Feature: Twice Evicted in Abraham's Hevron?

Jewish families in their newly-bought building refuse to give in despite their impending eviction.

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Ezra HaLevi, | updated: 08:51

Jewish families in their newly-bought building refuse to give in despite their impending eviction. The looming clash has been delayed until Sunday, but the army has already surrounded the building.

The Supreme Court ruled that the army and police are permitted to evict three Jewish families from a building they bought in Hevron on Sunday, even though it will be one day past the 30-day deadline that usually restricts such evictions. The families moved in one month ago. Black-uniformed army and police forces have surrounded the building and declared it a "closed military zone," preventing supporters from entering. Dozens of people are currently inside.

For pictures and more updates, see the Hebron site.

Outgoing Defense Minister Sha'ul Mofaz ordered the eviction of the families, despite the Jewish community’s assertion that the building was purchased under the full letter of the law. The Supreme Court Thursday affirmed the decision and authorized the police to evict the residents by 11 AM Friday. Due to concern for the sanctity of the Jewish Sabbath, according to the police, and out of concern for clashes with Arabs congregating for Friday prayers, according to the Jewish community - the forced eviction has been put off until Sunday or Monday by another court decision Friday.

The Court for Matter of the Nation and the State, a body affiliated with the 71-member nascent Sanhedrin, issued a call upon Hevron residents to stand strong. The court, which has ruled on matters relating to the Disengagement and Land of Israel issues in the past, said an expulsion from Hevron is the first step in removing Jews from Judea, Samaria and all of Israel. The statement issued by the religious court said that the decision by Israel's Supreme Court is "opposed to justice and law and harms the rights of the buyer. The Supreme Court has been recruited by the state, and together they are destroying and undermining the rights of Jews in the Land of Israel."

The statement concludes, calling upon the public to "put on helmets and come with bandages to bodily prevent the expulsion of Jews."

The newly purchased building, named Beit Shapira, is located along the route leading from Hevron's Avraham Avinu neighborhood to the Cave of the Patriarchs. The ancient tomb is above a cave containing the graves of the Biblical patriarchs and matriarchs - Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, and Leah, as well as the first man and woman, Adam and Eve.


The new building, as seen from Hevron's main street, leading from the Tomb of the Patriarchs toward Avraham Avinu neighborhood and Beit Hadassah.
The street below, in the direction of the Tomb of the Patriarchs, with an ancient pool in the background.


From the roof, one can clearly see the ancient site, second in importance to Judaism only to the Temple Mount. The Bible recounts the purchase of the site for an exorbitant sum of money from Ephron the Hittite by Abraham, despite the fact that he had offered it to Abraham free of charge. Abraham, wary of future attempts to question the legality of the sale, insisted on purchasing it for above and beyond the asking price as the elders of the city witnessed the deal.

The three-story building was purchased from a local Arab who left the city. His life is now in danger from the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority due to the sale.

"We purchased two buildings in Hevron in recent years," explains Hevron spokesman David Wilder. "One was in Tel Rumeida. That purchase was actualized, with families moving in over a year ago. Nobody has been able to find any legal problems with it and the people continue to live there happily. The second building's purchase was concluded a few weeks ago and when we got the green light from our lawyers, it was populated."

During the course of a single night in April, three families moved into the building.


Children dancing in one of the newly-cleaned rooms.


Two of the families voluntarily evacuated the Shalhevet Neighborhood, located in the Hevron marketplace, in February. They left on their own, as part of a deal struck with the IDF under threat of a forced eviction.

At the time, a Supreme Court ruling affirmed the Jewish ownership of the marketplace property, but insisted on evacuating the 11 families residing there as repercussions for the resettlement of the property without government approval. According to the eleventh hour deal, other Jewish families from Hevron who did not originally populate the neighborhood would be allowed to inhabit the marketplace at a later date.

Attorney General Menachem Mazuz recently denied that the agreement was binding.

Now, eight weeks following the Shalhevet Neighborhood standoff, the three families that entered Beit Shapira, are facing the threat of eviction once again. Shortly after their entrance, security forces, including Yassam riot police arrived. Jewish community leaders promptly submitted proof of ownership of the formerly Arab building to senior IDF officers and Civil Administration officials. Unable to find any problems with the documentation, they left together with the security forces.

"Everything was done legally," Wilder explains.

"We crossed all the T's and dotted all the I's, working hand in hand with attorneys specializing in such matters the whole way so as not to give the government any excuse to cause us problems."

When a building is populated in Judea and Samaria, following its sale or construction, the government has 30 days to declare that it is suspected of being illegal or problematic and to evict the residents. "After 30 days, it becomes a much more difficult task for them," Wilder said.

Saturday night at midnight the 30 days will be up.

"We have now been notified that, despite the legality of everything, if we do not leave willingly by Thursday, the residents will be expelled," a local resident named Eyal explains. "I do not envy the policeman that tries to take us out of here," he added, knocking on one of the iron doors affixed to each of the buildings doorways.


Residents discuss the future of their new home.


Rabbi Yisrael and Tzippy Shlissel, together with eight of their ten children (two are grown and married) are one of the families from the Shalhevet Neighborhood who have moved into Beit Shapira.

This is the fourth time the large family has moved in the past three months. Following their eviction from their home in the former marketplace, the Shlissels lived for a month in Hevron's Betar Guest House. They then moved into a caravan home in Tel Romeida, the Hevron neighborhood adjacent to the tombs of Biblical Jewish figures Ruth and Yishai, grandparents of King David. The specter of yet another forced eviction weighs heavily on the rabbi's mind.

"The police decision that we must leave by Thursday has added a lot of stress to our lives," Rabbi Shlissel admits. "It has made life full of pressure and I am very unhappy about it as a father and a husband."

The Shlissel children are still not used to the idea of their government repeatedly forcing them out of their homes. "The older kids are okay, but the younger kids have a very difficult time not knowing where their home is or which bed is theirs," the veteran father described.


A small turtle sanctuary constructed in front of the building by the children.


Life in Beit Shapira is not yet easy or convenient. "There are no working showers yet and the bathrooms will only be finished this week," Rabbi Shlissel said. "We are planning to live with the bare minimum for six months and then an architect and engineer will be brought in and decisions as to how many families will live here and how it will be divided up will be made by the Hevron community as a whole."

The Shlissels, along with the majority of the Hevron Jewish community, resent the government, and particularly Attorney General Mazuz for going back on the deal made with the IDF regarding the marketplace. They say the State’s actions have vindicated those Hevron residents that argued against compromising with the government and voluntarily leaving the marketplace.


A view from one side of the Melamed family's three-room apartment to the other.


Prior to the marketplace deal, many residents argued that Hevron is a symbol in Israel and worldwide, and that abandoning the legally acquired homes would demoralize the nation. They argued that without resistance in Hevron, places like Amona would be sold out by the Yesha Council, who would agree to demolish homes themselves in return for empty promises.

As it turns out, Amona became the symbol of resistance in Hevron's stead, due to the government's unwillingness to make a deal with the Yesha Council to "move" the homes to nearby Ofra. In Amona, over 300 were injured in violent clashes with mounted police and special baton-wielding riot personnel over the demolition of nine homes.

Hevron residents now say there is no chance they will fall for the same trick twice. "There will be no deal with regard to this building," Rabbi Shlissel promises.

The building is named after 48-year-old Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchak Shapira, who was murdered by an Arab terrorist directly outside while returning from Sukkot Festival prayers at the Cave of the Patriarchs in September, 2002.


A memorial pillar was built at the spot where Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchak Shapira was murdered on Sukkot, 2002.


His three children, also injured in the attack, witnessed their father crying the last words, "Shema Yisrael Ad-nai El-henu Ad-nai Echad" (Hear Israel! The L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One!). This Jewish declaration of faith is uttered daily and at the very end of one’s life, defying the murderers throughout history with the rallying cry of the Jewish soul.


A mezuza - parchment posted on doorposts of Jewish homes upon which the 'Shema' is written - graces the door of the Melameds' apartment.


The enormous solid-stone building was built in the 1850s and can be seen standing alone in video footage of the area from the early 1900s. Beit Shapira features beautiful winding staircases and stone arches, but it was filled with garbage and rubble until last month, when the purchase was finalized.

One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure

Despite the current evacuation orders, renovations continue. The good condition of the building's exterior is literally a facade. "It was unbelievably filthy when we first came, as it had been abandoned for over a decade," Eyal explained. "They took out truckloads of garbage from this place and a ton of work remains."


The front entrance to Beit Shapira.


The ground floor is dark and cool. It was once used by local merchants to store bananas and was later used as a junk shop. For the last decade, however, the building served as a local garbage dump.


The ground floor, previously a junk-shop and banana-storage facility.


Stone stairs lead up to the second floor, with a newly equipped and tiled bathroom located half way up the stairwell. The second floor consists of a main central room and three large side rooms. The largest room is the communal dining room. "The families share the dining room for now, but the renovations will eventually create separate homes within the building," Eyal said.


A small half-bathroom off of the first stairwell, leading up to the second floor.
Stairs lead up to the second floor.
The second-floor communal dining room.
"And you have lived and I have rested you upon your land"
The communal kitchen on the second floor.


A winding staircase leads up to the third floor, which, though still in need of heavy renovations, provides a glimpse of the structure's beauty and potential. Stone peeks through the plaster on some of the walls. The dozens of coats of varied-shades-of-blue paint replicate the d?cor of the Old City of Tzfat, with one layer peeling and giving way to another. Ornate floors grace each of the populated rooms. The three families currently all reside on the second and third floors.


The courtyard, with one of the construction workers.
The Melamed family's "residence" in part of the third floor.
A living room/bed room on the third floor.
A bed-room on the third floor.
Another third-floor bedroom.
Yet another third-floor bedroom.
A cupboard in one of the apartments.


During renovations this past Monday, a group of senior IDF officers, including the general whose signature would call off the planned eviction of the residents, walked in. Touring the property, they climbed up to the roof, overlooking the city of Hevron.


IDF officers inspecting the property.


In addition to the Tomb of the Patriarch and the Avraham Avinu neighborhood, the Arab homes on the adjacent hill are in clear view. From those homes, signed over to Palestinian Authority control by former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, an Arab sniper murdered 10-month-old Shalhevet Pass in her baby carriage near the Avraham Avinu playground in 2001.


Freshly planted flowers compliment the view out the window of the PA-controlled Hevron high ground.
View from the roof toward the Tomb of the Patriarchs, which can be seen on the top right.
View from the roof toward PA-controlled Hevron, past the Muslim cemetery.


"Who is in charge here?" asked the general. The two construction workers on the third floor say they aren't and the officer asks one where he is from. Wearing a kippa (religious skullcap), the man says he is from nearby Kiryat Arba. Pointing to the other worker, who is bareheaded and busy plastering tiles over a sink – seemingly out of earshot – the officer asks if he is Jewish. "Where are you from?" he asks him directly. Feigning an Arabic accent, he says "Nahlin," a PA-controlled village in western Gush Etzion.


Jewish construction worker Ehud Yosef affixes tiles above a sink.

After the officer, who is also a kippa-wearer left, the worker laughed. "Of course I don’t live in Nahlin. I live in Kiryat Arba. They just find it easier to believe that an Arab would be building here than a bare-headed secular Jew," he said. "There are also secular Jews who want the Greater Land of Israel, you know."

The worker, named Ehud Yosef, said he usually works restoring old buildings in the Old City of Jerusalem, but is very excited about participating in the restoration of Beit Shapira. "It is old, but 100 percent sturdy. It just needs a lot of love after being stuffed with garbage and neglected for all these years."

Yosef says he loves living near Hevron, despite having to wait at checkpoints and being harassed by Jewish police more and more often. "If they chase us out of here, where are we supposed to go? This is a Jewish city on every level of analysis: historically, both ancient and recent; as well as according to the Bible, which the majority of the world believes is true."

"While [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad announces plans to erase us from the map, the government is going to send police and soldiers to Hevron to publicly tear up not only our Biblical and historical deeds to Israel, but an actual deed bought legitimately by Jews last month? We have always won against Ahmadinejads, but our own government is trying to wipe us off the map."

"Don't worry though," he says with a twinkle in his eye, "we aren't going anywhere."

Click here for photos from the Hevron web site of Hevron residents first entering the building and here for photos of the renovations and residents in the following days.

(Photos: Josh Shamsi, Arutz-7 Photojournalist)




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