April 17, 2006

House sale on Mount of Olives leaves trail of blood

By Luke Baker

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - As far as the Abu al-Hawa family is
concerned, the sale of two floors of their home on Jerusalem's
Mount of Olives was perfectly legitimate.

Muhammad Abu al-Hawa sold the real estate to a Palestinian
businessman nearly a year ago, his brother Mahmoud says,
earning $650,000. The money was used to buy another home on the
Mount of Olives, a cherished spot overlooking Jerusalem's Old

But last week Muhammad's bullet-riddled body was found
lying next to his burnt-out car on a road near Jericho. Branded
a traitor for selling his property to Jews, he had been shot
seven times, including once in the temple, Mahmoud said.

"I saw the body. I had to identify him," he says, sitting
in mourning with his brother's wife and the rest of his family
at their home -- the ground floor of the same building where
the two upper levels were sold, and Israelis are due to move

Mahmoud acknowledges that the property is now
Israeli-owned, but says he has proof that his brother
originally sold it to a Palestinian. It was then sold for
profit along a chain, ending up in the hands of Elad, an
Israeli non-profit group, which Mahmoud says paid $10 million
for the two floors.

For years, Elad and its wealthy private donors have been
buying up property in Palestinian East Jerusalem and moving
Jewish settlers in, changing the balance of communities.

The Arab-dominated Mount of Olives, overlooking the most
hotly contested site in Jerusalem -- the shrine revered by
Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and by Jews as the Temple Mount
-- has been a prime target of Elad's aspirations.

Muhammad's deal is not the first time Arabs have sold East
Jerusalem property to Israelis, either directly or indirectly,
but Mount of Olives' residents said it was the first time that
a sale had happened in their historic neighborhood.

As a result, they have turned against the Abu al-Hawa
family, despite the fact that it is one of the oldest, largest
and wealthiest in the district.


When relatives tried to bury Muhammad in the Mount of
Olives' Arab cemetery on Friday, residents drove them away. The
family was forced to bury him outside Jericho instead.

"Our family has been in the Mount of Olives for 350 years,
and now my brother is buried elsewhere," said Mahmoud. "The
people of this village, they do not understand."

Asked who he thinks killed his brother, Mahmoud is unsure.
He says gunmen from the powerful Palestinian movement Fatah had
put pressure on Muhammad in recent weeks, and his brother had
visited Fatah leaders in Ramallah and Jericho to try to prove
that he had originally sold to a Palestinian.

It is possible, he says, that one of the middle men that
handled the property between the original sale and the last had
Muhammad killed to ensure he could not identify them. At least
three middle men, including a Jordanian businessman, handled
the property after the first sale, he says.

Amid the doubt and confusion, one thing is clear in
Mahmoud's mind -- there is no way his brother would have sold
to Israelis and then bought another house on the Mount of
Olives. That would have been tantamount to suicide.

"When you sell to the Israelis you don't stay here. You run
away to Europe or the United States," he says. "If he wanted,
Muhammad could have sold for $10 million and fled the country.
But he didn't, he stayed here in the Mount of Olives."