Hebron settlers prepare for evacuation

Defying court order, MK Ze'ev moves into disputed building, says "I'll stay as long as I need to."

Hebron home 224.88 (photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
Hebron home 224.88
(photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
Right-wing activists baricaded in a disputed Hebron building were preparing early Wednesday for the possibility that authorities would carry out a court order calling on the the building's tenants to vacate the premises by morning. On Tuesday afternoon, lugging a red suitcase and calling on other politicians to join him, MK Nissim Ze'ev (Shas) defied the evacuation order by the High Court of Justice and moved into the four-story building. "I will stay here as long as I need to, until the army comes. I hope that if we are here, the army won't come," said Ze'ev, as he came to take up residence at Beit Hashalom. The eviction order was issued Sunday, spurring the Hebron Jewish community and right-wing activists throughout the country to launch protest actions. They have pledged not to abandon the structure, located on the main road between Kiryat Arba and the Cave of the Patriarchs. On Tuesday night, some 1,000 activists gathered in Kiryat Arba to listen to rousing speeches against the eviction, after which four new families moved into the structure, joining the nine who already live there. Standing in front of a roaring crowd, Rabbi Zalman Melamed called on policemen and soldiers not to participate in the eviction. "Police have to tell their commanders, 'I joined the force to preserve the law and not to unjustly evict Jews from their homes,'" he said. According to Hebron community spokeswomen Orit Stuck, the activists have pledged to avoid violence against the security forces. But at Tuesday night's meeting, MK Arye Eldad, (NU-NRP), warned that any evacuation attempt would meet with even stronger resistance than occurred when nine empty homes were destroyed at the Amona outpost in February 2006. More than 200 security personnel and activists were injured during those confrontations. "Those who evacuate Beit Hashalom will long for Amona," Eldad said. MK Uri Ariel (NU-NRP) said, "If we are attacked, we will defend ourselves." With an eye to the upcoming national elections, Eldad called on Likud Party leader Binyamin Netanyahu to pledge not to evacuate the building should he become prime minister. Eldad noted that the Amona clashes also occurred during an election campaign. Former Likud MK Ayoub Kara slammed Kadima and its party leader Tzipi Livni. "The State of Israel won't become Kadima's casino," said Kara. Of Livni he said, "You are not good for Israel, you are good for Hamas." Members of Hebron's Jewish community first moved into Beit Hashalom in March 2007, claiming that they had purchased the building from its Palestinian owner Faez Rajabi. Police have said the documents of sale were forged. Although the issue of ownership is still under legal debate, the High Court of Justice has said there is enough administrative evidence to uphold the Palestinian claim and that, as such, the Hebron Jews should not live there. But some 50 Knesset members, including 10 from Kadima, have expressed support in recent months for the right of Hebron Jews to the structure. None, however, have gone as far as Ze'ev, who plans to sleep there with his family and to hold some of his reception hours there. "All the parliamentarians who have spoken out on behalf of this building should sleep here and open an office here as well," he said. Before heading to Hebron, he secured the support of Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, he said. His party, he added, was working to appeal the decision, or at least delay its implementation until after the February 10 elections. "It cannot be that families will be taken out of here by force," the MK said. But like Eldad, he warned, that if they were, "then the chapter of Amona will repeat itself."