The Palestinian street is in an uproar after a right-wing religious Jewish organization purchased a three-story building in Jerusalem's Old City, near Herod's Gate. The house, originally owned by the distinguished Joudeh family, was sold in April 2018 to a company registered in the Caribbean, apparently a straw company.
The news of the sale sparked a storm in the Palestinian mainstream and social media, including mutual accusations between Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud 'Abbas and his rival Muhammad Dahlan, who was expelled from Fatah in 2011. Dahlan and his associates accuse 'Abbas of being responsible for the sale of the property to the Jewish organization. They claim that in 2016 Fadi Al-Salamin, a Palestinian political activist who resides in the U.S. and is considered to be an associate of Dahlan, was about to buy the house, but the PA torpedoed the sale for political reasons, namely due to Salamin's ties with Dahlan. Furthermore, an activist who lives near the house claims that PA officials, including general intelligence chief Majid Faraj and former Jerusalem district governor 'Adnan Al-Husseini, knew about the deal with the Jews in advance and were even involved in it. The PA, on its part, has long been accusing Dahlan and his associates of buying property in East Jerusalem with the intent of selling it to Jews. Similar allegations against Dahlan, and also against the UAE, were recently made by Kamal Al-Khatib, deputy chairman of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, which is leading the "Al-Aqsa Is in Danger" campaign. It should be noted that he voiced similar accusations against them in 2014.
In response to the uproar, the PA announced that it would form an investigative committee to look into the affair and would punish those responsible. In addition, senior PA officials, among them Al-Aqsa preacher Ikrima Sabri and Palestinian Mufti Muhammad Hussein, reiterated fatwas banning the sale of property to Jews and stating that whoever does this is an infidel and a traitor against the homeland.
The promise of an investigative committee failed to quell the storm, however, and former PA officials, as well as the Jerusalem daily Al-Quds, continued to level harsh criticism at the PA. They accused it of poor management and of preoccupation with personal and political rivalries at the expense of national issues, and even hinted at its possible involvement in the sale of the building.
Alongside the mutual accusations between the PA and the Dahlan camp, PA officials, as well as Palestinians in social media, also directed accusations at Israel and the U.S., and some social media posts even called for self-sacrifice for the sake of Jerusalem. This charged affair may indeed lead to a flare-up of the armed Palestinian struggle against Israel.
This report reviews the affair and the controversy it sparked among the PA, Dahlan's camp, the Islamic Movement in Israel, the Palestinian public in East Jerusalem, and additional circles.
The house in East Jerusalem (image: Facebook.com/profile.php?id=100010298490250)
Palestinians Argue Over Who Was Responsible For The Sale Of The House To The Jews
On October 4, 2018, the East Jerusalem daily Al-Quds reported that "settler gangs" had taken over 'Aqbat Darwish, a historical building in Jerusalem's Old City, not far from Al-Aqsa, that had belonged to the distinguished Joudeh family. Immediately afterwards, reports began appearing in the Palestinian media and social media accusing various figures of involvement in the sale of the house, including associates of Palestinian President Mahmoud 'Abbas on the one hand, and associates of his rival Mahmoud Dahlan on the other. The sides presented conflicting accounts, each of them blaming the other for the purchase of the building by the Jews.
Many reports, most of them in papers and websites unaffiliated with the PA, stated that in January 2016 the Joudeh family tried to sell the house, valued at some $2.5 million, to the Palestinian businessman Fadi Al-Salamin, who lives in the U.S. and is considered close to Dahlan and the UAE. The Ramallah-based paper Al-Hadath reported, citing documents provided by Kamal Abu Qwaider, a Palestinian who lives close to the house in question and is following the affair, that the deal fell through in December 2016 after Al-Salamin failed to make the last payment, of $1 million. According to the paper, this was because official PA elements had frozen his account in a Ramallah bank. The fateh-voice.net website claimed that the PA security apparatuses had foiled the sale because of Al-Salamin's ties to Dahlan.
The reports claimed further that some six months ago, on April 23, 2018, the house was purchased by a Palestinian businessman, Dr. Khaled Al-'Atari, formerly a bank manager and a senior insurance executive in Ramallah, who sold it the very same day to a company called Daho Holdings Limited, registered in the Caribbean island of Nevis. The Jerusalem resident Abu Qwaider posted on his Facebook page a document of the Israeli Justice Ministry, dated April 23, recording the transfer of ownership from the Joudeh family to Al-'Atari and from Al-'Atari to Daho Holdings.
The documented posted on Abu Qwaider's Facebook page
This triggered an exchange between Adeb Joudeh, the alleged seller, and Khaled Al-'Atari, with each of them claiming, in social media posts and statements to the media, that the other was responsible for the sale of the property to the Jews. Joudeh stated that the house had been sold and registered to Al-'Atari over a year ago, while Al-'Atari claimed that he had not been involved in the deal at all. The plot thickened when Abu Qwaider revealed that officials in the PA and its security apparatuses, including former Jerusalem district governor 'Adnan Al-Husseini, as well as Fatah officials, had been aware of the deal and had spoken to him about it. Abu Qwaider even posted recordings of some of the conversations.
Dahlan Camp: The PA Prevented Us From Buying The House And Is Responsible For Its Sale To The Jews
Dahlan's associate Fadi Al-Salamin issued a statement in which he accused the PA, its head 'Abbas, and its security apparatuses of thwarting his attempt to purchase the house in 2016 and thereby save it from falling into the hands of the settlers. He claimed that 'Abbas wished to sabotage the deal due to his (Al-Salamin's) opposition to 'Abbas and criticism of his corruption; 'Abbas therefore ordered to freeze his bank account, and the PA security apparatuses fabricated accusations of money laundering and terror financing against him in order to facilitate this move. Al-Salamin claimed further that it was the PA's general intelligence chief, Majid Faraj, who had recruited businessman Al-'Atari to purchase the property.
Muhammad Dahlan himself made similar claims on his Facebook page, writing: "The house in Jerusalem that was furtively handed over [to the Jews] is a Palestinian house in Jerusalem that we tried to protect from [this fate], but we were prevented from doing so when the [PA] authorities... seized the funds set aside for this purpose, and they continue to hold on to them to this day." He added: "The house was furtively handed over to the settler herds by influential elements in Ramallah who facilitated [the sale] in a dubious manner... [Now] there are attempts to conceal this crime and distort the facts." Dahlan called to form an investigative committee of East Jerusalem dignitaries who will expose the PA officials responsible and hold them to account.
The PA: Dahlan Associates Are Buying Property In Jerusalem In Order To Hand It Over To Unknown Elements
After the affair came to light, PA Prime Minister Rami Al-Hamdallah announced the establishment of an investigative committee that would "uncover the truth and inform the public of its findings immediately upon completing its task, in order to apprehend those responsible and bring them to justice." Fatah spokesman Osama Al-Qawasmeh promised that the Palestinian leadership would pursue the culprits, calling them "wretched collaborators with the occupation who sold out their conscience and religion and betrayed Jerusalem in return for money." Responding to the allegations that PA officials, including Majid Faraj and 'Adnan Al-Husseini, knew about the sale of the house to the Jews and were even involved in it, Al-Qawasmeh said that casting such aspersions on national leaders is just a "cheap and failing" attempt to smear them.
At the same time, PA spokespersons avoided explicitly accusing the Dahlan camp of responsibility for the sale of the property to the Jews. This is unlike what they have done in the past. In May 2016, the PA attorney general, Ahmad Barak, ordered to seize the funds of a Ramallah company owned by Al-Salamin on the grounds that it received money from Dahlan and brought "dubious funds" into the Palestinian territories. Barak claimed that the company had not engaged in any real business in Palestine since its establishment; rather, it was formed in order to secretly buy up property in Jerusalem's Old City and transfer it to unknown elements. Then too Al-Salamin claimed that he had been trying to save property from being transferred to settlers and that the PA had prevented this for political reasons. It should be noted that, several days before the issuing of the order to seize Al-Salamin's funds, the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar published a lengthy investigative article accusing Al-Salamin, Dahlan and the UAE of buying property in Jerusalem with the aim of handing it over to the Jews.
The Islamic Movement In Israel: The PA And The Dahlan Camp Are Competing In Handing Over Property To The Jews
Similar allegations against Dahlan and against the UAE were heard even earlier, in 2014, from Kamal Al-Khatib, deputy chairman of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, which is leading the "Al-Aqsa Is in Danger" campaign. Over the past year he reiterated the accusation that Dahlan and his patron, the UAE, are buying up land and property in East Jerusalem with the help of Palestinian land brokers, with the intention of selling them to Jews and Judaizing Jerusalem. He explained that UAE-affiliated businessmen are offering Palestinians very large sums for property in Jerusalem, and warned the residents of the city not to be tempted by such offers from any element, in any guise.
Dahlan, for his part, rejected these claims, calling them lies and fabrications by the "villain" Kamal Al-Khatib, who, he said, puts on a mantle of piety like his friends in the Muslim Brotherhood, while engaging in "a cheap attempt to obstruct anyone who tries to extend a helping hand to our beloved and holy city." He added: "Al-Khatib and his ilk are trying to tighten the noose of isolation around Jerusalem and its residents and leave them alone in the fray against the land-grabbing occupation that is chewing up Jerusalem day and night, meter by meter and step by step. [They do this] with the aim of facilitating the Judaization [of Jerusalem]."
On October 4, after the Jews moved into the building, Kamal Al-Khatib wrote on his Facebook page that selling the house was an act of treason, and noted that he had warned about this in advance. He repeated the claim that the PA and its Ministry for Jerusalem Affairs knew about the sale but did nothing, and hinted that they had in fact been in fact involved in it. In another post, he attacked both sides – Dahlan and his associate Al-Salamin, as well as PA intelligence chief Faraj and businessman Al-'Atari – who are "competing not in saving the houses of Jerusalem by rather in handing them over to the Jews," and who "are all thieves, traders and students of Abu Mazen... Our people will place you on the black roster of shame," he concluded.
Palestinian Clerics Warn: Whoever Sells Property To The Enemies Is An "Infidel" And "Traitor"
Following the sale of the building, Palestinian clerics reiterated fatwas banning the sale of real estate to the Jews, the enemies and the Israeli occupation, calling this an act of heresy and treason. In an interview with the Qatari daily Al-Arabi Al-Jadid, Al-Aqsa preacher Ikrima Sabri cited a fatwa issued in 1935 by Palestinian clerics, ruling that anyone who sells property to the Jews is an apostate, and which Sabri claimed had also been endorsed by clerics in the Arab world. This fatwa, he said, states that "anyone who secretly sells his property and land has left the fold of Islam, [and when he dies] his body must not be washed, wrapped in shrouds or buried in a Muslims cemetery, and Muslims must not pray for his soul." He added: "We endorse this fatwa and remind people about it. Those who sell their land, house or [other] property are traitors... It is an obvious crime."
The Palestine High Fatwa Council, headed by the General Mufti of Jerusalem and Palestine and Al-Aqsa preacher Sheikh Muhammad Hussein, likewise issued an announcement reiterating the ban on secretly selling property and land to the enemies and the Israeli occupation. The announcement stressed that this act "constitutes grave treason against the religion, the homeland and [our] values," and that anyone who engages in it "conspires against the land and the Palestinian people and cause, and in fact sells his soul to the devil. Therefore he must be fought on every level, his family must renounce him, and the security [apparatuses] must pursue him."
In the context of this affair and several similar cases, Mufti Hussein himself also reiterated fatwas that whoever sells land to the "enemies" is a traitor against Islam and the homeland. On September 3, 2018 he issued a statement repeating a High Council fatwa from 1996 stating that "anyone who sells his land to enemies, or accepts compensation for it, is a sinner, for by doing so he is aiding the removal of Muslims from their lands... Selling land to the enemies, and brokering its sale to them meet [the definition] of deeds that turn those who carry them out into infidels, and are considered [an expression of] loyalty to the infidels and to those who rebel against Allah. This loyalty excludes [an individual] from the community of believers; anyone who does this is considered a murtadd – one who has abandoned Islam – and as having betrayed Allah, His Prophet, his religion, and his homeland. The Muslims must excommunicate him, must shun him, must not marry him, must not show him affection, must not attend his funeral, must not pray for his soul [after death], and must not inter him in a Muslim cemetery." As mentioned, he issued similar statements in April and July 2018.
Both Sides Direct Accusations Also At Israel, U.S.
Official PA circles refrained from responding to the statements by Dahlan and his camp regarding their alleged involvement in the sale of the house, preferring instead to direct their criticism at Israel and the U.S. In its October 5 meeting, the PA government condemned "the takeover of the property by Israeli settlers," calling it a "horrific and barbaric act." Government spokesman Yousuf Al-Mahmoud described it as "part of the occupation's rabid settlement attack on the neighborhoods of occupied Jerusalem," and urged international bodies, especially UNESCO, to intervene and "prevent the occupation from taking over the indigenous Arab cultural heritage in the occupied Arab [city of] Jerusalem" and from "harming the city's Arab and Islamic identity."
The PA's Foreign Minister likewise denounced "the brutal and systematic settlement attack on the Old City in occupied East Jerusalem and on the Al-Aqsa [area]," stressing that "America's blind support for the occupation state and its policy is the main [source of] support for the settler associations, [which allows them to] continue taking over Palestinian properties, Judaizing Jerusalem's Old City and the Al-Aqsa area and expelling their residents by force."
Accusations against the U.S. and Israel were also heard from the Dahlan camp, as part of a social media campaign launched by Dahlan's supporters against the PA, which protested the sale of Jerusalem properties to settlers and demanding to punish those responsible. The campaign involved hashtags and slogans such as "Jerusalem is our national honor," "they sold out Jerusalem" and "together we will [act to] implement a law for prosecuting land brokers" – the implied referent being the PA. Alongside the posts denouncing the PA were posts that directed criticism at Israel and the U.S., and called to fight for Jerusalem even at the price of self-sacrifice; others featured an image of masked Palestinians throwing stones against the background of Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa. Among the tweets were the following: "We will never succumb to the American-Israeli plots and give up our eternal capital of Jerusalem," "We shall redeem you, Jerusalem, with our spirit and defend you with our blood" and "Jerusalem is calling. Heed its call, leap up like lions and give your souls [for it]."
October 7 tweet by user @kamalsalim00: "We are willing to defend Jerusalem with our blood"
October 7 tweet by user @nuralmisri: "The Zionists will never succeed in Judaizing Holy Jerusalem."
Palestinians Accuse PA Of Irresponsibility, Negligence And Favoring Personal Rivalries Over National Values
In addition to the Dahlan camp, other Palestinian elements, among them former PA officials and the Palestinian daily Al-Quds, also hinted at the PA's possible involvement in the sale and condemned its negligence and loss of way.
Fatah Official In Charge Of Jerusalem: The PA's Silence Over The Affair Raises Questions Regarding Its Position
Fatah Revolutionary Council member and official in charge of Jerusalem Hatem 'Abd Al-Qader, formerly the PA Minister of Jerusalem Affairs, wondered about "the strange and puzzling silence of the official Palestinian apparatuses over this affair, which has sparked chaos, rumors and dangerous claims among the Palestinian public." He warned that "it is not in the PA's interests to keep silent over this issue," because this may have serious repercussions and raise doubts regarding its position. He stressed the importance of exposing the truth and prosecuting those responsible.
Former PA Minister: The Settlers Do Not 'Invade' The Houses But Rather Buy Them; We Have Lost Our Way If Personal Disputes Overshadow National Issues
Former PA Minister Ziad Abu Ziad published an article in the Al-Quds daily prior to the PA's establishment of the investigative committee, in which he expressed scathing criticism of the PA's loss of values, and accused it of letting the political disagreements and personal rivalry with Mohammad Dahlan take precedence over Palestinian interests and influence important national issues such as Jerusalem. Senior PA officials, he claimed, seem to be unaware of the severity of the situation and may even be involved in the sale of properties to Jews; hence the PA president should establish an unbiased investigative committee to examine the issue.
He wrote: "I often encounter expressions such as 'the settlers invaded a house in Silwan or a house in the Old City' and so on. I wonder, are we really talking about invasion?... In most cases where houses in Jerusalem were 'invaded,' it later emerged that the house was sold legally, and some were sold by falsifying documents. Either way, the settlers took possession of the property after making the requisite payment. The use of the word 'invasion' in this context is deceptive and is an attempt, perhaps unconscious, to exonerate the seller…
"We have lost our way and have no supervisory body to oversee matters. This is due to [the paralysis] of the legislative council and the spread of cronyism, partisanship, capriciousness and pandering, even at the expense of public interest. [Thus,] personal disagreements become the basis for deciding public issues, including the most sensitive issues of all, such as Jerusalem and the properties in it. Moreover, properties in Jerusalem are being furtively sold to the other side [i.e. to Israelis], and accusations of treason and collaboration are hurled without religious or moral restraint… at anyone we disagree with, even if the dispute is personal and has nothing to do with the homeland.
"What is happening in Jerusalem is very serious, and what makes it even graver is the feeling that those in charge do not realize the magnitude of the threat that is swallowing up Jerusalem day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. [These elements] continue to spout slogans and clichés that indicate that they are either oblivious, or involved [in the deals themselves], or, in the best case, are unable to cope with the matter…
"We must admit that [property in Jerusalem] is being sold [to Jews], and that [Palestinians] are involved in this, whether as owners, as holders of key-money rights [to the properties], or as [Palestinian] Authority officials. Perhaps the case of the Joudeh family's house... will serve as a wake-up call that will shake us to the core and rouse those who are still asleep, causing them to realize the dangerous tsunami that is threatening our existence.
"I call on President 'Abbas to immediately establish a neutral committee of experts, comprising patriotic figures from outside the PA institutions, that will have the authority to question every official, at any level. [This,] in order to expose the source of the failing [i.e. the sale of property to Jews] and clarify whether the many allegations that [certain] people were negligent or careless, or were secretly involved in the [sale] of the property, are accurate…"
It Is Clear Who Is Responsible, Yet He Is Shielded From Blame; The Investigative Committee Must Be Independent
In another article published by Ziad Abu Ziad, he hinted that the PA is responsible for the sale by comparing the affair to the disappearance of the Saudi journalist Khashoggi: in both cases everyone knows who is responsible, he said, yet the culprit is safe from blame. He also called to guarantee that the investigative committee be independent and invested with authority. He wrote: "There is a clear similarity between the disappearance of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the [case] of the secret sale of the Joudeh family's house… In both cases the truth is obvious if you read between the lines, and in both cases there are those who attempt to erase the truth. In both cases there is absolutely no doubt as to who is responsible, yet he is shielded from blame due to circumstances that are difficult to change…
"Investigative committees differ from one another in terms of who convened them, their degree of independence, the identity of their members, the source of their authority, their mandate, and the time they are given to complete their task, as well as additional criteria that determine the extent of their transparency, fairness, effectiveness, and the degree to which they can present the truth to the public. Usually, such committees are completely independent of the executive branch, possess immunity and autonomy, and submit their report to the legislative branch, namely the parliament, which we don't have… They are usually headed by a presiding or retired judge who has achieved the highest level within his profession, is known for his decency and has an unblemished reputation, who can state the naked truth without bias… We congratulate the government for its decision [to establish an investigative committee], but we demand that it follow the criteria noted above… otherwise it will no doubt be a waste of time and will not achieve the purpose for which it was formed…"
Al-Quds Daily: An Investigative Committee Is Not Enough; This Is A Case Of Palestinian, Arab And Muslim Negligence
An editorial in Al-Quds likewise criticized the PA, stating that the investigative committee it formed will yield nothing since its findings are known in advance, and complained that Palestinian, Arab and Muslim elements are not doing enough to defend Jerusalem: "The Palestinian government has formed an 'investigative committee' to investigate the affair [of the sale], which is to start its work immediately and inform the public of its findings. [However, these findings] are completely known in advance. This affair goes far beyond [anything that can be resolved by] an 'investigative committee.' It [reflects] a lack of national, religious and moral responsibility on the part of certain individuals, and their greed for the transient [reward of] wealth.
"[The affair also reflects] national, Arab and Muslim negligence... and [raises questions regarding] the Palestinians', Arabs' and Muslims' role and responsibility for what is happening in the city that is important to all of them. If some people [are willing to] sell their conscience, homeland and religion for the dirtiest money, why aren't Palestinian, Arab and Muslim funds quickly [used to] buy these assets and properties? There are plenty of funds available, if only there was a will to care for this city and its future. Forming an investigative committee will lead to nothing. We already know for sure who was involved, but this will not change the painful reality one whit. We need much more than an investigative committee. First we must hold all those responsible to account, in a serious and deterring manner, so that they pay the price and so that other people will take warning!"
* H. Varulkar is Director of Research at MEMRI; S. Schneidmann is a research fellow at MEMRI.
 Al-Quds (Jerusalem), October 4, 2018.
 Alhadath.ps, October 8, 2018.
 Fateh-voice.net, October 8, 2018.
 Alhadath.ps, October 8, 2018.
 Facebook.com/profile.php?id=100010298490250, October 8, 2018.
 Facebook.com/adeb.joudeh, October 4, 2018; Al-Quds (Jerusalem), October 5, 2018. In an interview with Al-Arabi Al-Jadid Al-'Atari claimed that a deal had been made but that Joudeh later canceled it (Al-Arabi Al-Jadid, London, October 7, 2018).
 Al-Arabi Al-Jadid (London), October 7, 11, 2018.
 Facebook.com/Fadi.Elsalameen, October 8, 2018.
 Facebook.com/mohammad.dahlan2, October 7, 2018.
 Wafa.ps, October 9, 2018.
 Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), October 14, 2018.
 Qudspress.com, May 31, 2016.
 Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), May 27, 2016.
 Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), April 28, 2014.
 Shehabnews.com, July 18, 2017; Al-Sharq (Qatar), September 2, 2017; Facebook.com/Kamal.Khateb48, June 6, 2018.
 Facebook.com/mohammad.dahlan2, June 8, 2018.
 Facebook.com/Kamal.Khateb48, October 4, 2018.
 Facebook.com/Kamal.Khateb48, October 10, 2018.
 Al-Arabi Al-Jadid (London), October 7, 2018.
 Darifta.org, October 11, 2018.
 Darifta.org, September 3, 2018. See Special Dispatch No. 7657, Jerusalem Mufti: The Palestinian Refugees Must Not Accept Compensation For Their Land – And Any Who Do So Are Infidels And Are Betraying Allah And The Homeland, September 5, 2018.
 Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), April 13, 2018; Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), July 11, 2018.
 Al-Quds (Jerusalem), October 5, 2018.
 Al-Hayat (Dubai), October 5, 2018.
 Twitter.com/roundahmad, twitter.com/Ranasaed12, October 7, 2018.
 Twitter.com/selma2l, October 7, 2018.
 Twitter.com/KRamsees, October 7, 2018.
 Twitter.com/sawsanFerwana67, October 7, 2018.
 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), October 10, 2018.
 Al-Quds (Jerusalem), October 7, 2018.
 Al-Quds (Jerusalem), October 14, 2018.
 Al-Quds (Jerusalem), October 10, 2018.