Jerusalem Councilman and Israel Land Fund (ILF) Director Arieh King has purchased an abandoned church complex adjacent to Highway 60 in Judea, located between Jerusalem and Hevron, and is currently renovating the compound to establish a new Jewish community, reports journalist Chaim Levinson of Haaretz.
The complex encompasses 38 dunams (over nine acres) of land next to the "refugee camp" Al-Arroub, and is located strategically between Hevron and Gush Etzion, a stretch of land where currently only one Jewish community exists – Karmei Tzur.
Beit Bracha is the name of the new compound, and to its north and south are state lands, meaning considerable future expansions of the new town would be possible after it becomes populated and grows.
According to the Haaretz report there are eight buildings in the compound, which was founded in the latter part of the 1940s by Thomas Lamby, an American missionary who was active in Ethiopia and arrived in Israel in 1947.
A Presbyterian church was later established at the site with a portion of the buildings serving as prayer halls and another portion as housing. Around 20 years ago, the church was converted into a hostel, which went bankrupt and fell into desolation.
King obtained the property secretly around three years ago, and the security of the site is now being managed privately. There are numerous security cameras around the compound, as well as a control room within the complex from which movement in the area is monitored.
The paper also reported that the private security guards are camouflaged as construction workers, while the actual construction workers are unaware of the project to establish a new Jewish town at the compound. As part of the construction work on the site a new security fence is being erected encompassing the entire complex.
In the report radical leftist activist Dror Atkas was quoted as saying, "this settlement won't advance the two state solution, and this is of course the motivation of King and his collaborators in the Gush Etzion Regional Council."
A Gush Etzion Council member told Haaretz that "this is a property owned by the Swedish church which is attached to them and not to us." King did not respond to the report.
King, who lives in Jerusalem's Ma'ale Hazeitim neighborhood in the east of the city, has been leading the fight to redeem as well as keep properties in Jewish hands under the auspices of his role as ILF founder and director.