MKs to PM: Let Jews return to Hebron

Community spokeswoman 'impressed' by documentation backing claim to market.

hebron market 298.88 (photo credit: Channel 10)
hebron market 298.88
(photo credit: Channel 10)
A group of parliamentarians on Wednesday called for the return of the Jews to the wholesale market place in Hebron, just one week after they were forcibly evicted from that area by some 3,000 members of the security forces. "We asked the government to give this building back to the [Hebron Jewish] community," said MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima), who heads the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Sub-committee on the West Bank. The committee voted to ask Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak to authorize Jewish settlement of the marketplace, said Schneller. Spokesmen for both Barak and Olmert had no comment on the matter. The Hebron Jewish community has long contended that they have both a legal and historic right to live in the marketplace, which lies near one of the main entrance ways to the Jewish Avraham Avinu neighborhood. The community's spokeswoman Orit Struck, who attended the sub-committee meeting, said she was impressed by the quantity of legal opinion and documentation that supported the Jewish claim to the marketplace. Historically the marketplace had been owned and operated by Jews prior to the 1929 Hebron massacre that destroyed the Jewish community in that city. After the War of Independence in 1948, when Jordan was in control of the West Bank, it gave the marketplace area to the Custodian of Abandoned Properties, which then leased it to the Hebron Municipality. The municipality rented the shops to local Palestinians, who operated stalls there until 1994, when they were expelled by Israel. Eight Jewish families moved into the empty stalls after a Palestinian sniper killed a 10-month-old baby Shalhevet Pass there in 2001 as her mother held her. In January 2006 the families agreed to voluntarily leave the marketplace after they reached an agreement with the IDF that steps would be taken to allow their legal return to the area. Attorney General Menahem Mazuz later annulled that agreement. Since then two families moved into two empty stalls that directly abutted the Avraham Avinu neighborhood. Last week, they were forcibly removed from the shops. After the evacuation, security forces broke through the walls of all eight shops to ensure that families would not move back in. In one section of four shops the front walls were almost completely removed and large holes were placed through the back walls, so that it is possible to see directly through the shops. The kitchens, inside walls, stairwells, and the second story floors can be seen by those who pass by. Soldiers have been posted to guard the area. Schneller said that while the families lived there without authorization, it was problematic for the committee to intervene. Now that they have left, he said, it was possible for the committee to request permission for the Jewish community to return to the shops. MK Ran Cohen (Meretz), who is a member of the sub-committee, said that he opposed the return of Jews to the marketplace. "The decision to allow Jews into the marketplace is not a historical or legal one, but rather a matter of the government's diplomatic policy, which should be decided at that level," Cohen said. But Struck said that a return to the marketplace was consistent with the government's policy to protect historic Jewish property worldwide. "It is only here in Israel that this doesn't happen," Struck added.