In response to plans by Defense Minister Amir Peretz to evict the Jews from their newly-purchased building in Hevron, the residents say: "If they try to get us out, we'll be ready." Governmental opposition to Peretz's proposal to evict the Jews from their property has increased.


The Jewish Community of Hevron duly purchased the large building two years ago, via a Jordanian businessman, for $700,000.  Though some Israeli officials say they are still checking the legality of the sale, the Arabs are not waiting; the former Arab owner has already been arrested and charged with selling property to a Jew, a capital offense under both Jordanian and Palestinian Authority law.


Some 20 families from Hevron and environs joyously moved into the building immediately upon the publication of the sale three weeks ago.  Many of the tens of thousands of visitors to Hevron over the Passover holiday also stopped off at the building, expressing happiness at the acquisition of another Jewish property in the City of the Patriarchs.  Adding to the sense of celebration was the critical location of the building - along the Arab-populated road leading from Hevron Jewish suburb Kiryat Arba to the Jewish section of Hevron. 


Peretz: You'll Be Out Within Two Weeks

The joy was somewhat doused Thursday night with the announcement by Defense Minister Amir Peretz of Labor that he plans to evacuate the Jews from the building.  He explained that even if the sale is legal, the residents had failed to obtain permission from the defense establishment before moving in, as is required in Judea and Samaria.  Labor MK Ephraim Sneh seconded Peretz's position.


Peretz has been under fire within his Labor Party for not evacuating Jewish outposts in Judea and Samaria as he promised.  His decision was thus greeted by many political figures (see below) as merely serving his own political needs.


Political Opposition to Peretz

By Friday, however, it appeared likely that Peretz would have a hard time implementing his decision.  MK Effie Eitam said that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told him last week that he would not allow Peretz to evacuate the building.  "If the building in Hevron was acquired legally," Olmert reportedly told Eitam, "I won't let Peretz evacuate it."  Eitam said he met with the Prime Minister and Interior Minister Roni Bar-On (Kadima) on the issue. 


"Evacuating this building," Eitam said he told Olmert, "would be against rules of natural justice and the legitimate rights of Jews to acquire property and to live in their homes everywhere in the Land of Israel."


In addition, Kadima MK Otniel Schneller said that most of his party colleagues in the Knesset intend to block Peretz’s "politically-based" plan to evacuate Peace House.  Kadima Knesset faction leader Avigdor Yitzchaki also expressed his support for the Jewish residents of Peace House in a visit Thursday afternoon, together with Likud MK Gidon Saar.


"Peretz must not be allowed to throw the whole country into a tizzy because of his own personal political considerations," MK Eitam said, in reference to Peretz's all-but-lost bid to retain his leadership of the Labor Party.  Labor will hold party primaries for the leadership late next month.


Preparing the Building

The house is called "Peace House," Hevron spokesman David Wilder explained to Arutz-7, "because our goal is to live in peace with our neighbors.  "And in fact, though our new house is surrounded on three sides by Arabs, as is the road that leads to it, they have not reacted with any hostility to our presence."


Despite the encouraging signs on the political front, preliminary plans are being made to bring in supporters from all over the country to rebuff any attempt to evacuate the structure. 

In addition, Hevron's Jewish community continues to make the giant structure ready for habitation for some 20 new families.  This will partially ease the housing crisis for the Jewish Community of Hevron, which has been stifled by lack of space for new families for some time.  


The four-story building - part of which has two- and three-story-high ceilings - was apparently designed by the Arab owner to be a shopping mall, new residents say.  In light of the updated plans to make it a residential building for Jews, plasterboard walls have already been put up to fashion separate "apartments" for the various families.  The bottom floor is currently serving as a joint dining room, synagogue, work-tools storeroom and welcoming-area for the many guests and well-wishers.


Minister Eitan's Stance

Pensioners Affairs Minister Rafi Eitan, head of the Pensioners Party and a veteran defense figure, told Arutz-7's Uzi Baruch today that he supports the Jewish presence in the new building.  "The building must remain in Jewish hands," Eitan said, "because it is in territory that is totally Israel.  In 1996, an agreement was signed [giving away most of Hevron to the Palestinian Authority - ed.] that essentially divides Hevron [into Jewish and Arab areas].  That agreement stipulates clearly that the road between the Machpelah Cave and Kiryat Arba remains under Israeli control - and therefore this building must remain Israeli."


Support from Beit Shemesh

The Deputy Mayor of Beit Shemesh, Shalom Lerner, visited the new building on Friday and promised support for the residents against Defense Minister Peretz's stated intention to throw them out.  Meeting with those currently living in the building, Lerner said, "The residents of Beit Shemesh [40 kilometers northwest of Hevron - ed.] encourage and strengthen you in your efforts to fortify the Jewish presence in Hevron, and they will stand with you here and struggle against any attempt to evict you.  Attempts to throw you out stand in opposition to natural justice and the position of most Israeli citizens. I will call upon the residents of Beit Shemesh to join the struggle for this building, so that Peretz - who failed in protecting our security - won't fail in Hevron as well."


Trouble for Peretz

Meanwhile, Peretz faces fire from various quarters as well.  He is facing an uphill battle in his race against former Prime Minister Ehud Barak and MK Ami Ayalon to retain Labor party leadership. In addition, he is expected to be bitterly castigated by the preliminary findings of the Winograd Commission investigating his - and others' - performance during last summer's Second Lebanon War.  The findings are due out in June.


The protocols of the testimonies of Olmert, Peretz and others before the Commission are expected to be publicized sooner.  The Supreme Court originally ordered them released before Passover, but following a last-minute request by the Commission for a delay, the Court has now given the Commission several more days to explain why it should not release them immediately.


Peretz, whose political career has always been associated with the struggle for equality for the underprivileged, has also been repeatedly and heavily criticized for accepting the Defense portfolio.  He had demanded, during last year's coalition negotiations, one of the three main portfolios - Finance, Foreign Affairs and Defense - but was turned down for the first two.  He finally chose Defense, even though he had no prior experience in security affairs. 

Peretz attempted to address this issue in a meeting with supporters over the weekend, saying, "A social process is not just a question of dividing the wealth of the State of Israel. We'll get there. But primarily, it is a question of creating symbols and status. Part of the status of the social question is influenced by the status of the one leading it."


MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu) said that Peretz is "pathetic" and must resign.  Speaking with Voice of Israel this morning (Sunday), Rotem said that Peretz's actions are governed only by what he can gain politically, "and he does not even refrain from using the IDF to this end...  Peretz is doing nothing to return the captive soldiers, nor to reinforce the IDF's war-battered status."