Prime Minister Netanyahu ordered the Defense Ministry not to evacuate settlers from a three-story apartment building known as Beit Hamachpela on Tuesday night.
Earlier in the day, fifteen families moved into the Hebron structure they claim to have purchased five years ago from its Palestinian owners.
Soldiers and Border Police officers immediately surrounded the house, known as Beit Hamachpela. It is located across the parking lot from the Tomb of the Patriarchs in an area of the city under Israeli control.
“There are men, women, children and babies here,” said a spokesman for the families, Shlomo Levinger.
The Civil Administration has given the families permission to purchase the property, but they have to provide satisfactory proof of purchase.
UNESCO declares the Cave of the Patriarchs as Palestinian, angering Israel (Reuters)
The families appealed a 2015 decision by the Registration Committee not to transfer the property to them. Last month a military appeals court sent the matter back to the Registration Committee.
The families have seen this step as a sign that the purchase is legal and on Tuesday called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to expedite the process.
“Without any legal or moral justification the government of Israel is preventing the families from living in homes they have purchased,” Levinger said.
He added that the timing of the move was a reaction to events in Jerusalem with regard to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which is occurring precisely at the moment in the Jewish calendar that focuses on mourning the destruction of the Jewish Temple on that spot 2,000 years ago.
“In these day of Jewish bloodshed and bereavement, the Israeli government has shown weakness vis-a-vis our enemies,” Levinger said.
“We call on the government to bravely raise the flag of settlements and faithfulness to the land of Israel,” Levinger said.
Enough authorizations have been given for the project to allow families to move in, he told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday night, speaking by phone from inside the home.
The left-wing Peace Now organization called on the government to immediately order their removal.
“After they have failed time and again to prove ownership, the settlers have decided to ignore the law and invade the home, with the intent to create a new settlement that will inflame the area,” Peace Now said.
“We’re calling on Netanyahu to show zero tolerance for this band of criminals,” it added.
The IDF forcibly removed the families in 2012, after they first moved into the building and provided documents to show proof of purchase. Since then the structure has been sealed.
It is located next to two Palestinian schools and in an otherwise Palestinian neighborhood of the city. The Jewish community in Hebron has only about 1,000 members that live in four apartment complexes, a military base and a yeshiva.
Any purchase of property significantly increases their holding. Last year the Hebron Jewish community tried to move into two buildings it says it purchased on Shuhada Street, which it calls Beit Rachel and Beit Leah. These structures are also close to the Tomb of the Patriarchs. The IDF forced the Jewish inhabitants to leave and those structures have also been sealed pending proof of purchase.
After Jerusalem, Hebron has been one of the flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The attempt to move into Beit Hamachpela comes just weeks after UNESCO registered the Tomb of the Patriarchs
and the Old Town around it to the “State of Palestine.” Both structures are located in that Old Town.
Tuesday’s attempt to force Netanyahu’s hand on the issue of growth in the Hebron Jewish community, opens yet one more issue of contention between the prime minister and his right-wing base of support.
Settlers from Beit El have called on him to make good on his five-year pledge to authorize 300 homes for their settlement.
Fifteen families that live in the Nativ Haavot outpost set up a protest tent this week outside the Knesset to solicit legislative help in finding a solution to the pending demolition of their homes.
The High Court of Justice has mandated that the homes must be demolished by March 2018, after a land survey found that they were built on land that could be considered to belong to Palestinians.
To date, no alternative housing solution has been provided for them.
On Tuesday, the 40 families evacuated in February from the Amona outpost complained that the work had stopped on construction of infrastructure for the new settlement of Amihai. They plan to build permanent homes there, but the Defense Ministry had not transferred money to the Binyamin Regional Council so that the work could be completed.
Upon hearing of the matter, Netanyahu immediately ordered the transfer of the necessary funds.
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