Attorney General Menachem Mazuz determined today that the agreement, which was signed by Ayosh [Judea and Samaria] Division Commander Brig.-Gen. Yair Golan, did not comply with orders given by the Chief of Staff and the government, and is therefore retroactively canceled. The families who left their homes near the Machpelah Cave in the Avraham Avinu neighborhood now have no place to return to.

The area in question lies adjacent to the present-day Avraham Avinu neighborhood, and is by all accounts Jewish-owned - yet the Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that its present-day Jews must be forcibly evicted. The issue continued to be contested, but the expulsion was finally set for early 2006. A similar forced expulsion was about to be carried out in Amona, near Ofrah, at approximately the same time, and violence was expected in both areas. To avoid this scenario, the residents of Hevron came to an agreement with the army according to which they would leave voluntarily - even though they had no permanent homes to move to, and even though they had dozens of children - and would return approximately two months later after the legal issues had been settled.

It is this agreement that Mazuz has now nullified.

Rabbi Yisrael and Tzippy Shlissel, whose family of ten children is among the nine families in question, are now living in two caravans in Hevron's Tel Romeida neighborhood. Other families - one with four children and another with two - have moved in with their parents in Kiryat Arba, and the others are in similarly uncomfortable temporary quarters.

Sounding thoroughly disappointed in the integrity of the authorities, Rabbi Shlissel said, "Mazuz is simply lying. First he said that there was no agreement, and then he says that the agreement is no good, and then that no one knew about it or agreed to it; he sounds like the accused thief who said he never saw the object and that he merely borrowed it and that it was broken anyway... The government definitely knew about the compromise agreement, and we had ongoing negotiations with them... In any event, we will have to see if the government persists in not allowing us to return, and if so, then we will decide how to respond."

The area was emptied of its Jews during the Hevron massacre of 1929 when 67 Jews were slaughtered in their homes and synagogues. 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 Malchiel Ashkenazai, a refugee from the Spanish expulsion in 1492. Following the 1929 massacre and the exile of the community's Jewish population, the property, including houses and synagogues, was abandoned and left uninhabited.

In 1953, Jordanian troops assisted Hevron's Arab population in devastating the remains of the Jewish Quarter. The beautiful Avraham Avinu Synagogue was razed and turned into a goat sty, and apartment buildings were destroyed. Virtually nothing remained of the Quarter's earlier splendor. On part of the land, the Jordanians built an outdoor food market, which continued to operate even after Israeli liberated the city during the Six Day War in 1967.

Hevron is considered Judaism's second-holiest city because of the presence of the Machpelah Cave in which are buried Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob and Leah. It is located near Kiryat Arba, south of Jerusalem.

Over a decade ago, when Arab-initiated violence in Hevron was at one of its highs, the army decided to clear out the Arab store-owners in the marketplace. "The sole purpose for the closing," wrote Hevron Jewish Community 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."

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

In response to a court suit by the Hevron Municipality and its claim that Arabs had occupied the area, the Supreme Court ruled that the Jews must leave. Hevron spokesman Noam Arnon said that the Court had "decided that the land should be returned to the Arabs, even though it is clearly Jewish land that was robbed from us."

After the army and the residents agreed on their compromise, Arnon said, "The Jewish property that was stolen from the Jews who were murdered in the pogrom of 1929 will not be given to their murderers. It will remain in Jewish hands, a tough and unnecessary clash has been avoided, and we will continue with our holy work of building Hevron."

Today, after Mazuz's decision to cancel the agreement, leaving the families high and dry, Arnon said, "Mazuz said two months ago that there was no agreement at all, but his announcement of today proves that he was wrong. We fulfilled our part, and we are confident that the state authorities, which represent truth and justice, will act appropriately and will fulfill their agreements."

"We are once again witness to the devious tactics employed by Mazuz's office and the Justice Department, just like in Amona... The agreement is a strong one, and we fulfilled it. If the State nullifies the agreement in a unilateral manner, we will consider our next steps."