Hebron settlers eviction deadline passes as ministers debate

A soldier and border policemen stand guard opposite the disputed Machpela House in Hebron. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

HEBRON (JWN and agencies)—The 3 p.m. Tuesday deadline set by Defense Minister Ehud Barak for 15 Jewish families to leave a Hebron house whose ownership is in dispute passed uneventfully. The families remained in the building while Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called an emergency meeting of ministers Tuesday night to try to resolve the issue.

Netanyahu on Monday night asked Barak to postpone the eviction order to enable the families to make their legal case. His request seemed to contradict the settlers themselves, who had argued Monday that they had already submitted all the necessary proof of ownership of the so-called Machpela House to the Civil Administration.

“All the documents and information were given to the Civil Administration [of Judea and Samaria] yesterday,” said Shlomo Levinger, spokesman for the Hebron families. “The only thing that remains is for Barak to permit us to stay – and so far he has not,” Levinger said.

Despite the prime minister’s request, the Defense Ministry said that the 3 p.m. deadline was still in effect, and the area in Hebron became the focus of nationwide attention as the deadline neared. The Border Police cordoned off the area around Machpela House, which was declared a closed military zone.

The families from Hebron and the nearby settlement of Kiryat Arba moved into the apartment building across from the Cave of the Patriarchs before dawn last Thursday, claiming to have purchased it from its Palestinian owner.

However, the reputed Palestinian owner denied that a sale had been made and claimed that the settlers’ documents were forgeries.

The Civil Administration, for its part, said that none of the necessary permits for purchase and access to the structure had been obtained or even sought. It announced that it wanted to return the property to its prior status of vacancy, before the settlers moved in. This would avoid adding more friction to the already tense relations between Hebron’s Arab majority and Jewish minority.

Once the eviction order was issued, a legion of right-wing politicians began lobbying Netanyahu in support of the settlers, including Likud Ministers Yuli Edelstein, Gideon Sa’ar, and Limor Livnat, and Shas Party leader Interior Minister Eli Yishai.

The pressure bore fruit, as Netanyahu announced Tuesday afternoon, “I am coordinating with the defense minister. I asked him to hold off on evacuation so we can check issue.” He was speaking at a press conference he called to mark the third year anniversary of his government.

Netanyahu told reporters he had asked Barak to delay the eviction so the facts of the case could be clarified. He denied the government was trying to expand the Jewish settlement of Hebron, saying this is a single, specific case.

Regarding his government’s policy on settlement, Netanyahu said that, “We have not brought about its strangulation, as some elements suggested we do, but we do also did not act irresponsibly. We have acted in a measured and responsible manner.”