For the first time in many years, the Israeli government has approved Jewish construction in Hevron, the City of the Patriarchs.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak has given his approval to the expansion of the dormitory in Yeshivat Shavei Hevron, the largest Jewish institution in Hevron. Rabbi Chananel Etrog, Acting Dean of the yeshiva, said, "The expansion is an elementary need on the most basic level."

Approval of the expansion has been held up for no fewer than eight years. Rabbi Etrog said that a deviation of 90 centimeters (three feet) was the excuse for a court suit by left-wing elements. "And even after we submitted corrected plans, the Defense Minister at the time held things up by not signing the necessary papers," Rabbi Etrog said.  "Ever since then they stalled and sidetracked the various Defense Ministers for years, until finally now Barak has signed the approval."

Rabbi Etrog said that at present, the dormitory rooms have 14 students apiece: "The students have tremendous dedication for Torah study here, but it finally became clear to the Defense Minister that such difficult conditions should not continue."

"We tell students that we have no room for them, and they say that they are willing to sleep in the corridor," Rabbi Etrog said.

"We tell students that we have no room for them, and they say that they are willing to sleep in the corridor," Rabbi Etrog said.

Some 250 students currently study in Yeshivat Shavei Hevron - the Returnees of Hevron - including 70 married men.  The yeshiva was founded in a building known as Beit Romano in 1981 - marking the third yeshiva to have been headquartered there in its 125 years of existence.  The 19th-century sage Rabbi Chizkiyah Medini, author of the monumental encyclopedic work Sdei Chemed, lived there and established a yeshiva there.  Later, Beit Romano was purchased by Rabbi Shalom Ber of Lubavitch, and the first Chabad yeshiva in the Holy Land was established there.

During the pogrom of 1929, when Arabs murdered brutally 67 of their Jewish neighbors in their homes, the British rulers used the building for the treatment of the wounded.  The Chief Rabbi at the time, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, refused to shake the hands of British rulers afterwards, assigning them responsibility for the massacre.

During the Jordanian rule of Hevron, beginning in 1949, Beit Romano was the site of an Arab school.  The school continued to function there even after Israel liberated the city in 1967, but after David Kapolsky was stabbed by Arabs nearby, the school was removed in 1981.

Yeshiva students moved in a year later, and from then on, Yeshivat Shavei Hevron has grown by leaps and bounds.

Police Confirm Discrimination

In other Hevron news, a police official confirmed last week that law enforcement against Jews in Hevron is particularly severe.  At a session of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, the commander of the Hevron regional police force told the MKs that the Hevron police have for years practiced overly severe law enforcement against the city's Jewish residents.   

The commander said that the Hevron police department formed special "Israeli disturbance squads" to deal with complaints against Jews.  Jewish residents have long complained of such discrimination, but this is the first time that an official police representative has confirmed the complaints of "selective law enforcement" in the city.