On 1 November 2018, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announced his intention to begin planning on a new settler compound in Hebron’s Old City.
Peace Now: “The settlement in Hebron is the ugliest face of Israel’s control in the Occupied Territories. In order to maintain the presence of 800 settlers among a quarter of a million Palestinians, entire streets in Hebron are closed to Palestinians, denying them freedom of movement and impinging on their livelihoods. Moreover, by implementing the “right of return” for Jews, the Netanyahu government has pulled the rug out from under Israel’s moral basis for its resistance to recognizing the right of return for the Palestinians, thus endangering Israeli interests.”
Location – The proposed site for the new compound is on top of the shops of Old City Hebron’s wholesale market, just off Shuhadah Street, by the existing settler compound of Avraham Avinu.
Following the massacre of Palestinian Muslim worshippers by Israeli terrorist Baruch Goldstein in 1994, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) closed the once thriving wholesale market due to concerns of a Palestinian revenge attack on the nearby settlers. At the Hebron Protocol, signed by then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Arafat in 1997, Israel committed to re-open the wholesale market in Hebron as part of the “Normalization of Life in the Old City.” However this commitment was never implemented and the shops are still closed to this day.
In 2001 settlers broke into the closed shops and converted them into apartments. The Civil Administration issued an eviction order, but the settlers were only evicted in 2006 after a long court case filed by the Hebron Municipality together with the shopkeepers (HCJ 5097/01).
Status of the plan – The detailed plan for the new settlement is not yet ready. Defense Minister Liberman announced the approval to move forward with preparing a plan. Only after the plan is ready, which may take several months, can the authorities bring it to the Civil Administration’s Higher Planning Committee for the approval process to begin. The approval process might take several months or even years, and there might be objections and petitions to the courts against the plan, which would take even more time. According to sources in the Ministry of Defense, the plan will include the construction of some 15 units on top of the shops, which will be preserved.
Legal Status – The plot of land was owned by Jews before 1948. After the Jordanians occupied the West Bank in the 1948 War, Jordan leased the plot under protected tenancy to the Municipality of Hebron, which in turn built the city’s wholesale market there. After Israel captured the West Bank in 1967, it continued the leasing agreement until the 1994 Massacre. However, since the plot was leased in protected tenancy to the Municipality of Hebron, the longstanding opinion of the Israeli government’s legal advisors has held that the state cannot override the protected tenancy without a legal process, in accordance with protected tenancy laws. For the previous legal advisor’s opinion, click here.
According to DM Liberman’s announcement, there is a new opinion by his ministry’s legal advisor that permits the wholesale market to be allocated for Israeli settlement purposes, overriding the Hebron Municipality’s rights. As in the case of the plan to build 31 housing units known as “Hezekiah Quarter”, the new legal standpoint of the Israeli authorities is that the Municipality’s rights can be revoked. The Hebron Municipality, as well as Peace Now, filed objections over the approval of the 31 units, claiming it violated planning laws and that the allocation of the land to the settlers was illegal because of the protected tenancy status of the Hebron Municipality. The objections are still pending the decision of the Higher Planning Committee, and if they will be rejected, the Hebron Municipality and Peace Now will probably file a petition to court, where the question of the allocation of the land will be decided.
Analysis – The Defense Ministry’s new opinion for building this new settlement compound is yet another example of how the government is currently reinterpreting existing laws in order to circumvent current restrictions on settlement building that safeguard Palestinian private property and protected tenancy. This in turn is part of a broader trend of settlement-backed government efforts to confiscate land, and legalize and expand Israeli settlements with the aim of de facto Israeli annexation of the West Bank. More on those changes of the rules of the game in the legal interpretation of the laws of occupation can be read here.
Since Israel’s founding, it has denied the Palestinian right of return to properties lost in the 1948 War. By allowing new settlements to be built under the excuse of the Jewish ownership before 1948, the Defense Minister undermines the moral basis of this longstanding Israeli claim for preventing Palestinians from reclaiming their abandoned properties.
This is the third major settlement development in Hebron in the past three weeks. On 14 October, the government allocated NIS 21.6 million ($5.6 million) to a settlement plan for 31 housing units on the site of a military base near the Beit Romano compound, and on 16 October various governmental agencies held an opening ceremony for a new touristic settlement archeological site in Tel Rumeida.