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Palestinians attacked in Jaffa after uproar over Israeli plans to seize properties

The assault by police and followers of Rabbi Eliyahu Mali comes as an Israeli state-owned housing company plans to evict Palestinian residents from homes
Israeli security forces are seen in the city of Jaffa near Tel Aviv following clashes with Palestinian protesters, 18 April 2021 (AFP)

Israeli police and followers of a prominent Jewish rabbi on Sunday evening clashed with residents of Jaffa, who have protested against an Israeli company's plans to take over Palestinian properties in the coastal area south of Tel Aviv.

Dozens of Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up 20 percent of Israel’s population, were attacked by police and followers of Eliyahu Mali, the head of a militant synagogue in Jaffa that is seeking to take over Palestinian properties in the area.

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Earlier on Sunday, two Palestinians from the Al-Jarbo family, who are facing evictions from a residential building in the al-Ajami neighbourhood, reportedly assaulted Mali as he attempted to view the property.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli politicians condemned the alleged assault.

Amidar, an Israeli state-owned housing company, is planning to expel Palestinian residents of the property and sell it to the rabbi who plans to turn it into a synagogue.

Israeli police arrested the two Palestinians from the Al-Jarbo family, and later that evening Eliyahu’s followers, carrying Israeli flags, attacked residents of the al-Ajami neighbourhood.

The police fired stun grenades and tear gas, wounding several Palestinians, including Abdel-Qader Abu Shehadeh, a member of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality, and Ahmed Abu Ajweh, the imam of Hassan Bek Mosque, and arrested three Palestinians, Arab48 reported. 

Sami Abu Shehadeh, a Knesset member of the Joint List and member of the Balad party, told Middle East Eye that “what happened yesterday was an assault by Israeli settlers against the Arabs in Jaffa”.

Abu Shehadeh said that supporters of "the extremist rabbi Eliyahu Mali" entered al-Ajami neighbourhood from two directions and “started to march in a provocative way. At the time, people came out from Ramadan evening prayer and were attacked by settlers, and Israeli police joined in attacking them instead of stopping the settlers.”

Rabbi Mali is the head of "Settling in the Hearts", an Israeli settlement expansion project that pushes for establishing outposts in the middle of Palestinian majority towns and neighbourhoods in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and inside Israel, such as al-Ajami. 

Elihayu Mali's Shirat Moshe Hesder Synagogue was established in a Palestinian house whose owners were expelled in 1948, Abu Shehadeh added.

"What is happening in Jaffa is a persistent attempt to Judaise the city and displace the remaining indigenous population, and the brutal practices of the police and their agents require a unitary stand by our people in the face of these plans," Abu Shehadeh said.

'Legalised theft'

Mahmoud Abed, a journalist and activist from Jaffa, told MEE that a “quiet transfer” of Palestinian families is being carried out by Israeli authorities in the area, leading Palestinians to feel “a lack of personal security and living in dignity”.

Abed said that Israel took over the properties of Palestinians who were driven out from Jaffa in 1948, and passed the Absentees Property Law of 1950, which stipulates that these properties belonged to the state of Israel.

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“This what I call ‘a legalised theft’. Seventy percent of Palestinian residents of Jaffa live in properties taken over by Israel in 1948 through state-owned companies, such as Amidar. These companies own a third of the property while residents own two thirds,” Abed said.

In recent years, Israel put up some properties in Jaffa for auction, and asked Palestinian residents to bid against deep-cashed Israeli investors to pay for the one-third share, which was acquired by Israeli state-owned companies.

“No one could afford to collect one and a half million dollars in 60 days to pay back the companies. Almost 40 Palestinian families have left Jaffa because they could not buy or rent a house in the area,” Abed told MEE.

“Israeli investors sell for high prices and there are settlers, such as the extremist leader Bezalel Smotrich, who have an appetite to buy these properties.

“Things will get worse because these extremists will have seats in the Knesset,” he said, referring to the result of the latest election in Israel.

Call for protests

Palestinians in Jaffa have called for big demonstrations on Friday after prayers to protest Amidar’s attempt to sell a property to Jewish settlers in Jaffa.

Jaffa was once an epicentre of the Palestinian economy, with some 120,000 people living in and around the flourishing city on the Mediterranean Sea in 1948.

Almost 95 percent of the Palestinian population of Jaffa and its surrounding villages were expelled by Zionist militias during the Nakba, or the catastrophe, that year.

Over the decades, Jaffa's historic neighbourhoods were progressively demolished and the city shrank into a small town that was then absorbed by the municipality of Tel Aviv.