Right-wing politicians called on Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon to allow settlers to move into a four-story building known as Beit Hashalom in Hebron, after the High Court of Justice authenticated its purchase on Tuesday.
Morris Abraham, a Jew from Brooklyn, had purchased the building in the predominantly Palestinian West Bank city.
“We won. We won. We won,” wrote a jubilant Hebron Jewish community spokesman David Wilder on his Facebook page, above a photograph of Beit Hashalom, to mark the end of a seven-year battle to strengthen the Jewish presence in the city.
Left-wing politicians and activists, however, warned that authorizing Jewish habitation of the structure was harmful to the peace process, would make life difficult for Palestinians and would divert IDF resources that were best used elsewhere.
“This would essentially be a new and destructive settlement in the heart of Hebron,” MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) said.
The Defense Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office did not comment on the matter; however, in the past, both spoke generally in support of Jewish life in Hebron.
The High Court’s decision exhausts all legal appeals by the building’s Palestinian owners, who had argued the deal – worth over $1 million – was fraudulent.
The lack of Ya’alon’s approval is the only remaining obstacle keeping Jewish families from moving into Beit Hashalom.
The building is located just outside the Kiryat Arba settlement on one of the main roads in Hebron, which leads to the Cave of the Patriarchs.
Hebron Jews have in the past argued that their presence there would help safeguard the road to the cave from Palestinian attacks.
While Beit Hashalom is situated in an area of the city under Israeli control, if inhabited, it would be the only Jewish building in a Palestinian neighborhood. The stone structure is located next to a mosque and a Muslim cemetery.
A Jewish presence in that section of Hebron would expand the slim holdings of the city’s Jewish population of 850, who live in three separate compounds on the other side of the Cave: Avraham Avinu, Beit Hadassah and Tel Rumaida.
Settlers initially moved into Beit Hashalom in March 2007 without the proper permits, claiming it had been purchased from Palestinians through transactions executed in 2004 and 2005.
In December 2008, when Ehud Barak was defense minister, he forcibly evacuated the building pending the completion of legal appeals. Some 600 Border Police officers and IDF soldiers participated in the evacuation, in which four officers and 23 Jewish activists were lightly to moderately injured. Additionally, at least 20 Palestinians were injured in clashes with settlers in the area of the building.
In the weeks leading to the evacuation, extremist Jewish activists vandalized the cemetery and the Palestinian homes next to Beit Hashalom.
In 2012, after initial court victories by settlers, Barak took the first steps toward authorization of their purchase of the structure. He halted those efforts, however, after Palestinian appeals returned the matter to the court.
On Tuesday, Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel (Bayit Yehudi) called on Ya’alon to pick up where Barak left off.
“Today it was conclusively proven that Beit Hashalom belongs to Jews, and that its violent evacuation by [former prime minister] Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak was totally unnecessary... I call on my friend Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon to allow the Jews to return home,” Ariel said.
MK Orit Struck (Bayit Yehudi) said, “Beit Hashalom is one of the more outrageous proofs to the arbitrariness of the prosecutor’s office, which chose to believe the false narrative of the Arab sellers and exiled the Jewish buyers from their home.”
But Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) called on Ya’alon not to allow Jews to return to the building, which was nicknamed the “House of Contention” by the left wing.
“The defense minister and the government has the authority and the responsibility to prevent settlers from moving into the compound, in light of security and diplomatic considerations, particularly during this critical time of negotiations with the Palestinians,” Horowitz said.
NGO Peace Now warned that if Jews were to live there, the IDF would be forced to use extra resources to protect them and secure the area. It called on Ya’alon to prevent settlers from moving in.
Meretz party head MK Zehava Gal-On said that Palestinians living on the building’s road were already severely restricted, and that this would only make their situation worse.
There is a struggle over the structure because of its strategic placement and its ability to create contiguity between Kiryat Arba and Hebron, she said.
“I call on the defense minister not to lend a supportive hand to this endeavor, and not to allow the establishment of a new settlement,” she said.