Keeping Eastern Jerusalem Property in Jewish Hands

Neighborhood occupied by Arabs in 1929 riots - now Councilman King tells Arutz Sheva about his fight to maintain Jewish ownership.

Hezki Baruch, Ari Yashar ,

Arieh King
Arieh King
Flash 90

Arieh King, Jerusalem councilman and director of the Israel Land Fund, told Arutz Sheva about the struggle he has been engaged in over the last year to keep a block of buildings in the "Eshel Avraham" Georgian neighborhood area of eastern Jerusalem in Jewish hands.

The site in question consists of a dunam of property, and three homes spread over 800 meters in the neighborhood located opposite the Damascus Gate to the north of the Old City on Hanevi'im Street. The neighborhood was established in 1892 by Jews who immigrated from Georgia and held 100 homes for affluent families - and later violently occupied by Arabs in the 1929 riots that killed seven local Jews and destroyed homes and synagogues in the neighborhood.

In April, around the Jewish holiday of Pesach (Passover), the Jewish families in France who still hold the rights to the block decided to sell it for roughly 11 million shekels (nearly $3 million) and turned to a real estate agency to help them in doing so.

The agency owner suggested the site to King, who found a buyer from America interested in purchasing the property.

However, a few days later, roughly 10% of the property was sold to an Arab family despite the fact that the American buyer had "shaken hands" on the deal. Now King is trying to facilitate the purchase of the rest of the property, and fears outside influences and shady money may endanger the chances of keeping the property in Jewish hands.

In recent days, one of the owners agreed to sell 50% of the property in his possession, and currently both sides are engaged in negotiations.

"Jews were slaughtered there less than 100 years ago"

Asked whether the whole issue is a matter of money, King told Arutz Sheva "yes and no, we don't want the owners to take a loss and are even willing to pay him 10% more; on the other hand, we don't want Jews to take advantage of the situation and try to extort us."

"The main thing is to leave the property in Jewish hands," stated King. "Jews were slaughtered there less than 100 years ago by an Arab mob; the place must not be transferred to Arab control."

King acknowledged that with owners who don't care about selling to Jews or non-Jews, instead only being interested in the money, "it's difficult to deal with them, and I can only hope that the history and future of the Jewish people, and the past of his family and community are more important to him than money."

King has been leading the push for retaining the Jewish nature of Jerusalem in his post as Jerusalem councilman, a position that ran him afoul of Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat after King petitioned the Jerusalem District Court over Barkat's plan to build 2,500 Arab housing units in Al-Sawahira Al-Gharbiyya - in response, Barkat dismissed King from his coalition posts.

The project adds to a neighborhood sensitively located in the Kidron Valley between the Old City and the East Talpiyot neighborhood, which already today has 3,000 illegal Arab housing units. The new project would allow 5,500 new units in the neighborhood, greatly increasing Arab residents and threatening the demographic balance as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu freezes Jewish building amid a housing crisis.

Between Netanyahu's freeze and Barkat's advance of Arab building and lack of enforcement against rampant illegal Arab construction that already has built 40,000 illegal Arab housing units in the capital adding 800 new ones each year, King has warned that the two are leading to a de facto division of the capital.