Settlers have won a victory in their ongoing attempt to grab land for a new settlement in Hebron. On March 11 the Israeli Supreme Court agreed to hand over the Al-Rajabi building in the Old City of Hebron to settlers, despite the devastating humanitarian impacts of the decision on Palestinians living in the neighborhood. The Hebron Rehabilitation Committee (HRC) has appealed to the international community to speak out against this violation of Palestinian property rights, and to use all means available to prevent the creation of a new settlement in the Old City of Hebron.
The ownership of Al-Rajabi building has been disputed since 19 September 2007, when a group of settlers stormed the building in the middle of the night claiming its ownership. In November, 2008, the court found that the settler’s purchase documents were forged and evicted them, placing the building in under military control pending a final decision. In reaction Hebron settlers set fire to Palestinian homes, farms, olive trees, and vehicles in the area. Six Palestinians were injured, two with live ammunition. On 11 March 2014, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the Palestinian owners of the building will be forced to accept payment from Israeli settlers of the amount specified in the forged sale documents. The decision forces the Palestinian owner of Al-Rajabi building to sell to the Israeli settlers against his will. A 30 minute walk from the Al Rajabi building settlers are using “archaeology” in an attempt to rewrite the history of the city and take control of two large plots of land on top of the hilly neighborhood of Tel Rumeida.
Until early this year the graves lay peacefully beneath the orchard of the Abu Haikal family in Tel Rumeida. On January 5 Israeli settlers and soldiers uprooted 50 almond trees belonging to the Abu Haikal family, and began digging on two plots of land which surround the family’s home, and which the family has rented and cultivated for 65 years.
Since January the settlers have used heavy earth-moving equipment to remove truckloads of soil from the orchard. Tall metal fences now cut the Abu Heikal home off from the orchard, leaving the house accessible by only a narrow drive. Fencing of the land, which soldiers have declared a “closed military zone” has also isolated portions of the Tel Rumeida neighborhood, making it difficult for residents to walk to shops and the Mosque.
According to Hamed Salem, chairperson of Birzeit University’s archaeology department, the dig is illegal and is merely an attempt to “advance the settler’s political agenda by using archaeology to justify their presence in Hebron”. (Electronic Intifada) An archaeologist from the Palestinian Ministry of Antiquities recently attempted to inspect the site but was denied access. The Israeli Culture Ministry and Civil Administration are financing the dig, and expect it to cost an estimated NIS 7 million. Residents of Tel Rumeida fear that because such a large sum has been allocated there may be plans for much greater destruction of surrounding ancient olive trees and orchards. The Abu Haikal family is currently challenging the legality of the excavation in the Israeli Civil Court system. Roughly midway between the Al Rajabi building and Tel Rumeida, near the Ibrahimi Mosque, settlers are attempting to gain control of five buildings. The Boudieri House and the Tomb of Abner, both directly outside the entrance to the Ibrahimi Mosque, the Ashhab Shops, across the street from the Gutnick Center, which is directly in front of the Ibrahimi Mosque, the Abu Rajab house near Checkpoint 209, and the Al-Sharif House, the front door of which opens onto the street just below the Ibrahimi Mosque. In recent months settlers and soldiers seeking to access the AL-Sharif building have attempted to open the house from the front directly below the mosque by breaking open a welded door, and have repeatedly invaded the home of the Al-Atrash family which shares an enclosed courtyard with the Al Sharif building. If settlers are allowed to occupy these seven sites the humanitarian impacts on residents of Hebron’s Old City neighborhoods will be devastating. The targeted properties are links in a chain which, if completed, would effectively encircle the Ibrahimi Mosque and link the four existing settlements inside the Old City to the larger settlement of Kyriat Arba which borders the Old City. This would result in many Palestinian neighborhoods and homes being cut off from access to schools and services, and would put all of the Old City under increased risk of settler incursions and violence. Currently about 500 settlers live in the four downtown Hebron settlements of Beit Hadassah, Avraham Avinu, Beit Romano and Tel Rumeida. An additional 7000 live in Kyriat Arba.