KKL stops funding legal costs for seizure of Palestinian building in Hebron

A Hebron settler group obtained payments from KKL towards a court guarantee it was required to pay, but remaining payments could not be made following a KKL legal opinion.

 Israeli soldiers stand guard as Israeli machineries demolish an under-construction Palestinian building, in Bani Naim near Hebron in the West Bank March 8, 2021. (photo credit: MUSSA QAWASMA/REUTERS)
Israeli soldiers stand guard as Israeli machineries demolish an under-construction Palestinian building, in Bani Naim near Hebron in the West Bank March 8, 2021.
(photo credit: MUSSA QAWASMA/REUTERS)

Keren Kayemeth L'Israel-Jewish National Fund (KKL–JNF) will not pay the remainder of a legal guarantee for a settler organization seeking to avoid eviction from a Palestinian property in Hebron, following an internal legal opinion on the matter.

A vote on the payment, totaling NIS 180,000, was scheduled for Thursday but called off after KKL Chairman Avraham Duvdevani told a sub-committee of the KKL directorate that the organization would not pay the guarantee, after receiving the legal position paper.

At issue is the legal struggle over a residential building in Hebron known as Beit Bakri, which was seized from its Palestinian owners by settler groups in the city in the early 2000s.

An Israeli court ruled in 2019 that the building must be evacuated by the settler groups, and that they should pay substantive fees to the Palestinian owners, but the settler organizations appealed against the eviction since KKL controversially bought the ground floor of the building shortly before the court’s eviction ruling.

The court agreed to hear the appeal on condition that the individual living on the ground floor owned by KKL pay NIS 180,000 as a guarantee that he would respect its final ruling.

 The South Mount Hebron area, seen from the hills where the town of Karmei Katif will be built.  (credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90) The South Mount Hebron area, seen from the hills where the town of Karmei Katif will be built. (credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90)

One of the settler organizations involved in the seizure of Beit Bakri subsequently requested that KKL pay the guarantee, which it began to do, paying several installments so far amounting to just under NIS 110,000.

Left-wing and centrist representatives on KKL’s board of directors strongly opposed this assistance for the Hebron settler groups, and demanded that payment of the outstanding amount of the guarantee be put to a vote of the board last Thursday.

The chair of KKL’s external audit committee wrote a legal opinion sent to Duvdevani and others stating that if the settler organization requesting KKL pay the guarantee has the requisite funds itself, as the group informed KKL, then KKL should not put up the money.

Duvdevani subsequently informed the sub-committee of the directorate of this opinion, and that it would therefore not pay the guarantee. The motion against the payments was then withdrawn from the agenda of Thursday’s meeting.

It is not yet clear if KKL will request that the settler organization return the NIS 110,000 that KKL has already paid toward the guarantee.

“We are very pleased that KKL is not deepening its involvement in the misguided purchase of Beit Bakri,” said Gadi Perl, a member of the KKL Board of Directors for Masorti Olami, who had appealed against the payments.

David Etzioni, a former member of the KKL executive of the Likud party who brought the request to pay the guarantee to the directorate, denounced the decision. 

“An absolute disgrace and a ridiculous decision," declared Etzioni, 

“It would be very interesting to know whether in other places in the country we [KKL] would check the pockets of those involved,” he said in referent to the KKL legal opinion that KKL should not pay the guarantee since the organization in question has the requisite funds.