Noha al-Gul Fighting Alone

Michal Schwartz

On February 23, 1994, Noha al-Gul, heiress to fourteen dunams in Ras al- Amud, pointed to her neighbor's house and said: "The day I see an Israeli flag on that roof, I will know that Khalil Silwani sold the house to the Jews." (1)

Lo and behold, on the night of September 14, 1997, three Jewish families stealthily enter the house. At first the invasion seems to portend the start of yet another confrontation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority – but then, mysteriously, PA officials tamp the matter down. On September 18 a deal is sealed: the families agree to evacuate the house, but ten men – guards or yeshiva students, depending on whom one asks – will remain in their stead.

The main characters in this murky drama are Noha al-Gul, a school principal who claims to own the land on which the disputed house stands; Jewish right-wing millionaire Irving Moscowitz, who claims to have bought both the house and the land (Moscowitz is tight-lipped about who actually cut the deal with him); and Khalil Silwani, a well-to-do Palestinian from Silwan, who built the house in 1951. In 1988 Silwani gave his impoverished nephew, Fuad Hadieh, permission to reside in it. On the night of the invasion, Hadieh's family was absent, and the poor nephew himself was taking mineral baths in Rumania. Caught off-guard by Palestinian rumors that he had struck a deal with the settlers, Hadieh quickly returned to the country. He denied all accusations, even filing a complaint against the settlers for trespassing on his territory.

In fact Hadieh was too easy a target. The sole individual with the legal means to sell the house was its owner: Silwani. At the start of the affair he accused his nephew loudly and publicly of treason. Later, however, he backtracked and told Challenge (September 27) that he and others are waiting for Hadieh's complaint to be heard in court before passing judgment. Other responses have been equally vague: Abed Abu Diab, for example, head of the "Committee to Defend the Land" in Jerusalem, took an active role in the case on behalf of the PA: he told Challenge that he wishes to refrain from comment until he knows "all the factors." But Noha al-Gul is not waiting for new evidence to emerge. For her the story is crystal-clear. On October 6 she confirmed what she had suspected since February 1994: Khalil Silwani and his nephew Fuad Hadieh had struck a deal with Irving Moscowitz.

Noha's story

Noha al-Gul knows the story well. It was her father, Ahmad Hussein al-Gul – the Mukhtar of Silwan – who in 1951 gave Khalil Silwani (then a promising young law-school graduate from a poverty-stricken family) the right to build a house on a certain plot of land. It was understood that Silwani would eventually purchase the land. Silwani went on to become a well-known lawyer and then, in 1963, a Jordanian parliamentarian. In 1975, eight years after Israel occupied the West Bank, Silwani was appointed head of the Israeli Civil Administration's Court of Appeals. He never followed through on his promise to buy the plot of land, an omission that led to a rift with the al-Gul family. In 1988 Silwani permitted his nephew, Fuad Hadieh, to live in the house. The latter owes his rich uncle much more than free rent: Earlier he had killed his sister and fled to Jordan. He was allowed to come back through a deal that his uncle mediated: thanks to his good connections with Israeli officials, Silwani was able to procure a new identity card for his nephew.

In June 1993, Noha al-Gul, Fuad Hadieh and other neighbors received a letter from an Israeli lawyer by the name of Eitan Geva. Geva demanded that they evacuate their houses, offering them a tidy sum as an additional incentive. While Noha rejected both the demand and the offer, Fuad Hadieh – known in the community to be penniless – managed to buy a new house in Silwan from one Ali Khader Mash'al. He paid 65,000 Jordanian dinars in cash. (Mash'al's sister Aminah confirmed this to Challenge on October 6.) He has since been seen driving a Mercedes. Hadieh's neighbor, Ilham Abu Su'ud, who has lived near the house in question for a year and a half, told Challenge that some days prior to the entrance of the settlers, vans were seen removing the furniture. The quiet nature of the settlers' entrance also indicates that they had a key to the house. Noha concludes: The house in Ras al Amud was not registered under Hadieh's name. While he may have been paid for his quiet evacuation , a binding contract could have been acquired only from the house's legal owner – Mr. Khalil Silwani.

The PA's Silence

Following the PA's initial uproar, the demonstrations and the militant declarations, an ominous silence has surrounded the case. Noha al-Gul is the only person to speak out: "When the Mufti Sheikh Akrama Sabri (appointed by Arafat – Ed.) and Abed Abu Diab visited me, I told them: 'You know the facts, so why don't you talk?' I told them that Moscowitz has declared his purchase of another seventeen houses and that the danger is acute. I said we must expose the sellers, or we'll lose everything. They asked me to be cautious in accusing Hadieh and Silwani. 'It doesn't help us to accuse Palestinians – especially an influential figure like Silwani– of collaborating with the settlers,' they told me." Al-Gul adds that the Palestinian press has carefully sidestepped her accusations against Silwani and Hadieh.

Several months before the Jewish takeover, PA officials offered to help Noha al-Gul in her ongoing legal battles (see box). Believing the issue to be one of national importance, she dismissed her Jewish lawyer and gave her court file to the PA representative, Anis al-Qaq (2). "I was tired of taking all this weight on my own shoulders, and I believed I had a 'state' standing with me," she explains. "How could I have known that they would just desert me? Now, I understand how they lost Palestine!"

Edited by: Lital Levi

Endnotes: 1. The interview was part of an article dealing with the Jerusalem municipality's decision of October 20, 1993 to approve the erection of a new Jewish settlement in Ras al-Amud. The decision was also approved by Teddy Kollek, the Labor-affiliated mayor. "The new neighborhood is planned to include 132 residential units on 17.5 dunams" (Challenge # 24). 2 . Anis al-Qaq has been singled out for criticism in a recent Report on Corruption issued by the Palestinian Legislative Council (English version translated by JMCC, p. 15).

Noha al-Gul with the deeds to her property. Photo:Challenge Greater Jerusalem with Ras al-Amud. Jang de Jong