Wednesday, February 14, 2007

One House at a Time

Continued from Yesterday
For Ateret Cohanim, despite their extensive experience, there is no standard method for purchasing property; each and every apartment carries its own story. Daniel, our guide, and Ateret Cohanim spokesman, tells me about the use of an exception to the absentee tenant law, the ordinance which allowed people to stay in the homes which they taken after expelling the Jewish owners.

Looking south at the Jewish and Muslim Quarters
“The absentee tenant could only pass from one generation to the next. It can never be sold or given away. If the next resident of the apartment is not a direct descendant of the previous one, then they are no longer protected by the absentee tenant law and therefore, if the legal owner can produce an authentic deed, he can reclaim his property.”
A corridor between the Christian and Muslim Quarters

Receiving word through an informant that, in a certain house, the resident was dying and her son wasn’t moving in, Ateret Cohanim began establishing a legal case. Placing cameras outside the entrances and exits of the home, they sought to prove that the woman’s son, the only legally qualified to inheritor the tenant status, was not, in fact, living on the premises. After two months, nature took its course, and it was time to go to court. The owner was surprised to find his status being challenged.

“What did the judge say when he saw the film?” I ask.
“He never saw the film. The son produced an electricity bill, in his name, delivered to the address, as proof that he was, in fact, the resident.” The Ateret Cohanim lawyer took a look at it, and it was, in fact valid. Then, he directed the judge’s attention to the actual useage, and pointed out that, over the last six months, virtually zero electricity had actually been used, which proved beyond a reasonable doubt that nobody was actually living in the structure. The judge agreed, and allowed the owner to retake possession of his home.

Later, walking in the direction of the Temple Mount, we hear the story of the photographer’s home.
“It started as a simple phone conversation. A group of dignitaries had their pictures taken by a photographer, who gave them his phone number.”Later, an organizer of the event tried to call the man to get his photographs. The phone rang a couple of times, but the voice on the other end wasn’t that of the photographer.
“Salaam Alakum?”

”Shalom, we’re trying to get the photographs you took.”
"What photographs? What do you want?"
“The photos you took yesterday?”
“What are you talking about? What do you want?”
The conversation continued for several minutes. Finally, in exasperation, the man on the other end of the phone figuratively threw up his hands.
“What are you talking about? What do you want?”
In equal frustration, the event organizer threw out a random exclamation, “I want to buy your house!”
“Really? You are Jew or Arab?”
”Meet me at CafĂ© Rashid tonight.”
And it continued from there. As it turned out, he had dialed the wrong number, and instead of contacting the photographer, he had been speaking with a property owner living in the old city next to the Temple Mount eager to sell his home. Ateret Cohanim took care of the details, finding buyers and putting the former owner into their equivalent of the “witness protection program” for those who risk execution for selling to Jews.

From the top of the Photographer's house, one can see panoramas of the old city that most Jews never have the chance to view.

Sha'ar Shchem, Hebrew: The Shechem Gate (the road leaving this gate lead to the city of Shechem.) Also known as the Damascus Gate, for similar reasons.

Looking over at the Temple Mount, with the Mount of Olives in the background.

Yours truly, on the rooftop of the Photographer's House.

Moving through the Christian Quarter, Daniel points to a building size of a large apartment block. Ateret Cohanim doesn't usually buy in the Christian or Armenian Quarters. “Jewish. It was supposed to be purchased by the Palestinian Authority and used as a government office. Can you imagine? A terrorist headquarters, just a five minute walk from [Jerusalem’s main pedestrian thoroughfare] Jaffa Street!?” But Ateret Cohanim secretly outbid the Palestinian Authority, and one day Arafat’s subordinates woke up to find a bunch of Jews living in the property.

Of course, the international community was outraged, and the Israeli government immediately buckled to international pressure, removing the Jews who had moved in, despite the legality of the purchase. After the storm blew over, and world attention moved elsewhere, the Israeli government reached a compromise.

In the Chrisitan Quarter. The building past the fountain, to the left, was to be a major center for the Palestinian Authority. Imgagine: A Hamas base five minutes walk from the number 6 bus, which I ride twice a day.
“We were allowed to put twenty guards in to protect the property. So we found ten male guards and ten female guards. And they just so happened to be married to each other. Now, thank God, every couple has seven or eight children.”
It's nice to see a friendly flag.

To be continued….

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