Dismay as Israeli settlers take over Hebron home
The dispute over a West Bank house highlights internal struggles among Palestinians and Israelis.
HEBRON, WEST BANK
It's late afternoon in this troubled town when an Israeli army jeep comes whizzing up the road, ferrying a few soldiers with orders: tack up an eviction notice on the large building that Jewish settlers took over 2-1/2 weeks ago.Skip to next paragraph
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Palestinian neighbors step into their doorways or peek out the windows, watching as a soldier tapes up small signs, telling the settlers that they've got 30 days to leave.
When the soldiers are gone, the signs are, too. They are quickly removed by settlers who say they're here to stay, and, in the words of one woman among the 13 families living here, to "see the redemption of another piece of the land of Israel."
Palestinians next door are dismayed, but not surprised. Their lives have become more miserable, they say, ever since Hebron was divided almost 10 years ago into two supposedly autonomous parts, one Israeli and one Palestinian.
At first glance, it might look like an old tango between Israelis and Palestinians – performed one too many times for anyone to get passionate about.
But this round has many unprecedented elements. The standoff over the big house on a hill, which local Palestinians say is owned by the Jaberi family and which Israeli settlers plan to name Heroes' Peak or Martyrs' Peak (both names were tacked on the bulletin board inside, as if trying them on for size), is not just one of those issues that complicates efforts to bring Israeli and Palestinian leaders back to the negotiating table, but also highlights internal struggles in both societies.
Israel's defense minister, Amir Peretz, issued the order for the settlers to leave, on the grounds that they moved in without the permission of the Israeli army or any security coordination with them. But Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is opposing Mr. Peretz, who is facing a challenge to his leadership inside the left-wing Labor Party in primaries next month.
Mr. Olmert's minister of industry, trade, and labor, Eli Yishai, went to the house Wednesday and announced that the settlers' place here was legitimate because it was in an area of Hebron assigned to Israeli control as part of the Oslo Accords, and that at any rate, was actually purchased by the settlers.
The who, what, and whether of the transaction is hotly contested. But a few claims are clear. The Hebron settlers' spokesman, David Wilder, says they bought the house for $700,000. A Palestinian man is in custody of Palestinian police in Jericho, and stands accused of selling the property to the settlers. Any such sale has been deemed a capital offense punishable by death by the Palestinian legislative council.
The religious tug of Hebron
It's been nearly 40 years since Israel wrested control of the West Bank from Jordan, taking with it Hebron, one of the ancient territory's most treasured and troublesome locales.
Almost immediately after the 1967 conflict, Jewish religious nationalists were keen to return to Hebron, where there had long been a Jewish community until an anti-Zionist riot in 1929 that killed 67 Jews and pushed the rest to flee. Post-Six Day War settlers began hunkering down in Hebron in 1968, against the Israeli army's orders.
Both Jews and Muslims revere the city's Tomb of the Patriarchs, where Abraham, Sarah, and other Biblical ancestors are believed to be buried, according to the book of Genesis.