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Meet Aryeh King: The brash right-wing settler bent on evicting Jerusalem’s Palestinians

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Settlement fund leader Aryeh King. (Photo: We Are All Yitzhar/

When the phone call came as we were driving to the Qalandia checkpoint separating Ramallah from Jerusalem, I grew worried. I thought the Israel Land Fund (ILF) was about to cancel my appointment with Aryeh King, the head of the settler organization. They found out I was a critic of Israel, I surmised.  Instead, the group’s spokesman told me that King could meet me and my colleague Allison Deger in his Jerusalem office, but that there would be no tour of the fund’s properties in the occupied holy city, as I had requested.

We arrived to his third-floor City Council office in Safra Square on a hot May day after crossing East Jerusalem into the smooth streets of the western part of the city. The office is uncluttered, save for his computer, books on his desk and a portrait of the Dome of the Rock on a Jerusalem night that hangs on his wall.

I was nervous as the elevator took me to King. But ten minutes into our interview, the willingness to speak to us began to make sense. I don’t think he knew who we were, but that didn’t matter. It was easy to set up a meeting with the man.  He likes to hear himself talk.  And for the next hour and a half, that’s what he did, interrupting a prior conversation he was having with a blond-haired woman. Wearing a blue polo shirt and a dark crocheted kippah, King, stout and stocky, held forth on his activities with the Israel Land Fund, the word “apartheid” and John Kerry, and African refugees.  He’s bombastic and has wild-eyed dreams of making Jordan the Palestinian state and building the Third Temple where Muslim holy sites currently sit.

He knows exactly what he wants for Jerusalem: maximum Jews on maximum land.  In other circumstances, such a call might be benign.  But in present-day Jerusalem, where inequality is woven into the city’s fabric, it’s a call for a dystopian future where the dispossession of Palestinians is put on hyper-speed.

For a Greater Israel-devotee like King, that’s exactly the point.  The national religious settlement fund leader has worked hard over the years to make his vision for the holy city a reality.  He hasn’t come close to succeeding, as evidenced by the continued presence of Palestinians and his frequent swipes at the Israeli political establishment for not demolishing more homes and building more settlements.  But King, who was recently elected to the Jerusalem City Council on a platform of tamping down the Muslim call to prayer and “Judaizing Jerusalem,” is doing the best that one man can do.

King’s Israel Land Fund is a non-profit organization devoted to settling Jews in Israel and the occupied territories, though the group focuses much of its energy in East Jerusalem. The group relies on donations, some of them from overseas, which is the main source of King’s income.  A key backer is Irving Moskowitz, the rich Florida resident who uses his profits from a bingo company to funnel millions of dollars to settle Jews in the heart of Palestinian areas.

The Israel Land Fund (ILF) is a real estate company of sorts, connecting Jewish buyers to property the fund says is rightfully owned by other Jews.  To King, Israel (and Jerusalem and the West Bank) is Jewish land invaded by many “squatters,” in his words–and he has the documents in the Jerusalem land registry to prove it.  When I ask him how many Palestinians live in homes that are not theirs, he says, “I don’t know, but it’s a lot”– adding that he personally knows that tens of families in Jerusalem are living on stolen land. Therefore, the displacement of Palestinians who have been living for generations in the homes King targets is common.

“I don’t cry about any property that is being demolished in East Jerusalem,” King tells me. “I am crying for many others that are not demolished.”

The run-up to settling in these homes is often characterized by ownership disputes.  And the goal is to boost the Jewish population of Jerusalem–and make it impossible for East Jerusalem to be the capital of a Palestinian state.

When it has an interested buyer, the ILF locates property it claims is owned by Jews. Its first go at it is to buy the land from the current occupant; King says he mostly facilitates purchases from Christians. (He emphasizes that the ILF itself doesn’t own any land–it just helps Jews who wish to do so.) Sometimes, King uses an Arab middle-man willing to help the settler leader out. If that doesn’t work, he turns to the power of the state to evict the owners, often making use of an Israeli law allowing the Jewish owners of pre-1948 homes to lay claim to that property.  The previous owners then transfer the land to King’s group. The ILF is most active in Sheikh Jarrah, Beit Hanina, Ras al-Amud and Kafr Aqab–settlements populated by some of the 2,000 settlers living in the heart of Palestinian residential areas in the city. (In total, 200,000 settlers live in East Jerusalem in violation of international law, but the majority reside in big Jewish enclaves separate from Palestinians.)

A map of settlements in the heart of Palestinian residential areas in East Jerusalem. (Screenshot via UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs)

A map of settlements in the heart of Palestinian residential areas in East Jerusalem. (Screenshot via UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs)

“The [Jewish National Fund] is not doing…what they should do, and because of that, there is no real fund, NGO fund, Jewish fund, that is doing what is so important for securing the future of the Jewish nation in Eretz Yisrael and this is to continue buying land in Eretz Yisrael. This is the first goal,” King says. “The second goal is to protect what already belongs to Jews in Eretz Yisrael and Arabs are stealing it daily, in the Negev by the Bedouins, in the north by Arabs, Muslims.”  For most of our discussion, he did not utter the word “Palestinian.”

When I asked him about Secretary of State John Kerry’s warning that Israel may become an “apartheid state,” King jumped at the chance to respond. “Arabs have much more rights [in Israel] than the Muslims living in Europe. Much more! Covering their faces in France, it’s illegal today. So, what, France become an apartheid state?” King told me. “I’m laughing when I hear him, it’s like this guy took something, he’s on drugs. It’s like apartheid? You’re talking about apartheid, because you have a black president so you are not apartheid? Go and check all your states in United States and let’s see if all of the immigrants, the illegal immigrants, in the states, have the same rights or less like the illegal immigrants in Israel.” He adds that Jerusalem is indeed an apartheid city–because Jews aren’t allowed to live wherever they want.

King walks the walk.  In 1997, he was one of the first people who moved to the Moskowitz-funded settlement of Ma’ale Zeitim, which is smack in the middle of the Palestinian neighborhood Ras al-Amud.  He boasts that he’s well-liked by Palestinians there, that he shares bicycles with the locals.  “We didn’t do any bad thing to any one of them. We are living on land belong to Jews. What the problem here?” he asks. The idyllic vision King conjures doesn’t match up with what a 2009 State Department cable published by WikiLeaks reports:

An Arab resident of Ras al-Amud, asked if he had ever met his neighbors living in Ras al-Amud, shook his head.  “They live in a prison,” he said.  “They come and go in their cars.  They don’t walk in the streets.  Because they know what will be thrown at them will not be flowers.

And when you get into the details of what King’s co-existence means, it becomes much more clear it’s about Jewish domination that merely tolerates the presence of others as long as they keep their head down.  “Arabs or any non-Jews that want to live here in the state of Israel, the holy land of Israel, they need to understand that it is the holy land of Yi-sra-el, and not the holy land of Ish-ma-el,” says King. “And if Ishmael wants to stay here, he can stay here, but he need to accept that it’s not just another land.”

The overblown rhetoric is almost enough to dismiss King as a inconsequential fanatic. But his efforts are not victimless. In 2012, King evicted a family–the Natshehs–from the Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina after a court battle to establish a new Jewish settlement, displacing 13 people.  King convinced other Palestinian families in Beit Hanina to take the money for the property and leave.

And he also has his sights set on Sheikh Jarrah, the East Jerusalem area that became a flashpoint in recent years, with a protest movement sprouting up in response to the evictions of families.  The latest family King wants to evict are the Shamasnehs, who live in the western part of Sheikh Jarrah. Though they have been residents of their home since 1964 when it was under Jordanian control, settlers have used Israeli courts to take advantage of a law that allows descendants of Jewish homeowners to evict the Palestinians currently living there and take it over.  But the law doesn’t extend to Palestinians, many of whom have property over the Green Line, including in West Jerusalem.

In 2009, the Shamasnehs received their first eviction notice, but it has been delayed by Israeli appeals courts.  So the family remains, but it’s an open question how long they will be allowed to remain.

Sheikh Jarrah resident Mohammad Sabbagh told me King wants to “Judaize the land for the settlers.” A 65-year-old resident of the neighborhood whose own home has been targeted for eviction by settlers but who won a 2013 court case that froze eviction orders, Sabbagh warns that King “is going after every Palestinian family to get his house and to let settlers live in it by any way.”

King is not about to stop.  He ended our interview by saying this: “I don’t want to go to sleep at night, and I’m waiting just to wake up because there’s so much to do.”

Allison Deger contributed reporting for this article.

Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist who focuses on Israel/Palestine and civil liberties. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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23 Responses

  1. Krauss on June 6, 2014, 1:48 pm

    Aryeh King is a distraction, much like people like the former MK Michael Ben-Ari. They have both been made superflous by the present and past Israeli governments.

    They exist only for liberal Zionists to criticize and attack, thereby shielding themselves from charges of supporting Apartheid and by boosting their own self-image as good liberals. In short: they exist because they have to exist. And if they didn’t, someone would invent them.

    • seafoid on June 6, 2014, 4:42 pm

      Agree, Krauss. The system is the problem. The reasonable people who run the system are far more dangerous than the mavericks. It’s not the Kahanes, it’s the civil servants and the judges .It’s the system that has to be taken down.

  2. just on June 6, 2014, 2:01 pm

    Worse than any mafia/terror organization/organized crime… much worse because nobody is pursuing their myriad crimes.

    • seafoid on June 6, 2014, 4:42 pm

      Entropy, just. In nature, the only way to survive long term is to face challenges and learn from them. Israel is shielded from everything. And then El Gordo will arrive. The whole thing is going to collapse.

  3. talknic on June 6, 2014, 2:06 pm

    The man is obviously quite insane. The ILF deals in real estate, not territory.

    • Kay24 on June 6, 2014, 7:38 pm

      This man is not only insane, but add delusional and evil to the mix. He represents the settler terrorists, that Israel seems to have deliberately placed in the illegal settlements, and armed them too, so that the poor Palestinian people have to face their violent, crazy ways, have their property damaged or stolen, and face the rage that seem to consume these brutes. It is all part of the Master plan.

  4. Woody Tanaka on June 6, 2014, 2:11 pm

    This guy is a Nazi, plain and simple.

    • Mikhael on June 8, 2014, 6:11 pm

      Woody Tanaka says:
      June 6, 2014 at 2:11 pm
      This guy is a Nazi, plain and simple.

      Never learned that the Nazis offered top dollar to buy out Jewish homeowners. Never learned that it was art of Nazi ideology to extend to Germany’s Jewish citizens the right to live peacefully in Germany if they would only recognize German as a German state.

      For the record, I do not endorse Aryeh King’s views and believe people like him are dangerous to Zionism and Israel’s future. He is a “one-stater,” only he doesn’t believe in Islamist theocracy or Arab ethnocracy. So, he is against a two-state solution for the two distinct national groups with historical ties to this land, Jews and Arabs, just like most of you guys.

  5. just on June 6, 2014, 3:48 pm

    How many of these “settler leaders” are there over there anyway??? How many over here in the “west”?

    I count many– David Wilder, Dani Dayan, Daniella Weiss, Nadia Matar, David Be’eri, and this Aryeh King. I am sure there are more, and many more in the making….

  6. Hostage on June 6, 2014, 5:55 pm

    “Arabs or any non-Jews that want to live here in the state of Israel, the holy land of Israel, they need to understand that it is the holy land of Yi-sra-el, and not the holy land of Ish-ma-el,” says King. “And if Ishmael wants to stay here, he can stay here, but he need to accept that it’s not just another land.”

    No, Midian was the son of Abraham and Keturah. The Hebrew scriptures record that the Kenite or Rechabite Bedouin descendants of Jethro the Midianite were invited to accompany the Israelites and share the country. Their ancestor had commanded them not to drink wine or other strong drink, or to live in houses, or to sow seed, or to plant vineyards, and had enjoined them to dwell in tents all their days. Those tent dwelling Arabs had a much more righteous claim to uninterrupted residency than the Judeans by the era of the prophet Jeremiah (the Rechabites “shall not want a man to stand before me forever”). So naturally the Jews assimilated their legacy and claimed it as their own. Why do you suppose the European Jews gloss over that chapter of their history and pretend all of the so-called tent dwelling Arabs are modern era immigrants or infiltrators with no rights?

    • seafoid on June 6, 2014, 11:26 pm

      “but he need to accept (sic) that it’s not just another land.”

      They really opened Pandora’s box in 1967

      ” Elboim has a message for Haaretz readers, which he delivered without actually speaking to me directly. “There are two nations in Israel, a religious nation and a secular nation,” he said. “Two distant nations, different and separate. We could have disregarded the others and said that there is no need to address this other nation, which does not want to accept us and does not understand us. But we need the seculars in order to bring us down to the lower spheres.

      “For us,” he continued, “the problem is how to connect between body and spirit, between flesh and soul. I cannot enter the mind of those who are there, because I am not a penitent, and explain why the Temple is important. It will be the most precious and most joyous thing. Every good thing is attached to the Temple. At present all is desolate, and when it returns all will be rebuilt, from the foundation. All these things shall be repaired. The Jewish culture. We will have a unified nation, a happy nation.”
      From the time of the Second Temple, Naiweld explained, there have been two approaches in the Jewish world to the essence of halakhic law. “Daniel Schwartz addressed this subject 20 years ago in a groundbreaking article. There is the approach of the priests, which presents a realistic conception of halakha, holding that the law is determined by the nature of things. In other words, something will be pure or impure because it is pure or impure by the nature of its creation; because God created it pure or impure. In the face of this, there is the Pharisaic-rabbinical conception of the law, which is a nominalist concept. It holds that the halakha was determined by the human agent, which in the case of the Talmud consists of a group of rabbis who decide whether something is pure or impure, and this categorization does not derive from the inherent nature of the things.

      “The struggle between these two approaches existed throughout Jewish history,” he added. “In the Second Temple period, it is seen in the struggle between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. You can see it in the form of people like [the late] Yeshayahu Leibowitz, who sanctify the law, the halakha, which is the determining element: intellectual religiosity, as compared with messianic movements − for whom halakha is divine law, because it expresses the true nature of objects and of human beings. That is why viewpoints like this will assume a very essentialist direction in terms of racism as well, because of the difference between Jews and Gentiles: A Jew is by the nature of his creation a purer being. Similarly with the holiness of the land: The soil of Israel is essentially holier, the stones are holier because the land was destined by God to serve as the place of the Children of Israel.”

      And they laugh at the Shia

    • ziusudra on June 8, 2014, 2:56 am

      Greetings Hostage,
      ….those tent dwelling Arabs…

      Now just where did those 12 tribes live?
      All Semites under Canaanite rule lived in tents,
      they were semi nomadic People.
      The earliest Semite language was that of the
      Canaanites in Peleset,Palestine,who lived in
      fortified villages and cities.
      Hebrew & Aramaic were dialects of Canaan.
      They called the other Semites, Arabs, Canaanite
      for Desert Dwellers!
      Schalim, Canaanite becoming Jerusalem, Hebrew,
      under King David was an unfortified village of 2K People.
      PS What a web they weave when first they practise to deceive.

    • Mikhael on June 8, 2014, 6:15 pm

      Hostage says:
      June 6, 2014 at 5:55 pm Why do you suppose the European Jews gloss over that chapter of their history

      Why are you mentioning “European” Jews? What does the dwindling number of Jews in Europe, a continent that will soon have a de minimis number of Jews, have to do with anything? Israelis aren’t European.

  7. weiss on June 6, 2014, 11:08 pm

    King …

    A card carrying member of the Israeli Brown-shirts …

  8. eljay on June 6, 2014, 11:51 pm

    >> Aryeh King

    Perhaps he should change his name to King Aryeh and challenge incumbent King Bibi for the title “King of the Jews”.

  9. Mayhem on June 6, 2014, 11:52 pm

    What’s the point of doing a take on a right winged Jewish fundamentalist? For every Aryeh King you’ll find a hundred malevolent fundamentalists on the other side, whose hate for Israel is manifest.

    • talknic on June 7, 2014, 10:50 pm

      @ Mayhem “What’s the point of doing a take on a right winged Jewish fundamentalist?”

      They are the cause of the I/P issue today

      ” For every Aryeh King you’ll find a hundred malevolent fundamentalists on the other side”

      Any of them illegally settling in Israeli territory or territory outside their respective state? BTW for every Aryeh King there are a tens of thousands illegal Israeli settlers, backed by their government and protected by the IDF

      “..whose hate for Israel is manifest”

      If I was already given half your land for my house (as Israel was given, gratis, more than half of Palestine 1948) and then came over to your house with some terrorist thugs, kicked you and your family out and claimed it for my own, you’d love me for it … right?

    • Felixio on June 8, 2014, 8:38 am

      You Zionist created the situation, now complaining and trying to make the world to believe that you are the persecuted is not working, you guys are throwing rocks on you own roof.

    • Talkback on June 8, 2014, 1:54 pm

      It must be unthinkable for Mahem that the reason for this “hate for Israel” is because fundamentalists like Aryeh King took Palestine by war and expulsion. No, it can’t be. That would mean that Jews are responsible for their actions and crimes, too.

  10. Taxi on June 6, 2014, 11:59 pm

    Stories like this make me so look forward to the liberation of historic Palestine. Even through war.

  11. Talkback on June 7, 2014, 3:25 am

    Nothing special, just the usual Zionist policy. There’s no basic difference between the settlers of 1919, 1947, 1967 or 2014.

    • Walid on June 8, 2014, 2:56 pm

      Sorry it’s OT, talkback, but I had to tell you here because the other thread is closed for comments.

      Your “@ Walid This is prolly gonna noya :-)” was very very funny.

  12. TwoRedDogs on June 8, 2014, 3:01 am

    Different laws based on religion is the new definition of ‘Democracy’ as per Congress.

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