Defense Ministry reiterates order to evacuate Hebron home

Security sources say deadline to voluntarily leave is still 3 p.m. Tuesday, amid speculation that Barak would agree to PM's request to delay evacuation; settlers: We’re not leaving.

Families with Transport Minister Yisrael Katz in Hebron home (photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
Families with Transport Minister Yisrael Katz in Hebron home
(photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
The Defense Ministry reiterated Tuesday its order to Jewish families to evacuate Beit Hamachpela, the disputed Hebron apartment building by 3 p.m.
The statement came amid speculation that the deadline would be delayed in response to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's request to the Defense Ministry on Monday to delay the evacuation order to allow the 15 Jewish families that reside there the opportunity to make their legal case.
But the vaguely worded request puzzled both the families and right-wing politicians who rushed to support them when the evacuation order was issued Monday afternoon.
“All the documents and information were given to the Civil Administration [of Judea and Samaria] yesterday,” said Shlomo Levinger, spokesman for the Hebron families.
“The only thing that remains is for [Defense Minister Ehud] Barak to permit us to stay – and so far he has not,” Levinger said.
However, he said it was his understanding that the evacuation order had been extended and Netanyahu had taken a firm stand in their defense.
The prime minister’s request was to allow the building’s inhabitants to present their arguments, and take all necessary legal steps to stay – which can be done within the evacuation order’s timeline, the sources said.
Defense officials cautioned against the assumption that a forced evacuation would occur immediately after the 3 p.m. deadline. “It is ultimately up to Defense Minister Ehud Barak when to carry out the evacuation,” one official said. “He will have to determine when the appropriate time will be.”
The official said that judging by previous evacuations of unauthorized settler homes in the West Bank, the IDF generally prefers to carry them out at night or when residents are not home and will be taken by surprise.
In 2008, the IDF forcibly evacuated settlers from a four-story apartment building in Hebron whose ownership was in dispute, in a mid-afternoon raid when few people were in the structure.
Border Police on Monday cordoned off the area around the Beit Hamachpela (House of the Patriarchs) building.
The three-story structure is located in front of a small park and is across the way from the Cave of the Patriarchs. Families from Hebron and the nearby settlement of Kiryat Arba moved into the apartment building during last Thursday’s pre-dawn hours. Levinger said that Hebron Jews privately bought the structure from its Palestinian owner.
The buyers did not, however, seek the necessary purchase permit from the civil administration.
It is also likely that had they done so, they would have been required to obtain an additional permit from the Defense Ministry due to the structure’s sensitive location.
Security sources confirmed that setters had purchased the structure, but said it was still unclear if the Palestinian who sold it to them was the building’s sole legal owner.
But the real issue, the security sources said, was the absence of a permit, as well as the building’s location in an otherwise Palestinian neighborhood in a section of the city under Israeli military control.
Indeed, the civil administration did not question the legality of the sale in its evacuation order and focused instead on security issues and the absence of permits.
It noted that none of the necessary permits for purchase and access to the structure had been obtained or even sought.
It said it wanted to return the property to its prior status, before Thursday’s events unfolded.
The civil administration said its primary consideration was maintaining public order and upholding the city’s status quo.
This will ensure normal living conditions and prevent friction between the populations that may lead to fighting and injuries, the administration said, referring to the tense relations in the city between Israelis and Palestinians.
Taking the law into one’s own hands in the area is prohibited, the civil administration said.
On Sunday, right-wing ministers and MKs had already appealed to Netanyahu to intervene and legalize the families’ presence in the building.
Netanyahu agreed to hold a special ministerial meeting to deal with the matter, but has not set a date.
Ministers who had hoped he would deal with the issue on Monday, say they now hope that the meeting will be held Tuesday.
Once the evacuation order was issued, Likud Ministers Yuli Edelstein, Gideon Sa’ar and Limor Livnat immediately issued statements in support of the residents.
Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) personally sent a letter to Netanyahu asking that he review the facts in a fair and balanced manner, saying the government should strengthen Jewish life in Hebron.
He called on Netanyahu to hold a security cabinet meeting on the matter.
Edelstein said, “The very fact that there is a discussion about signatures and forms shows that there is no problem with the rights and the purchase of the families in the house,” adding that he had examined the purchase documents.
“I call on the defense minister to immediately cancel the decision about the evacuation of the families and give them formal permission instead,” he said.
On Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m, a number of parliamentarians including Likud ministers Yisrael Katz and Moshe Kahlon plan to visit the apartment building, which is now a closed military zone.
Levinger said the families do not intend to voluntarily leave the building.
If an evacuation is ordered, it will be overseen by the IDF Central Command but the Border Policemen will mostly carry it out with IDF soldiers securing the perimeter.