Swedish Officials Condemn Sale of West Bank Church to Settlers

Swedish officials have condemned the sale of a West Bank church compound to an Israeli settler organization that apparently used a Swedish company to conceal their identity, the Palestinian ambassador to Sweden told Ma’an on Monday.

Ambassador Hala Husni Fariz said that Swedish officials viewed the sale as a “crime” and the Swedish government remains completely opposed to Israeli settlement activity across the occupied Palestinian territories.

The 38 dunam church 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.

Ambassador Fariz criticized the Palestinian Authority for not taking legal steps to try and expose what she called a “fraud crime.”

She said that legal procedures ought to be taken against the Swedish company and those responsible for transferring the compound to the settlers.

She said that Palestinian officials and legal specialists should prepare a complete report and file a case, so that the Palestinian embassy in Sweden can follow it up with Swedish officials.

A Palestinian member of the Israeli Knesset, Basil Ghattas, told Ma’an that he had sent a letter to the Swedish government via the Swedish embassy in Tel Aviv demanding that Sweden investigate the church compound’s transfer.

Ghattas said that he had not yet received a response from the Swedish ambassador.

Last month, Haaretz reported that a Swedish company established in 2007 — Scandinavian Seamen Holy Land Enterprises — 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.

Pastor Keith Coleman, who headed the church that previously owned the compound, told Haaretz he thought it had been sold to a Swedish organization that would revive its use as a church.

However, Haaretz discovered 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.”

After registering the purchase with the Israeli Civil Administration in 2012, the Swedish company was then dissolved, with ownership handed over to an American nonprofit organization, American Friends of the Everest Foundation, funded by Irving Moskowitz.

The Everest foundation, which works towards the “Judaization” of occupied East Jerusalem, owns several properties in East Jerusalem totaling a value of $12 million, according to Ha’aretz.

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.

Beit al-Baraka used to be owned by the Baraka Presbyterian Church in Bethlehem, although they split decades ago.

(Ma’an – www.maannews.net)

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