The Jewish takeover of several Arab homes near the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City has heightened fears among Christians and Muslims of increased confiscation of private and religious property throughout East Jerusalem.

With the consent and protection of Israeli government and military officials, 200 ultra-Orthodox members of the Ateret Cohanim movement seized seven Arab homes last fall in the village of Silwan, near the biblical Shiloah Springs. At 3 A.M., intruders forced occupants out of their homes at gunpoint. The next day, four Knesset members joined the activists, taking up residence in one of the appropriated houses to lend parliamentary immunity to them. The settlers were finally evicted from the other homes pending court inquiries. The incident occurred just days before U.S. Secretary of State James Baker visited Jerusalem to complete arrangements for recent Arab-Israeli peace talks.

Making Deals

At least 60 other buildings or locations—all within the Old City but outside the Jewish quarter—have been taken over by Jewish settlers during the past two decades. According to Albert Aghazarian, a lecturer in Middle East history at Bir Zeit University near Ramallah, Jewish buyers usually deal with tenants rather than property owners, often eliciting technical delays or deceptive agreements to win cases in court.

“Ever since 1967,” Aghazarian says, “the Likud party, together with sympathetic groups of Christians and Jews alike, have been taking over property throughout the Old City—in the Muslim Quarter, along the Via Dolorosa, in the Christian Quarter—wherever they can lay their hands on it.”

One campaign, led by teams of Jewish scholars, is attempting to prove that Jews once lived in certain Old City houses, and then to reclaim ...

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