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Middle East & Israel Breaking News » Israel » Article

Hebron settlers try to buy more homes


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Settlers have plans to purchase additional homes in Hebron with the monetary backing of right-wing Jewish Americans, to expand the size and property holdings of the Jewish community in the city, defense officials told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.

Settler children look out of...

Settler children look out of the contested four story Hebron building that overlooks the main road from Kiryat Arba to the Cave of the Patriarchs.
Photo: Tovah Lazaroff

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The officials said they were aware of a number of right-wing Jews in the United States - in New York, Chicago and Miami - who were helping to financing the purchase of Palestinian homes in Hebron. After the sales are completed, the American Jews also finance the movement abroad of the seller and his family - usually to Jordan.

The officials said that while they were aware of the plans, they could not stop settlers from buying homes in Hebron.

"There is nothing that can be done to prevent two people from signing a contract in private," said a defense official involved in plans to evacuate the four-story, 3,500 square meter stone building that settlers moved into on March 19.

The Hebron Jewish community said it paid the Palestinian owner $700,000 for the building, which is in an area populated by Palestinians on the main road linking Kiryat Arba to the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron.

The Post has learned that defense officials were unaware of the settlers plans with respect to the four-story building now called Beit Hashalom until they moved in.

Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh has ordered an internal probe of the security establishment, particularly within the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and the Judea and Samaria Police District to discover how the settlers succeeded in surprising authorities when moving into the home.

The Shin Bet has a "Jewish Division" that is responsible for preventing terrorist attacks by Jews and keeping a close eye on what the settlers do in the territories. The Judea and Samaria Police District also has a unit that is responsible for gathering intelligence on Jews in the West Bank and for thwarting attacks on Palestinians and state targets.

"It is certainly a failure that no one knew about the plans to purchase the home," a defense official said.

A source in the Civil Administration said the sale of the Hebron home was "completely legal" but that since it had not been authorized by authorities, it could be evacuated under Civil Administration Order 25.

According to the order, the occupation or transfer of ownership of homes in the West Bank by Jews needs to be coordinated with the Civil Administration to be deemed illegal.

The legal basis for Defense Minister Amir Peretz's decision to evacuate the home in Hebron also comes from a 1980 cabinet decision, when then-prime minister Menachem Begin's government decided that the cabinet was the only body authorized to approve the expansion of the Jewish community of Hebron.

The defense official said the Civil Administration would have had difficulty in preventing the sale of the home even if the settlers had presented the contract and documentation for approval before moving in.

"It would have been very difficult to stop the entrance of the settlers into the home had they come and asked the Civil Administration for a permit," the official said.

Peretz has said he plans to evacuate the structure even though sources close to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have said the prime minister is looking to delay such a move. A defense official, however, said that only the cabinet could stop Peretz from removing the settlers. The cabinet is expected to discuss the issue on Sunday.

On Wednesday, the settlers were given 15 days to provide the Civil Administration with documentation supporting their right to live in the building. According to Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz, they have the right to appeal eviction proceedings.

A spokesman for the Hebron Jewish Community, David Wilder, told the Post he was certain it had a strong claim to the structure. He said the appeals process would take time and that it was unlikely that Peretz would be in office long enough to make good on his "evacuation threat" given that he would likely be defeated in the Labor primary in May.

Wilder also said he knew of no additional house sales to settlers in Hebron, though he would certainly like to see the 800-member community acquire more property. The Jewish community currently inhabits four small enclaves, including Beit Hashalom, amid the 30,000 Palestinians who live in the portion of the city under Israeli control.

Wilder said the community's energies and resources were taken up at present with defending its right to be in Beit Hashalom.

He said the community would not want to take any actions that would endanger its presence in the building. Although the structure is not fully renovated, some 15 families and 40 single adults have moved in. The community is planning to add a new floor to the structure.

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