Homes in Illegal Israeli Settlements for Sale at London Expo

By Haroon Siddique
Guardian Unlimited

Israeli companies are using UK property shows to sell housing in illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, Guardian Unlimited can reveal.

At the Israel Property Exhibition at Brent town hall, North London last Sunday, one company, Anglo-Saxon Real Estate, was offering for sale properties in Maale Adumim and Maccabim. Both West Bank settlements lie on the Palestinian side of the so-called green line, the pre-1967 boundary and often cited as the border between Israel and a future Palestinian state.

The Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, and his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, are expected to meet before the end of the year in Annapolis, in the US, for peace talks that have the backing of the UK government.

Abbas has demanded the Israelis halt all settlement activity and that the whole West Bank be included in a future Palestinian state. Kim Howells, the British minister for foreign and commonwealth affairs, has described settlement activity as an "obstacle to peace".

The Anglo-Saxon real estate website was today listing 67 new build residential properties in Maale Adumim and six in Maccabim. That they are new properties is particularly significant because it indicates buyers would be contributing to expansion of the settlements.

Maale Adumim forms part of the Israelis’ controversial E1 plan, which would see the building of thousands of housing units as well as industrial and tourism zones to connect the settlement with Jerusalem.

The result would be to divide the West Bank, making travel between north and south more onerous and isolating east Jerusalem, according to critics. Maale Adumim has around 30,000 residents and is already one of the largest settlements in the West Bank. Israel wants to retain it in any future peace agreement.

In answer to a parliamentary question in June, Howells said: "The UK consistently makes clear its view that settlements are illegal under international law and that settlement activity is an obstacle to peace."

He added: "We are concerned by reports of Israeli construction work at El. The continuing process of establishing settlements is encircling east Jerusalem and breaking up Palestinian territorial contiguity throughout the West Bank.

"These practices fuel Palestinian anger, threaten to cut east Jerusalem off from the West Bank and undermine the prospect for a viable Palestinian state."

Gavin Gross, director of public affairs at the Zionist Federation, which organised the Brent fair, said: "While the promotion or sale of houses beyond Israel’s green line is a contentious subject for some, it is not prohibited in Britain."

He said Anglo-Saxon was just one of a number of companies at the fair and other exhibitors were not selling properties in the West Bank.

Properties in illegal settlements were also on offer at a fair at Finchley synagogue, in North London, last month. The poster advertising the exhibition called on investors to "strengthen your portfolio and Israel’s future".

Visitors to the fair received a free property guide, The Key to Israel, containing a map that omitted the green line and substituted Hebrew names for Palestinian cities. The Palestinian city of Nablus, labelled as Shechem, was just one example.

Among the companies featured in the guide were B Yair Building Corporation and Digital Investments and Holdings. The former’s catalogue, also distributed at the fair, featured properties in Maale Adumim, Har Homa in Palestinian east Jerusalem and Beitar Illit. The latter is an orthodox settlement on the Palestinian side of the 1967 green line, to the west of Bethlehem. Digital Investments and Holdings markets properties in Nof Zion, another settlement in east Jerusalem.

The exhibition was organised by BayIt Beyisrael (your home in Israel), a realtor that also ran a fair at Alexandra Palace, in north London, in March. Its website advertises past exhibitions in Belgium and the USA.

UN security council resolutions and the fourth Geneva convention have rendered all Israeli settlements illegal, although Israel disputes the interpretation of these laws.

Dan Judelson, from the group Jews for Justice for Palestinians, said the property fare had "huge ramifications" for the peace process.

"Perhaps it should be illegal or formally discouraged for British citizens to take actions [simply living in another country] that might appear fine but that have immense implications for one of the biggest conflicts worldwide and that contribute to global instability."

A spokesman for the Israeli embassy in London said: "The issue of settlements will be one of the issues discussed between Israel and the Palestinians in the context of final status negotiations."

A UK foreign office spokesman said: "The road map is clear that Israel should freeze all settlement activity. We will continue to raise this issue with the Israeli government."

-The Guardian, UK – (November 16, 2007)

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