HEBRON (Ma’an) — Israeli forces on Saturday suppressed a march protesting the recent purchase by Israeli setters of a church compound in the southern West Bank.
The 38 dunam compound, known as Beit al-Baraka, is located to the north of al-Arrub refugee camp between Bethlehem and Hebron.
It has been in the spotlight since an investigative report by Israeli newspaper Haaretz last month alleged that an American millionaire, Irving Moskowitz, purchased the site through a Swedish company in 2012 with the intention of turning it into a settlement outpost.
Dozens of activists took part in the march that was also commemorating the anniversary of the Six-Day War, which began on June 5, 1967, a day known by Palestinians as the Naksa, meaning setback.
Israeli forces prevented the march from reaching Beit al-Baraka, reportedly assaulting protesters and injuring one activist identified as Younis Arrar who was pushed to the ground.
Israeli forces afterward declared the area a closed military zone.
The march had been called for by the Palestinian People’s Party, local popular committees of Beit Ummar and a committee for defending Hebron.
A member of the Palestinian People’s Party, Rashad Tmeizeh, said that the protest took place in front of the church compound to emphasize that the building is part of Palestinian lands occupied by Israel in 1967.
A popular committee activist, Youssef Abu Maria, called for more protests in front of the site until the plans to turn it into a settlement outpost are thwarted.
A coordinator of a committee for defending Hebron, Hisham Sharabati, meanwhile called for an investigation into the exact ownership of the church.
He warned that constructing a settlement outpost in the area would be a threat to Palestinians in the nearby al-Arrub refugee camp, as well as a local Palestinian college and school. He also voiced fears that it would cut off the main road between Hebron and Bethlehem and other Palestinian districts.
Last month, Haaretz reported that a Swedish company established in 2007 had been used to cover up the sale and transfer of Beit al-Baraka in 2012 to a settler organization funded by American millionaire Irving Moskowitz.
A pastor who headed the church that previously owned the compound, Keith Coleman, told Haaretz he thought it had been sold to a Swedish company called Scandinavian Seamen Holy Land Enterprises in March 2008 that would revive its use as a church.
Haaretz discovered however that, “the Swedish group was established in Stockholm in 2007, and seems to have been used as a cover for transferring the ownership of the compound to the settlers. The group does not seem to have any offices.”
The Swedish company registered the purchase with the Israeli Civil Administration in 2012.
The company was then dissolved, with ownership handed over to an American nonprofit organization, American Friends of the Everest Foundation, funded by Irving Moskowitz and working towards the eventual “Judaization” of occupied East Jerusalem.
Haaretz reports that the Everest Foundation owns several properties in East Jerusalem totaling a value of $12 million.
The church lies in a sensitive location, which when settled, will see Israeli settlements stretch all the way from the Gush Etzion settler bloc south of Jerusalem to the cluster of settlements around Hebron.