(photo credit: Courtesy of the Jewish community of Hebron)
IDF officers had no mandate to promise Jewish settlers that they would be allowed to return to homes that had been illegally occupied in Hebron's wholesale market if those currently living there left their homes peacefully, Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz has informed Meretz MK Ran Cohen.
Mazuz added that the promise had been made by the division commander of Judea and Samaria, the head of the Judea brigade and other officers without permission from their superiors.
Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz last week reprimanded Judea and Samaria division commander Brig.-Gen. Yair Golan for reaching the agreement with the Hebron settlers. Halutz noted that Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz had ordered officers not to negotiate with the Hebron settlers in the run-up to the planned evacuation.
Golan explained that he had struck the deal with the settlers in an effort to avoid violence and bloodshed. Cohen told The Jerusalem Post
on Monday that it took the government two months to confirm that there had indeed been an agreement between the settlers and the army before the settlers were prepared to leave the wholesale market peacefully. "They tried to conceal the fact that there had been an agreement," said Cohen.
"Afterwards, the agreement was cancelled. The government tried to hide this fact, too. Then the Chief of Staff reprimanded the officer and this too was kept secret. This state of affairs is utterly improper. It is the behavior of a banana republic."
Leaders of the Hebron Jewish Community met twice on Monday to discuss their reaction to the attorney general's decision but did not announce a specific course of action.
They did, however, claim Mazuz's order signaled a preference by the government to use violence in disputes with the settlers rather than settle their differences amicably.
"The attorney general is giving the green light to spill the blood of Israelis living in Judea and Samaria," said community spokesman David Wilder, alluding to the clash at Amona between security forces and settlers. "Here in Hebron there was a compromise solution that was accepted by the IDF, the Defense Ministry, and the Hebron Jewish Community.'
"Everyone in Israel should be worried that we have an attorney general that can invalidate or declare anything illegal whenever he wants," Wilder said.
The incident referred to occurred in mid-January, when the army was scheduled to remove settlers from improvised homes they had established in Hebron's wholesale market. The market had been cleared of its Palestinian merchants in 1994, following riots in the city in the wake of the massacre of Palestinian worshippers perpetrated by Baruch Goldstein.
Settlers moved into the warehouses without permission after a Palestinian sniper killed a baby, Shalhevet Pass, in March 2001.
The wholesale market shops were originally owned by Jews who purchased the area 200 years earlier and occupied it until the 1929 riots, when the Jewish survivors of an Arab massacre fled.
In 2001, the Hebron municipality petitioned the High Court, demanding that the shops be returned to the Palestinian shopkeepers. After several years, the state promised the court it would remove the Jewish settlers.
The army was poised to carry out the state's promise to the court in January, and there was concern that the evacuation would trigger a serious clash between the settlers and the army. In the end, the settlers left the market peacefully after receiving a promise that they, or other Jews, would be allowed to return after the government terminated the Hebron municipality lease. At the time, Mazuz denied that there had been any agreement.
Rafael D. Frankel and Yaakov Katz contributed to this report.