Naftali Bennett approves new Jewish neighborhood in Hebron

Palestinians, left-wing groups denounces plans for new neighborhood for "perpetuating" Israeli military control over Palestinians

The site of new Jewish construction in Hebron (photo credit: TZIPI SHLISEL/TPS)
The site of new Jewish construction in Hebron
(photo credit: TZIPI SHLISEL/TPS)
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett announced the approval of a new Jewish neighborhood in Hebron on Sunday, generating strong praise from the settlement community and condemnation from Palestinian rights organizations.
The neighborhood will be constructed at the site of what is known as the wholesale market, which was purchased by the old Hebron Jewish community at the beginning of the 19th century, but which became a center for Palestinian commerce when the city came under Jordanian rule.
Under the new construction plan, the old market stalls building will be destroyed and several apartment blocks built, which will include as many as 70 units in total, a spokesman for the Jewish community said.
Due to legal requirements, the ground floor of the apartment buildings will be reserved for market stalls, so as to uphold demands of the Supreme Court, although it is unlikely that Palestinian tradesmen will gain access to the old market area due to security considerations.
The neighborhood is the second to gain approval since 31 units were approved for the nearby Hezekiah neighborhood in 2017, which was the first neighborhood to gain approval since 2002 when 10 housing units were approved in the Tel Rumeida district of the old city of Hebron.
According to a statement from the Defense Ministry, the construction project will double the number of Jewish residents in the city.
During Jordan’s control of Hebron, Amman leased the land under protected tenancy to the Hebron Municipality, which built the market stalls there. Access to the site for Palestinians was closed after the Cave of the Patriarchs massacre in 1994 due to concerns for reprisal Palestinian attacks.
The Israeli government declined to annul the protected tenancy agreement, but in November 2018, the Defense Ministry adopted a new legal position to allow construction of residential units at the site, as long as market stalls were included in any new construction.
The Jewish community in Hebron lauded Bennett’s announcement, saying it thanked him “from the bottom of our hearts” for a decision that “will restore Jewish life to Jewish property in Hebron. Removing the land of those who were murdered from the hands of the murderous mayor of Hebron” is a matter of “historic justice for which the Jewish people had been waiting for 90 years.”
The reference was to the 1929 Hebron massacre in which 67 Jews were murdered, and the land where the new neighborhood is to be built was eventually seized by the Jordanians and used to establish a wholesale market.
The community also thanked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, former justice minister Ayelet Shaked and former defense minister Avigdor Liberman for their help in bringing about the authorization of the neighborhood.
Chairman of Yesha Council David Elhiani said the new neighborhood would be “a direct continuation of the ancient settlement of Jewish Hebron,” and would help “expedite the development of the Jewish community in the city.”
There was also heavy criticism of the initiative, with Peace Now insisting that “it is ethically inadmissible to settle beyond the sovereign borders of one’s state, in an area where one’s own military exercises effective control over a local population and prevents it from acquiring full rights.”
The organization argued that expanding settlements hampers efforts to come to a political agreement with the Palestinians, and therefore “perpetuates Israel’s military rule over the Palestinians at the cost of the latter’s freedom.”
Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg denounced the plan, and described the Jewish community in Hebron as “the capital of apartheid” because of the separation of the Palestinian and Israeli populations in the city.ism,” and that a new neighborhood there would be “a victory for Kahane against Israel,” referring to Meir Kahane, founder of ultra-nationalist political party Kach.
PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat strongly criticized the decision, saying it was the “first tangible result of the US decision to legitimize colonization.”
Erekat was referring to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent announcement that settlements are not “per se, inconsistent with international law.”
“This cannot be taken out of the context of annexation [of parts of the West Bank],” Erekat said. “Concrete measures, including sanctions against settlements, are an international responsibility.”
The Hebron Municipality issued an appeal to the international community to intervene with Israel to stop it from changing the city’s “milestones.” The municipality denounced the decision as “dangerous,” and warned that it would lead to an “explosion in the region.”
Hamas also condemned the decision, saying it will “solidify the occupation’s policy of aggression on Palestinian lands.”
Hamas spokesman Abdel Latif Qanou said the decision was the result of “growing American support” for Israel, including Pompeo’s recent announcement on the legality of the settlements.