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In a move that would up the ante on Jewish West Bank protests, the IDF is considering billing two Hebron Jewish families the cost of forcibly evacuating them in the future from two former Palestinian marketplace stalls where they have been living since September.
Last week, the Civil Administration gave the two families, Yahalom and Barkochva, until Friday noon to leave the two shops they have turned into homes.
On Monday, the military prosecutor's office issued a warning to the families and their attorneys noting that the departure deadline had passed. It further warned that should the IDF be forced to evacuate the families, they could be fined the expense of the military operation.
A Civil Administration spokesman said that such a fine had never been levied before but that it was certainly within the IDF's purview to do so. He added that no date had yet been set for an evacuation.
Hebron Jewish community spokesman David Wilder said the families had no intention of leaving the two homes. Legal appeals to prove the families' right to live there have failed.
He referenced Attorney General Menahem Mazuz's decision to renege on a past agreement with the settlers regarding the marketplace in April 2006. Wilder said instead of threatening to eliminate the settlers' right to protest, the prosecutor's office should be ashamed that it broke past promises to the community. He added that it was like executing a criminal and then billing the family.
In January 2006, Jewish families in Hebron averted a forced evacuation from the empty Palestinian shops and agreed to voluntarily leave after the IDF promised they would be allowed to return at a future date. It was a pledge that Mazuz later ruled the army had no authority to make.
In September the families returned to two of the stalls that abut the Jewish Avraham Avinu neighborhood. The Hebron Jewish community has in the past explained that the marketplace was owned and operated by Jews until they fled following the 1929 massacre where Arabs killed 67 Jews living in the ancient biblical city.
The marketplace was then taken over by Arab merchants. Following the War of Independence in 1948, Jordan took control of the area and gave the marketplace to the Custodian of Abandoned Properties. The market was leased to the Hebron Municipality, which allowed the Arab shopkeepers to stay. That situation continued after Israel reclaimed the area in 1967.
The Palestinian merchants were expelled by Israel in 1994 and the shops remained empty until 2001 when Jews moved in.
The community has claimed that it is illogical to ask them to leave, given that the shops were formerly owned by Jews and have not been operational for 13 years. It added that there is no plan to return Palestinian merchants to the shops and that without their presence the stalls would stand empty.
Wilder further noted the irony of the timing, only three days before the August 2 anniversary of the 1929 massacre.