hebron protest 298.88.
(photo credit: Channel 2 [file])
In what was for many a repeat of scenes seen worldwide during this summer's pullout from the Gaza Strip, settlers and security forces clashed Tuesday morning in a Jewish neighborhood in Hebron when representatives of the Civil Authority attempted to deliver eviction orders to eight families living in the former market area.
According to police spokesmen, the confrontation began between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. when Civil Authority representatives accompanied by IDF troops, police and members of the elite Yasam riot police unit arrived to deliver the notices.
The settlers had heard the night before that the orders were to be distributed and were ready and waiting for their arrival. One Hebron mother said that none of the city's children had been sent to school, but stayed home to confront the security forces.
The officials did not succeed in delivering the eviction orders, as the residents refused to open their doors to the crowds of IDF and police that had entered the area. Instead, settlers blocked the police with their bodies and even tried to grab the eviction orders from their hands. Police spokesman Supt. Shlomi Sagi said that the notices were stuck up on the exterior walls of the buildings but were immediately torn down.
The settlers tore the notices from the wall and threw paint, eggs, water and an unidentified substance at the security forces. Lt. Adam Avidan, a spokesman for the Civil Authority, said that the substance was liquid bleach, and added that the settlers "tore the [Civil Administration] officer's trousers and attacked representatives of the local district coordinating office."
"The security forces arrived, and it was all downhill from there. They came from both sides. They brought in people who were supposed to go around with eviction notices," said David Wilder, a spokesman for the Hebron Jewish community. "People here got very upset, and there was a lot of chaos. There were kids being dragged away, and adults and women. It was very nasty."
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said that one policeman was hospitalized with light wounds after being hit with a liquid that caused his eyes to burn. Seven protesters were detained for questioning, said Sagi, of whom three were juveniles. It was unknown when or if they would be brought before a judge to extend their remand.
Later in the day, children on a rooftop pelted security forces who returned to the site with plastic bags filled with water and a group of youth set an abandoned Palestinian house on fire.
The eviction notices ordered the eight families to leave within 12 days because they had not provided proof that the land in fact belonged to them. If the settlers refused to leave, said Avidan, the army would remove them by force.
The evacuation orders targeted two long buildings that run along a square at the outer edge of the Avraham Avinu neighborhood. Located on Hebron's Shuhada Street, a three-minute walk from the Machpela Cave, they sit within H2, the designated Jewish district of Hebron, and house the eight families and a kollel.
Wilder, a longtime Hebron resident, estimated that approximately 50 people, the majority of whom are children, live in the eight residences. Another 15 men from Hebron and Kiryat Arba study in the kollel.
Hebron residents argue that the area, known as Mitzpe Shalhevet, is Jewish property.
"I've been told that the media has been publishing that we have no documents proving that this is ours. This is blatantly false," said Wilder. He added that the community can prove the existence of the bill of sale for the area, which dates back to 1807, when Haim Bajaio purchased a five-dunam plot of land adjacent to the alreadyexisting Jewish Quarter on behalf of the Hebron Jewish community.
A small area at the edge of the larger Avraham Avinu neighborhood, the market area was the site of the home and synagogue of Hebron chief rabbi Eliyahu Manni until the Jewish population of the city was forced out during the riots and massacre of 1929, in which 67 Jewish residents were killed. In 1948, following the War of Independence, the area fell under Jordanian jurisdiction and was put under the control of the Jordanian Custodian of Abandoned Properties. By the time the Israeli Custodian took control of the property in June 1967 following the Six Day War, the area had become a busy wholesale market.
In 1994, after the massacre perpetrated by Baruch Goldstein in the mosque of the Machpela Cave, the army expelled the Palestinian merchants from the market, which remained empty until 2001.
In 2001, a Palestinian sniper shot and killed 10-month-old Shalhevet Pass not far from the entrance to the abandoned market. In response, Hebron's Jewish community decided to resettle the empty market area, renaming it Mitzpe Shalhevet - Shalhevet Overlook. Almost immediately afterwards, on June 27, 2001, the Municipality of Hebron and 16 Palestinian storekeepers petitioned the High Court of Justice to oust the settlers and allow them to return to their stores.
The issue has been addressed in the courts ever since, said Avidan. Noting that there is no dispute over the fact that the buildings are located on Jewish-owned land, the High Court of Justice found that the families living there had failed to prove ownership in a series of appeals.
"The people in the prosecutor's office and the attorney-general's office see our living in Mitzpe Shalhevet as illegal," said Wilder, "and they say that we have to follow the rule of the law, and therefore they want to throw us out. In all actuality, it's political, it's ideological. They don't want the Jews in Hebron in any case."
He added that other requests to claim "land in Hebron that legally belongs to us" waited "10 years until somebody read the letter and then they send you a rejection." He attributed this to a deliberate policy to curb Jewish settlement in Hebron.
In October, the state said that it had informed the Committee of the Hebron Jewish Community that it would consider the committee's request to lease the stores, but only after the current residents had vacated them. Those settlers who did not leave, the state said, would be evicted on February 15.
The residents of the area, however, were determined to remain in the houses.
"I don't think that anybody is going to open their door and welcome in their evictor with a cup coffee and a hug and a kiss," said Wilder, comparing the reactions the Hebron residents to the scenes that played out over the summer in Gush Katif. "People aren't to get up and walk out. We don' think that it's ethical to just be over. You don't just stand and let them destroy you."