In the past few days, settlers returned and established a new settlement in the heart of Hebron, expanding the Jewish presence in the city. The settlers entered a Palestinian house in Hebron, south of the Cave of the Patriarchs (across from the Sultan’s Pool), in an area without settler presence. The entry of settlers into the house indicates that the government and the army allow and support the establishment of this new settlement.
In recent years, there have been attempts by settlers to take control of homes, but these have failed as entry into the houses was blocked by a concrete wall. About a year ago, the settlers entered the same house through a set of stairs they placed above the concrete wall, but the army evicted them after a few days. This time, the concrete barriers preventing entry were removed, and the entrance leading to the main street was expanded, which seems like an agreement and understanding by the army.
Hebron and East Jerusalem are perhaps the most complex areas in the West Bank with regard to relations between settlers and Palestinians. Any change in ownership of a store, courtyard, and especially a structure means establishing a new settlement in the city. Many houses and properties in the part of the city controlled by Israel have remained vacant and abandoned over the past thirty years (since the horrific Baruch Goldstein Massacre in 1994) and serve as a target for settlers’ takeover.
Until recently, approvals for the settlement of new houses by the settlers required the approval of the Minister of Defense and the Prime Minister. As part of the transfer of civilian authority to Bezalel Smotrich, it was decided that in Hebron, the approval of settlement would be in the hands of Smotrich in coordination with Minister Yoav Gallant. The settlers’ entry into the house openly indicates that both ministers agreed to establish the new settlement. If the Minister of Defense did not approve the occupancy of the house by settlers, then the government should evacuate them promptly, as has been done in the past.
The new settlement is located on Shuhada Street (the settlers changed its name to King David Street), between the Pool of Siloam and the settlement of Avraham Avinu. This is an area populated by Palestinians and far from the existing settlements in the city. The new settlement is, in fact, an entry into a new area in the city.
Following the settler intrusions into their homes in the previous incident, the Jariwi family (the Palestinian owners) petitioned the High Court of Justice months ago to evict the settlers. The state responded that they had already evicted them. Now the situation has changed, and the state must submit a response to the court by July 30. The response will determine whether the renewed entry into the property was authorized by the state or if the settlers entered on their own accord. If there is no approval for settlers’ occupancy, the question arises as to why they are not evicted.
The process of transferring ownership of properties from Palestinians to Israelis:
The process of transferring ownership of properties from Palestinians to Israelis in the West Bank requires several bureaucratic, legal, and governmental steps.
For the property to be owned by the settlers, they need to undergo a process of initial registration. To initiate the process, they need to obtain a transaction permit. It is possible that the settlers have a transaction permit, or it is possible that they don’t have one. It is unclear if the settlers requested a transaction permit at all. Currently, the responsibility for issuing the permit lies with Minister Smotrich.
After receiving the transaction permit from the minister, the settlers can begin the process of initial registration, which requires publication in the press. Then the property owner can object, and a lengthy judicial process ensues in the Committee for First Registration to prove the transaction. If the committee accepts the settlers’ claims, the property is registered in their name, and the owner can appeal to the High Court of Justice.
The legal struggle to evict settlers from a property they have occupied is complex, can take many years, and requires the involvement of the state apparatus. An example of this can be seen in the case of the Bakri family, where settlers entered their home in early 2005, and the legal process concluded in early 2020 (click here for further reading on the family’s struggle and settlers’ methods of seizing property).
In our opinion, it should be forbidden to allow settlers to enter the property due to the implications for sovereignty and the impact on Palestinian way of life. But at the very least, they should not be allowed to enter before they complete the process of initial registration, especially in a city like Hebron, where thousands of Palestinian properties stand empty. Otherwise, anyone can claim that they purchased a property and present some document without the owner having a way to address the claims of the purchase. We assume that the appeal in the High Court of Justice will address whether they can be allowed to enter a house without proving that they purchased it.
Peace Now: “This settlement needs to be evicted before it is officially established. It doesn’t matter if the settlers bought the house or not, it is an illegal settlement in every way. If the government does not evict them immediately, as previous governments have done in similar cases, the implication is the establishment of yet another settlement, in addition to the ten settlements that the current Israeli government approved in the past year.”