Right wing, Ya’alon spar over eviction of settlers from disputed Hebron homes

Move ordered by the Defense Ministry enrages various right-wing politicians and lawmakers; Ya'alon: 'I will not compromise the law.'

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January 22, 2016 11:26

Hebron evacuation

Hebron evacuation

Right-wing politicians are threatening to destabilize the coalition in protest over the forced evacuation of Jewish families and activists from two building in the West Bank city of Hebron on Friday morning.

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.

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Two of the politicians, Deputy Regional Minister Ayoub Kara and MK Oren Hazan, are from the Likud, and MK Bezalel Smotrich is from the Bayit Yehudi 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 against settlers.”

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 right-wing politicians, attacked Ya’alon for ordering the evacuation.

“If the coalition is important to Netanyahu, he should intervene and restrain Bogie [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 Bayit Yehudi 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.”

Smotrich said Saturday night that Bennett approved of his threat to not vote. Bennett’s office would not confirm or deny the claim.

Netanyahu, however, was unfazed by the potential rebels’ threats. His office said he respects the settlers, 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.”

It added that Netanyahu stands behind Ya’alon and called on politicians to calm down.

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 Palestinian owners.

They were joined by dozens of young right-wing 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 Palestinian men stood on the nearby rooftops and waved a Palestinian flag.

They also removed the Israeli flags the settlers 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 settlers 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 settlers who moved into the homes.

“This is a sure recipe for anarchy,” he said. “The settlement 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 right-wing politicians 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 West Bank settlements.

“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 the settlers. It’s the time to fight against terrorism and to strengthen the settlements.

“Those who speak in the name of law and order should deal first with the Palestinian Authority and radical [Jewish] leftists who set out to kill Palestinians who dare sell land or homes to Jews!” Centrist and left-wing politicians threw their support behind Ya’alon.

MK Zionist Union leader Tzipi Livni said the West Bank should not become the Wild West under the control of the far-right “hilltop youth.”

“The tirade against Defense Minister Ya’alon by the Bayit Yehudi and members of the Likud indicate that it’s not Israeli security against their interests – but an ideology that would lead to one state at the expense of Israel, its security and rule of law.”

MK Eyal Ben-Reuven (Zionist Union) called the families “squatters” and said Ya’alon’s actions showed “good judgment, statesmanship and, mostly, respect for the law, something that ministers like Elkin, Bennett and others do not represent. We once again see the weakness of a limp government in which the defense minister looks like a lighthouse of sanity.”

In the Likud, MK Yoav Kisch, who is co-chairman of the Knesset Land of Israel Caucus with Smotrich, also came to Ya’alon’s defense, coming out against “belligerence against the defense minister.”

“We can strengthen settlements legally,” Kisch stated. “I call on [Ya’alon] to hasten the process of examining the purchase documents and allow the settlers to return to the homes they bought within several days in a legal and organized matter.”

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 Palestinian landowners who sold the homes to them find refuge from the Palestinian Authority and from left-wing Israeli organizations. 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 has some 1,000 members, 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, which they called Beit Hamachpela. In that instance, they also provided proof of purchase and received wide right-wing political support, including from Netanyahu.

To date, legal issues, have prevented them from moving into the structure.


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