Residents of the Jewish community of Hebron purchased, entered and were evicted from two buildings near the Tomb of Machpela. The two buildings have been dubbed Beit Rachel and Beit Leah, named after the Biblical Matriarchs.
The residents can re-enter their homes only once they have all the necessary permits, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Friday as he threw his support behind Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon who ordered the eviction, according to the Jerusalem Post.
There was a public outcry following Friday’s forced eviction of some 20 families and scores of activists in two adjacent Hebron buildings. The Prime Minister’s Office said that Netanyahu respects the residents, "who stand courageously and with determination against terrorism on a daily basis."
However, the Prime Minister’s Office added, “We all have to respect the law. In this instance, not all the permits have been authorized. The moment this happens, the setters can return to the homes, as has happened in the past.”
The residents assert that they legally purchased the buildings from non-Jewish residents, however the government countered that Jewish citizens residing in Judea and Samaria not only need deeds and zoning approval but also a signature from the Ministry of Defense.
It should be noted that many homes and building in the Old City of Hebron which are currently either empty or occupied by non-Jewish residents may have been previously owned by Jewish residents prior to the 1929 massacre. Many such structures have grooves in the doorposts for a mezuza. The history and previous ownership of Beit Rachel and Beit Leah is not clear as of now, due to the sensitive nature of the situation. The Palestinian Authority, which controls the majority of Hebron, has ruled it against the law to sell land or real estate to Jews, punishable by death.
A spokesman for the families, Shlomo Levinger, said they had assumed that the legality of the purchase would be enough to allow them to stay, given that Ya’alon could have very quickly authorized the sale.
He added that the Hebron Jewish community is helping the landowners, residents of the PA who sold the homes to them find refuge from PA athorities and from Israeli organizations who are opposed to Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. Under the PA, land sales to Jews are punishable by death.
The incident marked the first time in four years that Hebron’s Jewish community, which comprises some 1,000 people, has purchased a building.
In 2012, Jewish families in Hebron, also represented by Levinger, attempted to move into a three-story house across the park from the Cave of the Patriarchs Beit Hamachpela. In that instance, they also provided proof of purchase and received wide political support, including from Netanyahu. To date, legal issues, have prevented them from moving into the structure.
Member of Knesset Betzalel Smotrich (Jewish Home party) countered by stated in Sunday that "there is nothing illegal about entering these houses," Smotrich continued, slamming the above claim. "Under the applicable law in Judea-Samaria, you do not need purchase approval to move back into your home," according to Israel National News.
At least three parliamentarians said they would refuse to cast plenary votes in the Knesset until the families are allowed to move back, an act of rebellion that could have a major impact on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s narrow, 61-seat coalition, continued the Jerusalem Post.
Two of the politicians, Deputy Regional Minister Ayoub Kara and MK Oren Hazan, are from the Likud, and MK Bezalel Smotrich is from the Jewish Home party.
“It’s forbidden to remove Jews from their homes. Such a move will have consequences,” Kara warned.
Smotrich said he is taking the drastic step because, “as a member of the coalition, I am responsible for its behavior and giving critical speeches is not enough.”
Tourism Minister Yariv Levin (Likud) demanded that Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon stop the evacuation and have the cabinet vote at its weekly meeting on Sunday to allow the families to live in the buildings, which are located a short block away from the Cave of the Patriarchs.
The issue is not formally on the agenda, but the ministers are expected to discuss it.
“Just as a person who buys a house in Tel Aviv can enter it without an unnecessary bureaucratic process, the same should be true in Hebron,” Levin said. “The time has come to end the unacceptable discrimination.”
Bayit Yehudi, which is in the coalition, threatened to take additional measures, if the families are not allowed to move back in. Faction head Shuli Moalem-Refaeli, like many other elected officials, attacked Ya’alon for ordering the eviction.
“If the coalition is important to Netanyahu, he should intervene and restrain Ya’alon. Time and time again, the defense minister chooses to destroy legally purchased homes that are entangled in complexity rather than allowing for a legal examination of the situation,” Moalem-Refaeli said.
She warned that her faction would consider additional steps unless there is a change in policy, specifically with regard to these two structures. Smotrich added that Ya’alon couldn’t unilaterally determine coalition policy.
Bayit Yehudi leader, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, did not make any public statements about the evacuation, but a source in his office said Bennett called Netanyahu in Davos, where he was taking part in the World Economic Forum, and made his views on the matter clear.
The source did not detail Bennett’s views, but said the Jewish Home leader approved the party’s following statement on the matter: “At the height of a wave of terrorism, the defense minister is acting determinedly, uncompromisingly and obtusely by throwing Jews out of their homes. “This is irresponsible, a conceptual fixation that heats up the atmosphere for no good reason. The defense minister should turn his heat and determination toward Arab terrorism and obvious illegal construction in the terrorists’ towns. Examining documentation on the purchase can happen even without throwing Jews out of their homes.”
Some 20 families had moved into the two large, adjacent stone buildings on Thursday afternoon with documents in hand, which they said proved they had purchased it from their non-Jewish owners.
They were joined by dozens of young Jewish activists who camped in the building overnight in hopes of preventing a forced evacuation.
But at 9 a.m., the Border Police with the help of the IDF forced open the doors to the buildings and pulled out anyone who did not walk away on their own.
Right after the evacuation, a number of young non-Jewish men stood on the nearby rooftops and waved a PLO flag. They also removed the Israeli flags the residents had placed on the roof of the two buildings, named Beit Rachel and Beit Leah. Issuing his first response on the matter, Ya’alon said the families had failed to obey the law and, therefore, were evicted.
“Israel is country of laws and I have no intention of compromising when the law has been violated,” Ya’alon said.
Those who “invaded” the Hebron homes “crudely violated” that law, he said.
If they wanted to move in legally, they needed to follow a number of legal steps, none of which they acted on, he said. As a result, they were forcibly evacuated, Ya’alon added.
The defense minister called on the MKs not to encourage citizens to take the law into their own hands by standing behind the families who moved into the homes.
“This is a sure recipe for anarchy,” he said. “The issue is important to me, but I will not compromise the law.” His opponents could not help note ironically, however, that in 2012 Ya’alon was among those law-makers who had condemned then defense minister Ehud Barak for evacuating 15 families from Beit Hamachpela in Hebron, stating that the latter should be stripped of the authority to determine the fate of such communities.
“All he does is start fires instead of solving problems,” Ya’alon said of Barak at the time.
In spite of Ya’alon’s words on Friday against those who break the law, many politicians said they believe the Jewish families in Hebron acted with respect for the law. Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) said that as a result, “the right thing to do is wait and explore legal options rather than rush to evacuate people from their homes.”
Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) said: “This is not the time to fight with them. It’s the time to fight against terrorism and to strengthen Judea and Samaria.
“Those who speak in the name of law and order should deal first with the Palestinian Authority and radical anarchists who set out to kill PA residents who dare sell land or homes to Jews.”
Text based on Jerusalem Post article by Tovah Lazaroff and Lahav Harkov, 01/22/2016.