US businessman who funded Beit Hashalom purchase comes to back claim

Activists offer documents, video, audio recording and personal testimony in bid to prove Hebron's Jews purchased Beit Hashalom.

hebron house buyer 248.88 tovah (photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
hebron house buyer 248.88 tovah
(photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
Morris Abraham, whose family lived in Hebron in the 1920s, arrived from New York Wednesday and announced that it was he who had funded the purchase of the disputed four-story building on the edge of Hebron for $1 million. In the latest effort by Hebron Jewish community to thwart an evacuation of the building, which it calls Beit Hashalom, a press conference was held Wednesday afternoon in which activists offered documents, a video, an audio recording and personal testimony in an effort to prove out of court that Hebron's Jews had purchased the building. Its Palestinian owner, Faez Rajabi, has rejected that claim. Although the issue of ownership is still under legal review, last week the High Court of Justice ruled that the state could evict the nine families living in the building. Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Wednesday that he planned to remove the residents soon. Speaking during a tour of the IDF's Hebron Brigade, Barak said the evacuation would be carried out by police and that the IDF would provide support. Settlers who live in the home as well as residents of Hebron and Kiryat Arba have vowed to resist all efforts to force them to leave. Hours after arriving here, Abraham said that he was joining the families and has temporarily moved into a room in the building. "No one is going to push me out of my house. I am here," Abraham told reporters in English. He said he flew to Israel after hearing that the IDF might move against the building. "I suggest that the officials who are doing this should please try to reach out to me," the 40-year-old father of four said, as he sat in front of a folding table, wearing a button-down shirt and a black kippa. Hebron has always had a place in his family's heart, said Abraham, who explained that his great-grandfather had come there from Iraq and survived the city's 1929 massacre, in which Arabs killed 67 Jews and forced the rest of the community to abandon the city. "We are not going to be driven out a second time," he said. Religiously, he said he also felt a strong connection to the biblical city. Even terror attacks have not forced his family to turn its back on it, he added. In the early 1990s, said Abraham, his parents and two younger sisters were leaving the city after a visit when their car's path was blocked by a number of Palestinian cars. "They looked up and saw people on rooftops with black masks throwing down boulders on the car. They were able to get out of it," he said. "When you are terrorized, you do not just walk away," he added, so he has continued to return to the city. Five years ago, on one of his many trips to Israel, Abraham said, a supporter of the settlers' efforts to acquire land suggested that he could help by purchasing property in Judea and Samaria, particularly in Hebron. They drove him past the building and told him it was available. Not wanting to attract attention, they didn't stop, but simply drove past. "They said, you can get it for one million [dollars]," recalled Abraham, who described himself as a businessman, but would not elaborate. "That night I called my father in the states and said, 'Dad, there is a situation in Israel. You always instilled in us love of the land. I told him about the building. "He said, 'if you feel it will make a difference go for it.' I called the individual and said 'we are willing to take a chance.'" Abraham said his family put together a legal team and began working on the project. It took three years to complete the purchase. On the night that the Hebron Jews moved in to the structure in March 2007, a meeting he held with a customer in New York was interrupted by a phone call from Israel reporting that families have moved into the building. At the time, Abraham said, he assumed that the government would not accept the purchase. "We knew it would be a battle. We knew it would not be easy. We thought as soon as we move in, the government would come and pull us out and call us squatters," said Abraham. Initially the police accepted their documentation as authentic, he said. Since then, he said, the legal system has not treated the case fairly. He showed journalists a video of the sale and an Arabic audio of a conversation, for which a Hebrew translation was provided, in which Rajabi spoke of the selling the home. In the court proceedings Rajabi has said neither the video or the cassette accurately portray the situation. Holding up signed documents, Abraham said the evidence was airtight, and that was needed was political will to uphold the sale. "Here we are, 19 months later, holding on to the building and we are going to continue to hold on to the building," said Abraham. What has happened here is not democratic, he said, adding that it endangers everyone in Israel. "If they take a house, legally purchased with documents, and remove a person from it, that would give them a right to remove any one of you from your houses tomorrow," he said. Abraham, who is affiliated with the Syrian Jewish community in Brooklyn through his mother, said that this community would lobby hard against any Israeli leader who evacuated the building. "They will not tolerate a leader of the Jewish state who would evacuate people who legally purchased property," he said. As he spoke, he was surrounded by families from his Brooklyn community who had come to Israel for a bar mitzva, as well as scores of young adults who have come to the house to help defend it against an evacuation. Since last week, five new families have moved into the building, including that of Shas MK Nissim Ze'ev. Barak on Wednesday warned those activists not to attack security personnel, as had happened during the destruction last month of the Federman Farm outpost. He said that any harm done to a soldier or policeman or anyone who represented the State of Israel was a "grave incident that expands the rift that is already harming the gentle fabric of democracy in Israel." Barak said Israel must "arrest these attackers, punish them with the full force of the law, since their actions are aimed at undermining the authority of the state." Hebron Jews have said they are not interested in attacking security personnel, but they do not intend to turn the other check and passively leave the structure.