At the edge of an alley in the Old City of Jerusalem, an impressive Mameluke-style building crystallizes the concerns of its Palestinian neighbors: Israeli settlers have just moved there for a controversial sale and others are said to follow.
The three-storey house has long belonged to the family of Adib Joudeh al-Husseini, guardian of the keys of the Holy Sepulcher, the most sacred place of Christianity.
When the Jews took possession of the site at the end of 2018, they had to face listening to other Palestinians by supporting the removal of the heavy arrow-shaped key handed down from father to son from the 13th century on this line. of Palestinian Muslims.
The 55-year-old proudly holds this key as proof of his innocence. He sold the property to another Palestinian in 2016, he told Afp. "Are we responsible for a property that was sold more than two years ago?" He asks, sitting in front of the entrance to the Holy Sepulcher.
Between Palestinians and Israelis, the land conflict is also a battle for the stone, especially in Jerusalem and in the ancient streets of the old city, near the holy places of the three great monotheistic religions.
About 320,000 Palestinians are trying to maintain their settlement in East Jerusalem, occupied since 1967 and annexed by Israel. They hope to establish the capital of the state to which they aspire there.
The Israelis proclaim their historical link with Jerusalem. They exercise total sovereignty: Jerusalem, in its entirety, is their "indivisible" capital.
Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem is illegal under international law.
– "Betrayal!" –
From a few hundred in 1967, Jews are now 210,000 in East Jerusalem and are increasingly numerous in the old city and its surroundings.
The Palestinians denounce a Jewish business and sell their property to a Jew is for them an absolute transgression. But in front of them, buyers are ready to pay a lot.
The home of Adib Joudeh al-Husseini was sold for 2.5 million dollars (2.14 million euros).
The guardian of the keys of the Holy Sepulcher shows documents that attest, according to him, that the Palestinian authorities have validated the operation concluded in 2016 with another Palestinian.
The buyer "betrayed me, betrayed the Palestinian Authority and Palestine", is moved.
The buyer in question, Khaled al-Atari, joined by AFP, did not want to answer.
Selling to a Jew is a crime in theory punishable by the death penalty, according to Palestinian law. This does not apply to Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty. But the Palestinian Authority established in the adjacent West Bank can play on the social or patrimonial ties that the Palestinians in Jerusalem retain in the occupied West Bank.
What happened exactly between 2016 and the completion of the transaction in 2018 is a reflection of the opacity that characterizes this trade, where the use of deliberately complicated fixings and straw men is often the rule, say the critics of these practices.
This type of purchase is "never transparent", says Yudith Oppenheimer, managing director of Ir Amim, an anti-colonial Israeli NGO.
– Perpetuity –
"People should be able to buy and sell as they wish," replied Daniel Louria, spokesman for Ateret Cohanim, an organization that works for the East Jerusalem settlement.
A few meters from the old house of Joudeh al-Husseini, another building awaits its occupants. Was it sold to the settlers? Nothing certifies it, according to the NGO Ir Amim.
But at the end of December, a Palestinian-American man arrested a few weeks earlier was sentenced to life imprisonment in the West Bank for selling it to an association of Jewish settlers. Issam Akel had only bought it to ease an inheritance in a Palestinian family, said his lawyer Odei Nawfel.
Issam Akel's fate remains obscure. According to media reports, the Palestinian authorities would have let out of prison in the last days, on condition that he leave for the United States, a statement so discreet that even his lawyer said he had not been informed.
After his arrest, Israeli police twice arrested Palestinian governor Adnan Gheith as part of the investigation. Thirty-two other Palestinians were arrested and subsequently released in connection with this case.
According to a consultant from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Gheith's arrest was intended to put pressure on Palestinian leaders to free Mr. Akel.
Experts on the subject point out that, in the face of organizations better organized and supported by the Israeli state, Palestinian intervention capabilities are limited due to the lack of power in Jerusalem. The dark political rivalries also serve the Palestinians, they say.
And sometimes "people sell because they want to sell", regardless of who "and whatever the consequence, according to Mrs. Oppenheimer.