UPDATE (Wednesday, 1:45 p.m. local): The Hebron police and the IDF evacuated this morning a house in Palestinian Hebron that had been occupied by Jewish settlers since last Thursday. The evacuation was preceded by a political back-and forth between government officials on the issue. Leading Likud members, including deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon have accused Defense Minister Barak of not respecting government policy. Some Likud members demanded that Prime Minister Netanyahu stop the evacuation.
Earlier today, security sources told Israeli media that the evacuation would take place only after Passover. Around noon the army made the settlers leave the house, located near the Cave of the Patriarchs.
This text was posted during the standoff between the army and the settlers
In many ways, the settler movement was born in Hebron, when religious Jews moved into a hotel in the occupied city on Passover in 1968. Settlers – often with the support of the government – have been trying to take over new houses in the city ever since. Roughly 20 percent of Hebron is affected by their presence: the army keeps a permanent presence in the area, shops have been closed, the Arab market was shut down, streets are blocked to Palestinian traffic and Jewish-only routes (like this one) declared. Following harassment from settlers, Palestinians are trying to move to other parts of the city. A survey conducted by B’Tselem and ACRI in 2007 found that at least 1,014 Palestinian housing units in the center of Hebron have been vacated by their occupants. This number represents 41.9 percent of all housing units in the relevant area.
According to an investigative report by Haaretz, the settler group that moved into the house this week bought it through a middleman, taking advantage of the dropping real-estate prices in the area of the city closer to the settlers’ homes. The settlers say that they have established legal claim over the house, and therefore have the right to continue occupying it. But such procedural arguments are totally out of context: the whole legal reality in the West Bank has to do with the IDF being the sole sovereign power since 1967. Under the military law the local commander has the authority to take control of every property he deems necessary for his purposes. Another IDF order, valid in Hebron but never implemented, demands that the army authorize every new settlement in advance. There is thus no legal problem with evacuating the settlers.
Here is a video of the forceful evacuation of the Palestinian group “Youth Against Settlements” from an empty property, which they feared was about to fall into the hands of the settlers:
While Palestinians are subject to military decisions which they cannot influence or object to, their settler neighbors enjoy legal rights under Israeli law, as well as the protection of their elected officials in the Knesset and government. Today, numerous Likud ministers paid a visit to Hebron, publicly protesting the intention to evacuate the settlers from their newly captured house. Indeed, the evacuation was postponed, with Netanyahu publicly urging Defense Minister Barak to let the settlers “exhaust their legal rights.”
Many of the reports regarding new colonization efforts in Hebron are indeed Israeli political theater. With elections expected to take place within a year or so, some ministers and Knesset members are trying to position themselves to the right of Prime Minister Netanyahu as advocates of new settlement projects. At the same time, Defense Minister Ehud Barak has probably given up on the hope that Netanyahu will place him and his party members from “Independence” on the Likud list for the next Knesset, so he needs to make his own political stand that would appeal to the center. Demanding the removal of an outpost or the evacuation of a single house is the perfect opportunity for him. In short, everyone is winning from the “conflict.”
UPDATE: As expected, Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Defense Minister Barak continue to publicly attack each other over the issue, with Ya’alon calling on the government to take away Barack’s authority to deal with the settlement in Hebron, and Barak accusing Yaalon of trying to win the hard-right voices.
This scenario is likely to repeat itself in the coming months, as the Supreme Court deadline for the evacuations of four outposts in the West Bank approaches. Yet we should make no mistake – even if the house in Hebron is emptied or the outposts destroyed, the commitment of the government to expanding the existing settlements and moving as many Jews as possible into the occupied, segregated West Bank remains as strong as ever.