The site of new Jewish construction in Hebron.
(photo credit: TZIPI SHLISEL/TPS)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman plans to approve the construction of a building in the Jewish Avraham Avinu neighborhood of Hebron, where a block of empty Palestinian market stalls is located.
“We will continue to strengthen the Hebron community with deeds,” Liberman announced on Thursday morning.
Israel has refrained from approving the construction of new buildings
for the small community of some 1,000 Jews that live in a handful of apartment complexes in a city of over 220,000 Palestinians. But last year, it moved to strengthen the Jewish hold on the biblical city, which houses the Tomb of the Patriarchs.
Last month, Israel gave its final approval to the construction of 31 apartment units in the Hezekiyah neighborhood of Hebron, located further up Shuhada Street from the Avraham Avinu site.
Liberman listed some of the steps that have been taken to support the Jewish community of Hebron in the last few years. “We approved a municipal symbol for the Jewish community and the establishment of 31 housing units
and a kindergarten in the Hezekiyah Quarter. We will now plan [to construct] another apartment building in the market area. We have continued the momentum of Jewish development in Hebron in a way that has not been seen in 20 years,” he added.
This project, much like the Hezekiyah one, marks a shift in the Defense Ministry’s stance toward the abandoned property of the former Jewish community in Hebron, which was destroyed in 1929 when Arab rioters murdered 67 Jews. Both the land on which the Hezekiyah neighborhood will be located and the market stalls are on land that belonged to that community, but had been rented to Palestinians.
In the past, the Defense Ministry considered the Palestinian tenancy lease to be protected under a legal standing, forbidding the Hebron Jewish community from using it.
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Liberman’s office said that the ministry’s legal adviser, Attorney Itai Ophir had put forward an option that would allow for legal construction work at the Avraham Avinu site. The building plan, which is yet to receive approvals, preserves the market stalls, but would place residential apartment units on top of them.
Liberman’s announcement comes as the Hebron Jewish community plans to host thousands of visitors this Shabbat for the reading of the chapter in the Bible, Hayei Sarah, that details Abraham’s purchase of the Tomb of the Patriarchs.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said the announcement of the marketplace project was a gift to the Jewish community in advance of this special weekend. The project marks a “significant breakthrough” in the restoration of Jewish lands that were stolen during the 1929 riots, Shaked said. For 25 years, it has not been possible to settle the area, even though it is the heart of Hebron and belongs to Jews, Shaked added.
She thanked Liberman, Ophir, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit and Deputy Attorney-General Erez Kaminitz for removing legal barriers to the project. “This Shabbat, when tens of thousands of Jews visit the city of their forefathers, they will see with their own eyes that the terror from almost 90 years ago has not succeeded and that we have won,” Shaked said.
Hagit Ofran of the left-wing NGO Peace Now warned that this new legal interpretation would boomerang on the Right, undermining claims with regard to Jewish ownership and use of property owned by Palestinians prior to 1948. In addition, it will make it more difficult for the government to claim possession of property owned by Palestinians before 1948, she said.
Peace Now released a statement saying that the “settlement in Hebron represents the ugliest face of Israeli control of the territories. In order to maintain 800 settlers among a quarter of a million Palestinians, entire streets are closed to Palestinians in Hebron who are denied the freedom of movement and livelihood.”
This latest decision just “adds insult to injury,” Peace Now said.
The attorney for Hebron’s Palestinian municipality Samir Shehadeh said that he has an appeal to the Hezekiyah decision which is pending with the Civil Administration, and that he would also file one with regard to this project.
Hebron is one of the most hotly contested areas in the West Bank; 80% of the city is under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority and the remaining 20%, where the Jewish community lives, is under Israeli military rule.
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