Daily Israel Report

Coalition & Opposition MKs Agree: Allow Hevron Jews to Remain

The heads of seven Knesset parties call upon Defense Minister Barak to allow Jews to live in Jewish-owned land in the old Hevron market.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 7/25/2007, 11:48 AM

The heads of seven parties in the Knesset call upon Defense Minister Ehud Barak to allow the Jews of Hevron to live in Jewish-owned land in the old Hevron market. Two families are threatened with expulsion this Friday at noon.

The two families moved into old storefronts on Jewish-owned property near the Avraham Avinu neighborhood several months ago, and succeeded in remaining there for over 30 days without being discovered.  This, they claimed, granted them the right to remain without being evicted.  The authorities felt otherwise, however, and the Supreme Court ultimately agreed - and the army has set this Friday as the deadline for their voluntary move-out.

As opposed to previous occasions, however, they don't plan to go peacefully - and if the army goes ahead with yet another Jewish expulsion, Hevron residents say it will not be pretty.

MKs Ask Barak to Reconsider
In their letter to Defense Minister Barak, the party faction heads write that it is up to him whether Jewish property is abandoned to foreigners or not, as it is within his rights to allow the Jews to remain.  They write: "We are now commemorating the 78th anniversary of the pogrom of 1929 [in which 67 Jews of Hevron were slaughtered in their homes and synagogues, the remainder of the community was exiled, and their property was taken by local Arabs - ed.]. You now face a decision regarding the fate of one of the sites that most symbolize the murder and thievery of the Jewish community of Hevron.  The land in question is Jewish-owned, and the government must act to return that which was stolen, just as it would do regarding Jewish property anywhere else in the world."

The letter, delivered to Barak today (Wednesday), is signed by Coalition MKs Yoel Hason (Kadima), Yaakov Mergi (Shas), Moshe Sharoni (Gil), Robert Ilatuv (Yisrael Beiteinu), as well as Gideon Saar (Likud), Meir Porush (UTJ), and Uri Ariel (NU/NRP) of the opposition.  In addition to the party leaders, Ministers Eli Yishai (Shas) and Ze'ev Boim (Kadima) have also asked Barak to restore the property in question to the Jews.

"This is a time of reconciliation," the letter states, "in which we must strive not to enter unnecessary conflicts.  The residents in Hevron prevented a clash such as that in Amona when they removed themselves from their homes [in the Jewish-owned market  - ed.] based on promises that they would be able to return.  This approach must be encouraged, and not put down."

Background
From the year 1540 until 1929, Jews lived on a large plot of land in Hevron, commonly known as the Jewish Quarter. It was purchased by Rabbi Malkiel Ashkenazai, a refugee from the Spanish expulsion in 1492. Following the 1929 massacre and the exile of the Jewish population, the property, including houses and synagogues, was abandoned and left uninhabited.

When the State of Israel was established in 1948, Hevron was left under Jordanian control.  In 1953, Jordanian troops assisted the city's Arab population in devastating the remains of the Jewish Quarter. The beautiful Avraham Avinu Synagogue was razed and turned into a goat sty, apartment buildings were destroyed, and virtually nothing remained of the Quarter's earlier splendor. In one section, the Jordanians built an outdoor market, which continued to operate even after Israel liberated the city in the Six Day War of 1967.

Some 12 years ago, when Arab-initiated violence in Hevron was at one of its highs, the army decided to clear out the Arab store-owners from the marketplace. "The sole purpose for the closing," wrote Hevron Jewish Community spokesman David Wilder at the time, "was to provide security for the Jews in Hevron, [which had been] jeopardized by the hundreds of Arabs who frequented the market every day. Interestingly enough, the Commander-in-Chief of the IDF at the time was none other than Maj.-Gen. Ehud Barak, who supported the action..."

Several years later, after 10-month-old Shalhevet Pass was shot to death by terrorist snipers with a bullet to her head, Jews decided to renew their title to the land, and began renovating the stores, turning them into inhabitable apartments, and moving families in. Eleven families moved in.

A year and a half ago, several weeks after the Supreme Court ruled that the land should be given to the Arabs, the Jewish families moved out voluntarily.  They came to an agreement with the army, and specifically then-Judea and Samaria Division Commander Brig.-Gen. Yair Golan, that all legal measures would be taken in order to return them to their homes as soon as possible.

However, this agreement was later abruptly revoked, in what the residents claim was a "one-sided, political, scandalous move by Attorney General Menachem Mazuz."  Unable to accept this violation of the promises made to them, two families moved back into a part of the old market several months ago - and once again, the army threatens to throw them out.  This time, if Barak does not change the decision, the evacuation will not be a peaceful one.