PA: Israeli seizure of Hebron municipal powers for elevator is a crime

Naftali Bennett: 'Every person, irrespective of whether or not they are disabled, should have the opportunity to visit the tomb, which is an important Jewish heritage site'

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett is seen in Hebron. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett is seen in Hebron.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Palestinian Authority denounced as a “crime” Israel’s seizure of municipal power from the Palestinian Authority in Hebron for construction of an elevator and an access route that would make the Tomb of the Patriarchs – known to Muslims as the Sanctuary of Abraham, or the Ibrahimi Mosque – wheelchair accessible.
This “provocative and malicious” project would pave the way for Israel to fully control the Tomb of the Patriarchs, the PA Ministry of Religious Affairs warned on Monday.
Under terms of the 1997 Hebron agreement between Israel and the PA, construction of the elevator project would typically need the approval of the Hebron Municipality, which is run by the Palestinians.
The site of the tomb itself, however, is under the auspices of the IDF. In light of the municipality’s objection to the project, the only way for Israel to move forward was to place the project under the auspices of the Civil Administration.
On Sunday, the Defense Ministry gave the project its final green light after receiving approvals from the Prime Minister’s Office as well as the Foreign and Justice ministries.
The PA Foreign Ministry said the project was not about wheelchair accessibility but rather timed at increasing Jewish access to the site in general. Israel had confiscated land in Hebron to “construct a settlement road for settlers to reach the Ibrahimi Mosque,” the Foreign Ministry said.
It added that the project was aimed at, “changing Arab and Islamic features and the identity of the Palestinian region, and to create new realities that fall within the framework of a widespread Judaization process.”
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett’s decision, the ministry added, represents “the ugliest racist exploitation of the world’s and the Palestinian people’s preoccupation with the coronavirus pandemic to implement this expansionist colonial scheme.”
The ministry further claimed that US “bias” in favor of Israel has “given Israel the green light to persist in settlement operations and violate the sanctity of Islamic and Christian sanctities, including the Ibrahimi Mosque. This colonial and racist decision is a crime in accordance with international law, the Geneva Conventions and the Rome Statute, which requires the international community to move quickly to put pressure on the occupation authorities to discourage them from implementing these Judaization projects.”
The Hebron Municipality called on the international community to assume its responsibilities towards the Palestinian issue and stop Israel “from altering the features of the occupied territories.” The municipality said that it will not remain silent “towards these flagrant violations,” adding that the entire site and its surroundings belong only to Palestinians and Muslims.
THE PALESTINIAN ruling Fatah faction also strongly condemned the project and said it was “a continuation of the massacre of the Ibrahimi Mosque committed by the terrorist [Baruch] Goldstein in 1994,” in which 29 Muslim worshipers were killed.
Fatah spokesperson Osama Qawassmeh said in a statement that “Israel's crimes against the Palestinian people are the most heinous in history, and attack humanity as a whole and the cultural heritage of all humanity.”
Several Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip also denounced the project as “a new aggression and crime” against the Palestinians and their holy sites.
Hebron’s Jewish community and right-wing politicians and activists have long lobbied to make the site wheelchair accessible. At present, the Jewish sanctuaries in the tomb can only be reached by climbing a long staircase.
In approving the project, Bennett spoke of its importance in making the site handicap accessible.
“The time has come to move forward. We have green-lighted the elevator project to end the many years of discrimination at the site. Every person, irrespective of whether or not they are disabled, should have the opportunity to visit the tomb, which is an important Jewish heritage site,” Bennett said.
But he acknowledged that the move was also about asserting Israeli rights to the site, where the Jewish patriarchs and matriarchs are buried.
“This is what it means to develop the settlements, with deeds and not words. I thank the prime minister and the foreign minister for their help in this matter.”
He authorized the Civil Administration’s Higher Planning Council to seize all the necessary administrative planning powers necessary from the Hebron Municipality so the project could be completed.
Similarly, Bennett authorized the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), Maj.-Gen. Kamil Abu Rukon to take all action necessary to expropriate access land at the site necessary for the wheelchair and elevator project.
The project already has the approval of the Prime Minister's Office, the Foreign Ministry and the Justice Ministry.