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Jews seek to reclaim houses in Shiekh Jarrah

Three elderly Jews claim they were raised in east Jerusalem neighborhood before being expelled in War of Independence. Now they want houses back

Yair Altman

The leftist protest is gaining momentum, but rightist organizations are continuing to reinforce Jewish presence in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

Three Jewish people on Thursday arrived at the east Jerusalem neighborhood and claimed they were the original owners of houses inhabited by Palestinian families, demanding their property be returned to them.

“My grandfather built this house and the synagogue that was burned down by Arabs in 1948,” said 76-year-old Elisha Ben-Tzur.

“I demand to get my property back. The Arabs took control over the entire Eretz Yisrael, so they should at least leave us with what’s rightfully ours,” he asserted.

Ben-Tzur recalled that at the end of the War of Independence, and after Sheikh Jarrah was left under Jordanian jurisdiction, his family moved to the neighborhood of Romema.

“Before Sheikh Jarrah, we lived in Silwan – but were expelled out of there as well,” he said, while harshly criticizing the protest against Jewish settlement in east Jerusalem.

“Some Arabs purchase apartments at the French Hill and Gilo neighborhood, and I don’t see anyone fussing about it,” he added.

Malka Versano, 70, also spent her childhood years, before the War of Independence, in the neighborhood of Shiekh Jarrah.

“I will never forget the day we left,” she recalled, “I remember how the Arabs inflamed the place and divided the girls between them – deciding amongst themselves who’s going to rape who.

“My father dug a pit in advance and told us that if the Arabs manage to enter our house, he will throw us in there so that we are not abused,” she said.

Versano, like Ben-Tzur, is also demanding to retrieve the assets owned by her family. “These are houses that belong to my father and my grandfather, and today Arabs live there. It is a house that is registered under my name, and I can’t even collect the rent,” she said.

‘Don’t want Arabs to be homeless’
Versano and Ben-Tzur were joined by a third elderly man – 75-year-old Moshe Arusi – who also claims ownership over neighborhood assets.

The three accompanied director and founder of Israel Land Fund Arieh King, who has been active in promoting legal action to return Sheikh Jarrah assets to their Jewish owners.

“We are not purchasing Arab homes, but rather asking that the original owners of the assets from before the establishment of the State – who are Jewish – be allowed to return to the places from which they were expelled,” King said.

“We don’t want to see Arabs being taken out of these houses and becoming homeless, and therefore we are willing to finance the purchase of the houses out of our own pockets and arrange for an evacuation at a time that is convenient for the Arab residents.

“We want Arabs who wish to leave the Jewish assets, to be able to do so in an honorable and coordinated manner,” he stressed.

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