Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon authorized the resumption of renovation work at this 38-dunam site, which the Gush Etzion Regional Council hopes will become a Jewish tourist center.
(photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon has authorized the resumption of renovation work on eight large empty stone buildings in the Gush Etzion region of the West Bank, which is owned by US millionaire Irving Moskowitz, according to security sources.
The Gush Etzion Regional Council hopes to work with Moskowitz to turn the 3.8 hectare (9.39 acres) property into a tourist center. It has asked the Defense Ministry to place the area within its jurisdiction.
The Defense Ministry had issued an order to halt ongoing renovations, but its legal advisers said that the owner had a right to fix up the buildings.
As a result, Ya’alon gave an order last week to allow the work to resume. But Ya’alon and possibly the government would have to authorize the execution of any project on the site such as a tourist center, a hotel or plans for individual families to move there, security sources explained.
Should any project move forward on the site, it would create a Jewish enclave in the midst of Palestinian farm land, just off of Route 60, in between the Gush Etzion junction and the city of Hebron. The site is near the Palestinian refugee camp Al-Arrub.
Gush Etzion Regional Council head Davidi Perl said he welcomed Ya’alon’s decision and looked forward to cooperating with him to advance a tourist center.
Peace Now executive director Yariv Oppenheimer blasted the conclusion, which he said showed that the Israeli government was accountable for continued settlement expansion.
The site was formerly owned by the Presbyterian Church in the United States. In the late 1940s a missionary doctor from Pittsburgh, Thomas Lambie, opened a hospital at the site for tuberculous patients called Berachah Tuberculosis Sanatorium.
According to Dror Etkes, a veteran left-wing activist, the Presbyterian Church sold the property in 2008 to nonprofit, Scandinavian Seaman Holyland Enterprises.
When it closed in 2012, the American Friends of the Everest Foundation became the property owners, according to Etkes.
The group’s annual report in 2013 showed that the Irving Moskowitz Foundation was the sole contributor to the American Friends of the Everest Foundation.
Information that the property belonged to the Moskowitz Foundation was first reported in Haaretz.
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