Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s call to resettle the Beit Hamachpela building in Hevron was a suggestion, not an order, government officials clarified Tuesday.
The clarification came in response to a lawsuit filed with the High Court of Justice (Supreme Court). Arabs living in Hevron who claim ownership of Beit Hamachpela filed the suit Monday, shortly after Netanyahu’s statement.
They argued that allowing Jews to resettle the home would mean taking “private property” from Arabs and giving it to “settlers.”
As there has been no official change in policy, the lawsuit is irrelevant and should be thrown out, the government argued.
Netanyahu called to resettle Beit Hamachpela following the murder Sunday of IDF soldier Gabriel (Gal) Kobi. Kobi, 20, was shot near the Machpelah Cave (Tomb of the Patriarchs), a site holy to both Jews and Muslims which the IDF guards in order to allow safe worship for both groups.
The court was told that while Netanyahu does support allowing Jews to resume residence in the building, which was purchased last year by 15 Jewish families, his support is contingent on approval from Israel’s courts. The Prime Minister and Defense Minister have no intention of allowing resettlement until the property is officially registered, the court heard.
The military appeals court previously accepted the appeal of the Jewish families that bought the property, and ruled that the purchase was legal. However, local Arabs continue to argue that the sale is not valid, and that the building remains private Arab-owned property.
Several Jews entered Beit Hamachpela on Monday, among them Members of Knesset, Housing Minister Uri Ariel and Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon. Government sources confirmed that the group has already left the building.
“The group was asked by military sources to leave the building, and they left," an official told the High Court, adding, "according to current information from Israel’s defense establishment there are no Israelis in the building, and military sources have been ordered to maintain the status quo and to prevent the settlement of the building.”