Palestinian tenant of New Imperial Hotel makes plea after supreme court backs Jewish settlers’ bid to buy property
Sun 21 Jul 2019
The New Imperial Hotel overlooks Jaffa Gate in the Christian Quarter. Photograph: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images
Standing on a balcony at the New Imperial Hotel, overlooking Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City, 75-year-old Walid Dajani last week declared a one-man war on Jewish settlers.
Officials from Israel’s supreme court had served an eviction notice against Dajani following a ruling last month that the disputed 2005 sale of the historic 40-room hotel to a radical settler group was valid. The Jewish settlers’ organisation Ateret Cohanim immediately branded him “a squatter” and threatened to seize the building. Such a move would establish a strategically valuable settler presence just inside Jaffa Gate, the main entrance to the ancient city’s Christian Quarter.
According to Dajani, the settlers – who seek to create a Jewish majority throughout the Old City which, along with East Jerusalem, was annexed by Israel in the Arab-Israeli war of 1967 – are enacting “the rape of Jaffa Gate”. His family has owned land on nearby Mount Zion for 800 years, and has run the New Imperial since 1949. “From this moment I am embarking on the fight of my life,” he said, calling on Christians, Muslims, Jews and world leaders to fall in behind him. “On my back, they will take me out.”
So far his appeal for international support has been met mostly with silence. But earlier this month, local Christian leaders, terrified of the political and religious consequences of the settlers’ takeover, demonstrated inside Jaffa Gate.
Archbishop Theodosius Attulah, spokesperson for the Greek Orthodox church, criticised the supreme court decision, saying the sale was fraudulent. “The Christian properties have been a target for 70 years, but this is the most dangerous so far. It is aimed at marginalising Palestinian influence and weakening the Christian presence in the Old City. It will not be tolerated.
“Jerusalem is sacred to the three monotheistic religions, the purpose of the move is to transform the city into a place of hatred and struggle,” he said.