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Peace House Trial – in PA Court?

Hevron Arab attorneys demand to move trial over Peace House to PA court.
By Maayana Miskin
First Publish: 11/13/2009, 12:46 PM / Last Update: 11/13/2009, 1:01 PM

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Legal battles over the fate of the Peace House in Hevron continue in November, almost a year after Jews were forcibly removed from the structure following an appeal from local Arabs. Now, attorneys representing the Hevron Arab family in the case have filed an  unusual request – to continue the trial in a Palestinian Authority court instead of in Israel.

Attorney Samar Shahad argued that the trial should be moved because “the respondents are residents of PA-controlled Hevron and have no connection to the state of Israel.” Shahad also argued that “if the honorable court will wish to visit the property in question, it will not be possible due to security concerns.”

Israeli attorney Zeef Scherf pointed out that an Israeli citizen would take enormous risks by even approaching a PA court. “An Israeli court that sends an Israeli to be judged or bear witness in a court in territories controlled by the Palestinian Authority is essentially sentencing that Israeli to death,” he said.

The risks are all the more severe in cases in which Jews have purchased property from Arabs, as such a purchase carries the death penalty for those involved under PA law, he noted. Selling property to a Jew is considered treason, he said, as PA ministers have recently admitted.

Scherf accused Shahad of filing the “unreasonable” request in an attempt to mislead judges regarding the location of the property in question. “The property is under effective Israeli authority, and there is no reason that Israelis, including the judges in this court, cannot visit the property... The property is on the main road between Kiryat Arba and the Machpelah Cave [Tomb of the Patriarchs – ed.], a road on which Egged buses frequently drive and along which hundreds of thousands of Israelis travel,” he said.

The Peace House is a large building in Hevron that was purchased by American Jew Morris Abraham, whose great-grandfather was violently expelled from Hevron during the Arab pogrom of 1929. Jewish families moved into the complex following the purchase, only to face complaints from the Arab sellers, who claimed that the sale documents were forged despite a videotape documenting the sale.

Israel expelled Jews from the Peace House in late 2008. Residents expressed determination to win their court battle for control of the structure, and to return as soon as possible.