High-end condos for sale... in occupied Palestinian territories

| November 20, 2014
Photo: flickr/Chadica

"Save the Date, November 9, 2014 The Ramat Givat Ze'ev Real Estate Fair is Coming to Toronto! A once in the lifetime opportunity to live in the Jerusalem Hills…" -- advertisement, Oct. 30 edition of the Canadian Jewish News.

This vision of a North American suburban bubble in the bucolic vicinity of east Jerusalem seems oblivious to the daily and sometimes deadly clashes between Jews and Arabs over land and the Temple Mount in Israel's disputed capital. 

Ramat Givat Ze'ev is another new Jewish settlement sitting on land that Canada and the rest of the world recognizes should be part of a negotiated Palestinian state within Israel's occupied territories.

That future state seems to be a distant prospect following a failed peace process and the summer Gaza war. A sense of hopelessness may be fuelling Palestinian anger, especially in east Jerusalem.

Nonetheless, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is unrepentant even after the Nov. 18 killing of four rabbis in a synagogue in Jewish west Jerusalem. "We are in a battle over Jerusalem, our eternal capital," he told reporters.

The politics doesn't faze Nofei Israel, the Israeli real estate company that swooped down into Toronto on Sunday Nov. 9 to sell homes in a planned 400 unit project in Ramat Givat Ze'ev -- described as a "new city for North American residents in Israel" in the northern vicinity of east Jerusalem. 

About 60 families flocked to the Shaarei Shomayim synagogue on Glencairn Ave. in Toronto -- a more Orthodox Jewish part of town. Similar events promoting the housing project were staged by Nofei in the U.S., Switzerland and Israel. About 25 Canadian families ended up buying units.

Nofei founder and part-owner Hanoch Kas says he was targeting wealthy and religious Jews seeking to make the permanent move to Israel for spiritual reasons -- i.e. "making aliyah" -- while maintaining a suburban lifestyle of good schools, recreation, transportation and synagogues. 

The new homes and condo units in Ramat Givat Ze`ev are priced in the $480,000 to $1.5 million price range.

"It is a very high end, not a normal neighbourhood like [the immigrant and working class] Beit Shemesh or any neighbourhood you find in Israel," Kas maintains.

Kas insists that Nofei bought the property fairly from a Palestinian owner.

Furthermore, customers can be assured that they will not be affected by the violence in Jerusalem, he promises with a shocking bluntness.

"You can see in the area [of Ramat Givat Ze'ev], it is one of the only areas where you don't see Arabs. In all of Jerusalem in each neighbourhood you can see an Arab village. For us [in Ramat Givat Ze'ev] you don't see them. You are not close to them. That is a very very big plus," he explains.

For additional protection, the new home owners in Ramat Givat Ze'ev (slated to be built in about two years) will have to enter or leave the project via a security gate and checkpoint.

Meanwhile Hagit Ofran, spokesperson for Settlement Watch, which is part of the anti-settlement Tel Aviv based organization Peace Now, says that the 400 unit project is completely illegal because of where it is located.

"As for Nofei Israel -- [Ramat Givat Ze'ev] is on lands that were purchased from Palestinian owners. Many times those purchases are based on forged documents and this is why there was no tender," says Ofran in an email.

She adds that the marketing of the [Ramat Givat Ze'ev] project and the work on the ground started sometime in 2013, before Israeli government authorities provided the building permit. "Only on June 2014 did the plan get all the legal approvals. This was, of course, illegal."

Nofei Israel is one of many Israeli real estate companies benefitting from a tsunami of approved construction of Jewish homes and communities in and around East Jerusalem under the current right wing Israel coalition government.

Among its other projects is the already constructed Givat Ze'ev project, which contains hundreds of units for the ultra Orthodox community and just next door to the planned Ramat (Upper) Givat Ze'ev, named after Ze'ev Jabotinsky whose Revisionist Zionism provided the ideological underpinnings for the current ruling Likud Party.

Nofei's website boasts about receiving help from the housing and construction minister Uri Ariel, a member of the further to the right Jewish Home party for the formal certification of Ramat Givat Ze'ev. Incidentally, Jewish Home advocates Israel's annexation of the West Bank and east Jerusalem and is a robust backer of the Jewish settlement enterprise. 

The larger context here is that Israel has been encircling Palestinian east Jerusalem with Jewish settlements in order to maintain in a geographic stranglehold on a united Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state, rather than have the entire city shared with a future Palestinian state, says York University professor and Middle East expert Saeed Rahnema.

He notes that since Israel took control of the occupied territories following the 1967 war with its Arab neighbours, successive Israeli governments, Labour and Likud, have opposed handing back east Jerusalem to the Palestinians in any negotiated peace agreement.

"Without a serious compromise on the question of Jerusalem, there will be no peace and we will continue to witness outbursts like the current turmoil in the city," says Rahnema.

So, I posed a question to international legal expert Michael Lynk, a law professor at Western University. Aren't the 25 Toronto families who bought the Ramat Givat Ze'ev housing units liable to criminal charges under international law which is part of the Canadian criminal code?

Put simply, he says, "anyone who assists or involved in the transferring of civilians of the occupying power into the land of the occupied, directly or indirectly is part of a war crime.”

Lynk maintains this would never happen because international and Canadian law focuses on the planners, funders and developers of the settlement projects, "not the lowest people on the food chain."

Yet, no planner or developer of Jewish settlements has ever been charged in Canada. Visiting Israeli politicians are safe therefore from prosecution.

This is because in 2010 the Quebec court of appeal ruled that Palestinian villagers could not use the Canadian courts to sue two registered Quebec companies for constructing homes in the occupied West Bank. "The court essentially accepted the argument from the defendant that the proper place to bring such a case is the Israeli court," says Lynk.

The problem here is that Israeli courts including the Israel Supreme Court have failed to recognize their country's international legal responsibility as the occupying power in the Palestinian territories, he notes.

That should make Shoel Silver, a Canadian lawyer in suburban Toronto, quite relaxed. His development company, Metrontario Investments has quietly, over the past decade through its Israeli subsidiary CIM Lustigman, managed to build a series of approved real estate projects on Palestinian land including one in the French Hill neighbourhood of east Jerusalem and a new Israel police station for the West Bank in the E1 area between east Jerusalem and the already existing Ma'ale Adumim settlement further east.

From the U.S. government down to Peace Now the sanctioning by Benjamin Netanyahu's government of further Jewish settlement in E1 is viewed as dangerously detrimental in any plan to create a contiguous and viable Palestinian state.

That's because E1 splits apart the West Bank between the southern portion of the West Bank which includes the cities of Hebron and Bethlehem and central/northern portion which consists of Ramallah, Nablus and Jenin.

So how did Silver win the contract for a 6,000 square metre police station which was built in 2008? He does spend part of his time in Israel serving on the board of the low profile Jewish Agency and furthermore is the scion of a wealthy Canadian family of Revisionist Zionists.

So, one might speculate that he relied on political connections.

Silver does write fulsome letters to various editors in Canada, primarily defending Israel and so he is not necessarily publicity shy. But he declined to answer any questions describing his business activities in Israeli land development as purely "private."

This is all the researcher Rona Moran at Who Profits in Israel, the authoritative source for companies making money from the occupation of Palestinian land, can confirm right now.

"CIM Lustigman probably won the contract after a tender was published by the Israeli Ministry of Public Security, which is authority responsible for the Israeli Police and the Israeli prison service. We have no details on the tender and its requirements," she says.

Paul Weinberg is a Hamilton based freelance writer who can be reached at .

Photo: flickr/Chadica

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