Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Settlers move into strategic Hebron enclave

By Beth Staton - April 22, 2014
Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation] [Features]
Tags: [Hebron] [Settlement Expansion]

At the edge of Hebron’s old city, the sound of construction is clearly audible from the Rajabi building. The empty 3000 square meter structure, which could potentially house dozens of apartments, overlooks a Mosque, a sprawling cemetery, and several Palestinian homes. And now, it has become the newest Israeli settlement enclave in the Palestinian city of Al Khalil.
Three families reportedly moved into the building on Sunday, along with the approval of Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon. His decision came after seven years of legal wrangling, culminating in a decision by the Israeli High Court decision that the settlers had legally purchased the property, a structure which they previously occupied in 2007 and 2008. In Israel, the building is known both as the “House of Peace” and the “House of Contention.”
For Bassam Jabari, the return of the settlers is deeply troubling. The 47-year-old father of eight lives a stone’s throw away from the building, and witnessed the results when settlers last set up home there. “The ones that are building and cleaning the place now are the same people as before,” he told Palestine Monitor. “They are the worst kind of settlers. They used to put masks on an attack the people here.” 
When settlers were evicted from the building in 2008, the resulting violence injured more than 35 people, including two Palestinians who were shot by a settler at close range. Jabari’s street, which is also bordered by the settlement of Kiryat Arba settlement, falls within the Israeli controlled H2 area of Hebron--an area closed to virtually all Palestinian vehicles. According to Hisham Sharabati, Coordinator at the Hebron Defence Committee, the occupation of the new building will “only increase the nightmare for the Palestinians that live here.”
A statement of intent
The neighborhood’s troubles are not unusual in Hebron, an area which has been gradually eaten away by settlement enclaves over the past several decades. These areas, and the roads surrounding them, have varying degrees of access and movement restrictions for Palestinians. The Rajabi building could have a particularly profound impact on the community, says Sharabati, because it links Kiryat Arba, a 7,500 strong settlement with a radical reputation, with the old city of Hebron. Converting the block into a major enclave of at least 30 apartments will consolidate Israeli encroachment on the city itself. 
Settler representatives were not shy to confirm that strategy. “We hope the entry of these families will be key to future purchases and construction in Kiryat Arba, Hebron and all of the land,” Malahi Levinger, the head of Kiryat Arba’s Council, told the Jerusalem Post
Sharabati, however, believes otherwise. “All of the time Hebron is a place of tension,” he said. “There is a system of separation in the city: 520 shops closed by direct military order, 100 kinds of restrictions on movement. If it’s going to become a settlement, this new building will become a big enclave. And that will mean more military protection, harassment, destruction of Palestinian property and provocation, just like everywhere in the West Bank.”
Exacerbating the situation is the fact that in H2, the area of Hebron where the Rajabi building stands, civilian law applies to Israelis while Palestinians live under military rule. The double standard means Israeli authorities often tolerate, or even enable, settler transgressions, and powerful individuals in Hebron’s Jewish community often escape censure for bad behaviour. In one recent incident, Malahi Levinger was filmed uprooting crops and harassing Palestinians as Israeli police and soldiers stood by and watched. 
“These settlers are called rotten apples,” says Sharabati, “but they are protected by the Israeli services. If the settlers fight with the Palestinians, it is the Palestinians who will get arrested. To me, this is state sponsored terror.”
Jabari has experienced this first-hand. Attacks and harassment were common when the Rajabi building was previously inhabited, particularly on Fridays and Saturdays. Once, said Jabari, settlers came to his shop, dragged his son outside and beat him up. When Jabari intervened, he was arrested with his son and detained for six hours, outdoors in cold weather: the settlers, he says, called a lawyer and were released. “All this legal procedure and enforcement of the law?” Jabari said, “It’s a big lie.”
“House of Contention”
The settlers' claim on the home rests on the argument the building was purchased legally from its Palestinian owner. When the group were first evicted in 2008, The Israeli High Court rejected ownership claims because the documents the settlers had submitted to prove their ownership had been forged. The building was then placed under military control until September 2012, when a District Court judged that the settler group rightfully owned the property.
“This was a shock,” said Mohammed Hamdan, who is working on the case as Head of the Legal Unit at the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee (HRC). “We knew the settlers had used forged documents. They have no credibility,” Hamdan said. The HRC, which represents the original owner of the property, appealed the decision. But this March, the Israeli High Court upheld the judgement and gave the parties one month to complete the transaction that would in turn give the settlers full ownership of the house.
“We can see a collaboration between the authorities and the settlers here,” Hamdan told Palestine Monitor. “Settlers need approval from the Ministry of Defence to develop settlements: that makes them a formal institution. Judges are settlers too, and there is support from Israeli forces.
“But Israel must respect the law. The judgement does not mean this settlement is legal. It is a crime under international law to transfer the population of an occupying power to the occupied territory, whether or not a transaction has taken place.”
Today, the HRC is considering a final attempt at challenging the High Court's decision. Representing the local community, lawyers will make the case that Israeli courts and settlers are violating the jurisdiction of the Hebron municipality through unilaterally developing the Rajabi building. 
Uncertain future
But in Bassam Jabari's small store, legal avenues seem a distant path to justice. “We are helpless,” he said, sitting behind the table where he makes and mends shoes. That business doesn’t generate enough income these days, so Bassam has converted part his workshop into a simple grocery. “We have lost hope from every side.”
Outside his home, on the road where he is forbidden from driving, Israeli flags now hang from every lamppost. This week, Bassam said, his new neighbors say they plan to celebrate their latest move; for the local community, it is news that can only bring more anxiety.

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