Hevron Jews Await Expulsion Forces

Echoes of Gush Katif and Amona whisper through the narrow streets of Hevron as families and volunteers prepare for expulsion by Yassam police.

Hana Levi Julian,

Families are going about their daily affairs. Children play outside their homes, with crayons and coloring books, in what was for centuries a graceful Jewish Quarter in the holy city of Hevron.  A long-skirted woman, hair covered with a scarf, is washing the floor of her home. 


You’d never know that 3,000 police officers, soldiers and Yassam SWAT teams are waiting for the word to pour into the area in hundreds of buses – to evict two families, and an undetermined number of supporters who plan to stand together with them.


The plan is reminiscent of the 2005 Disengagement operation in which 12,000 government forces expelled some 8,000 Jews from 25 communities in northern Samaria and the Gush Katif region of Gaza.


It brings to life the memory of the government-ordered “evacuation” of activists protesting the destruction of nine empty buildings in a planned neighborhood outside the community of Amona, carried out by thousands of Yassam police. Many were mounted on horses, which in some cases were used to trample the protestors. It is not known whether the Yassam will bring their horses Monday night.


Jewish-owned Land


The land on which the Hevron market stands is Jewish-owned, purchased in 1540 by Rabbi Malkiel Ashkenazai, a refugee from the Spanish expulsion in 1492. For centuries, it provided a haven for Jews, who went about their daily affairs then too, until their slaughter by Arabs in 1929 and the exile of those who managed to stay alive. 


Jewish-owned property, houses and synagogues were left empty as residents fled for their lives.


The Jordanians who took control of the area transformed one section of the lovely Jewish Quarter into an open air market after that massacre. A synagogue in the beautiful Avinu Avraham neighborhood, as it is called, was turned into a goat yard.


Hevron, liberated by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War, gradually became home to Jews once more, although its Arab residents were allowed to continue to operate the market and sell their wares.


Jews from Hevron as well as those from nearby Kiryat Arba did their weekly shopping in the open air market – until 12 years ago, when the IDF decided to evict Arab store owners from the market in an effort to curtail the spiraling anti-Jewish violence.


From then until recently, the Hevron marketplace stood empty of Arabs as it once stood bereft of its Jewish owners.


“Interestingly enough,” observes community spokesman David Wilder, the IDF Chief of Staff at the time was none other than Maj.-Gen. Ehud Barak, who supported the action …. “


Jewish Residents Return to the Jewish Quarter-turned Market


Eleven Jewish families decided to return to live in the former Jewish Quarter, renovating the stalls and creating apartments instead, until they were persuaded to leave by IDF officials who promised they could return with a bona fide legal status.


The promise withered away when the Attorney General Menachem Mazuz ruled that the army officials had not been authorized to make the agreement. 


A year and a half later, nine of the families are still waiting for the government to make good on its original deal. But two families decided to wait no longer and several months ago, returned to their homes in the Jewish Quarter-turned market, now empty.


And Barak, today the Defense Minister and chairman of the Labor Party, this month ordered the expulsion of two families who returned to build their homes on the Jewish-owned property.


The showdown between the two families that refuse to leave their homes, and the 3,000-strong government security force, comprised of Border Police, IDF soldiers and the Yassam special force, is expected sometime late Monday night.


Residents and Security Forces Wait Tensely


“We have stated publicly numerous times,” Wilder told Arut-7, “our goal is not violence… I would call this more civil disobedience. It’s a question of not giving up, not getting up and walking out on your own two feet.”


The record of past Yassam-operated evictions is not encouraging. Some 200 people were injured by Yassam forces, several critically, during the government evacuation of protestors from a new Amona neighborhood in which nine structures stood empty in various stages of completion.


Yassam forces have not been gentle during other government-ordered expulsions either.


“We know what happens when the Yassam come in,” said Wilder dispassionately, “with their hard rubber batons and other types of equipment,” but he was equally clear that the Yassam would not scare the Jews out of Hevron.


“We expect them to invade the neighborhood sometime in late evening. Maybe it’s a fitting day, the day when Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is meeting with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, in PA-controlled Jericho, to discuss giving land away to the Arabs,” said Wilder.


“They will expel us whenever they want to. But we are not going any place. The buildings are not going anyplace. We will eventually live in these buildings,” he added with quiet confidence.


And the prospect of beatings and other violence by Yassam police?  “The level of violence will depend on them.”