Just as we're talking, dozens of armed guards show up outside. They are with Israel's minister of public security, who's invited Israeli media to watch him visit the now Israeli-owned apartments.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD TALKING)

HARRIS: En-Natsheh confronts the minister, telling him that the new Jewish occupants are raising tensions in her neighborhood.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

EN-NATSHEH: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN#3: (Foreign language spoken).

HARRIS: The minister says, the houses were legally bought and moves on. But Palestinian activist Jawad Siyam says, this isn't a place of regular real estate deals. Siyam says, Palestinian aspirations for independence suffer when individual Palestinians sell and Jewish groups stake their claim.

JAWAD SIYAM: They don't come to live next to you to be your neighbor. They want to make Jewish majority here. So it's not about being neighbors. It's not about the right to buy wherever they want. It's - it's Jerusalem. It's about the future of Palestinian state.

HARRIS: By East Jerusalem he means the part of the city that was under Arab rule until Israel captured it in the 1967 war. Palestinians say it will be their capital someday. Israel says all Jerusalem is its capital and cannot be divided. If the holy sites on the hilltop are the fuse for recent violence in this city, the Silwan valley below is almost as incendiary, says Israeli Daniel Seidemann, a leading opponent of Jewish settlement in Silwan.

DANIEL SEIDEMANN: This is literally where the tectonic plates of Israel and Palestine, Judaism, Christianity and Islam meet.

HARRIS: Rising tensions in this neighborhood feed fears, he says, that the larger conflict is only heating up. Emily Harris, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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