Border Police evacuate settlers from Hebron home

A-G Weinstein informs PM, defense minister that Beit Hamachpela must be evacuated without delay; Barak says surprise decision is part of his responsibility to safeguard democracy, rule of law in Israel.

IDF soldier stands guard near Beit Hamachpela_370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
IDF soldier stands guard near Beit Hamachpela_370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
In a surprise move, the Border Police moved quickly Wednesday afternoon to remove settlers from a three-story Hebron apartment building called Beit Hamachpela.
Very few of the residents were in the structure at the time, and the event was over in less than an hour.
The Hebron Jewish community posted a video on YouTube of a small girl crying after the evacuation and a boy nearby holding his teddy bear.
After an intense day of political lobbying on Tuesday, settlers woke up believing they had been given a reprieve by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to remain in the building until the end of the month.
According to sources in the Prime Minister’s Office, Netanyahu convened a meeting late Tuesday evening to discuss the disputed home in Hebron.
In addition to Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Strategic Affairs Minister MosheYa’alon, and Minister-without-Portfolio Bennie Begin attended.
No decisions were made, and it was agreed to discuss the matter further in the morning.
Already on Monday the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria had issued an order giving the building’s residents until 3 p.m. to voluntarily leave or face eviction. Settlers ignored the order and appealed to Netanyahu to intervene on their behalf and order Barak to allow them to remain.
Ministers who visited the structure on Tuesday said that decisions regarding the settlers continued presence in the building fell under the auspices of the government, and not Barak.
Fifteen Jewish families moved into the vacant structure in the pre-dawn hours last Thursday, after purchasing it from its Palestinian owner. Security sources investigating the sale have said that it is still not clear if the Palestinian in question had the authority to sell the house.
The families did not request the necessary permits from the civil administration to move into the structure and submitted all the paperwork for that authorization only on Tuesday. Earlier, they told The Jerusalem Post that they moved into the structure without the proper papers because they feared Palestinians would take over the building if it remained vacant.
But the civil administration feared that the settlers’ presence in the building, located in a Palestinian neighborhood in a section of the city under Israeli military control, would create unnecessary friction between the two groups.
Initially Netanyahu had asked Barak to allow them to remain in the building while the civil administration reviewed their permit request and investigated the legality of the sale.
On Wednesday, however, Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein informed the prime minister and the defense minister that in his opinion the Hebron house must be evacuated without delay, a Justice Ministry spokesman said.
Weinstein insisted that there was no need for a government decision to be made regarding the eviction, and that the eviction must be enforced immediately, because of the importance of maintaining the rule of law, the spokesman added.
Prior to a special cabinet meeting called to discuss the gas price issue, Barak told Netanyahu that for operational reasons, the home had to be evacuated on Wednesday.
The reasons were simple: There were only three adults and eight children in the home, and it would be easier to pull them out.
Netanyahu then gave his approval for the evacuation, but with two caveats: That the IDF guard the house once the settlers were evicted to prevent the Palestinians from moving in, and that if the settlers claims to the house are upheld in court, they will be allowed to move back in.
Netanyahu then went to the cabinet meeting, and there – in a move interpreted by many observers as an attempt to compensate for the evacuation order – said he asked Weinstein to find a solution to the controversial Ulpana neighborhood in Beit El, in order to prevent the demolition of five buildings there.
The Ulpana neighborhood was built from 2000 to 2008 on land purchased from Palestinians in 2000, but the paperwork was later judged to be inauthentic and 30 apartments there were scheduled for demolition in April.
Netanyahu also said that in the near future he will bring recommendations, approved by Barak, that will legalize three outposts: Bruchim, Sansana and Rehalim.
In the evening, summing up the day, Netanyahu said: “We are strengthening Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria and we are strengthening the Jewish community in Hebron, the City of the Patriarchs.
“But there is one principle that we uphold. We do everything according to the law and we will continue to do so,” he said.
Barak said afterwards: “I will continue to act in order to maintain the rule of law and democracy while guaranteeing the authority of the state over its citizens.”
He added, “Any request to acquire the relevant buying permit or any other transactions will be dealt with professionally and impartially, as is the practice. However, we cannot allow a situation where unlawful actions are taken to determine or dictate ad-hoc facts to the authorities.”
The United States said that it backed the evacuation.
“We support the government of Israel’s decision,” a State Department official said.
Settlers and right-wing politicians quickly condemned the move. Activist Itamar Ben-Gvir warned that it could lead to “price-tag” attacks of retribution against Palestinians.
Hilary Leila Krieger and Yaakov Katz contributed to this report.