Peace Now, settlers clash in Hebron over evacuation demand

Dozens of Peace Now members and MKs marched to demand the evacuation of the disputed Beit HaMachpela.

Meretz head Zehava Galon attempts to speak with a Palestinian in Hebron before he is dragged away by Border Police during a Peace Now march. (Tovah Lazaroff)
Left-wing activists and settlers clashed in Hebron on Friday morning during a small rally demanding that the government evacuate the disputed Beit Hamachpela apartment building.
“The time has come to demand that the Israeli government order the evacuation of the squatters from the building,” said Meretz Party chairwoman Zehava Gal-On.
“It’s enough with the foot-dragging. Enough of surrender, of trampling the law, and of groveling before a group of extremists,” said Peace Now director-general Avi Buskila.
Gal-On and Buskila were among several dozen activists and members of the Meretz party who marched down Shuhadah Street and over to Beit Hamachpela.
They came to protest the government’s approval of a new Jewish apartment complex with 31 homes and its failure to remove 15 family who illegally moved into a four-story structure across the parking lot from the Tomb of the Patriarchs.
These projects are designed to force the expulsion of Palestinians from this area of Hebron, Gal-On said.
Hebron’s Jewish community says it purchased the building from its Palestinian owners, the Abu Rajab family, who have contested the sale.
The settlers say they have a right to live in the structure until the bureaucratic process authenticating the sale is completed.
The issue is now before the High Court of Justice.
But Peace Now and Meretz take issue in general with the presence of the 1,000-member Jewish community in Hebron.
“The occupation is at its ugliest in Hebron,” Buskila said. “A small and forceful group of settlers under the auspices of the government have taken the law into its own hands and has forced a grim reality on hundreds of thousands of people,” he said.
The left-wing activists walked down the street under a heavy Border Police guard and were continuously heckled by members of Hebron’s Jewish community and right-wing activists.
At each leg of the march, side arguments broke out between the marchers and the settlers.
“You are destroying the Jewish state, you are destroying democracy, you are turning this place into Syria. See how it looks here, every person needs a policeman,” a Peace Now activists said.
One settler played to the camera stating: “Our job is destroy the Left.”
Peace Now had hoped that Palestinian activist Issa Amru, who head the NGO Youth Against Settlements, would join them and speak.
But Border Police officers prevented his appearance when he stood on the outskirts of the parking lot to speak to the media. As he spoke with The Jerusalem Post, officers immediately forced him to walk away, and briefly detained him, saying that the area was a closed military zone.
Gal-On tried unsuccessfully to intervene. Amru, who wore a T-shirt that said Palestinians should be free, asked the police to show him the order showing it was a closed military zone. They said they didn’t have it, but would get it.
Jewish community spokesman Noam Arnon told the Post that at a time “when most of the world is disillusioned by Arab terror, they [the Left] continue to call for submission to terrorism and for the expulsion of Jews from the city of their forefathers.”
Arnon noted that Arab rioters in 1929 killed 67 Jews and destroyed the Jewish community in the city. Now that the community has been rebuilt, “the state has decided not to let them do that again.”
He made a veiled reference to the 1997 Hebron Agreement that split the city, placing 80% of it under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority, with the remaining 20% staying under the control of the Israeli military.
“There is an international agreement that recognizes [the Jewish community’s] legitimate right to develop [the area],” Arnon said.
“The Jewish community in Hebron is the symbol of victory over terror,” he said.