Israel PM backs decision to evacuate settlers from disputed Hebron houses
The office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement on Friday supporting the minister of defense's decision to evacuate a group of Jewish settlers who had entered homes in a Palestinian neighborhood near Hebron's Cave of the Patriarchs in the West Bank.
Netanyahu made it clear that he supported the settlements and praised the settlers who are "fighting terror with courage and determination every day," however noted that "we are all obliged to respect the law, and in this case approvals have not been settled."
The statement continued by noting that "once that has happened, the residents will be able to return to their homes."
On Monday, US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro sparked a row with Netanyahu after the envoy claimed that there were separate rules of law for Israelis and Palestinians.
Dozens of Israeli Jews entered two homes in a building in the center of the city on Thursday, sparking violent clashes over disputed ownership claims.
The removal of the settlers under orders from Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon on Friday concluded without incident and the Israeli Defense Forces issued an order prohibiting further entry into the building. Security forces were stationed outside to prevent any attempts by settlers to enter.
Yishai Fleisher, a spokesperson for the local Jewish community, said the homes had been bought from the residents legally -- who had evacuated ahead of time.
According to the Israeli news site Ynet, the mayor of Kiryat Arba, the Jewish settlement on the outskirts of Hebron produced documents that allegedly prove the validity of the purchases.
According to Israel's Channel 10, the Israeli Civil Administration is investigating whether the property was purchased legally.
Under Palestinian law, it is illegal to sell homes to Israelis in the West Bank.
Right-wing political condemnations
The Jewish home party, a member of Prime Minister Netanyahu's coalition, attacked defense minister Yaalon who "on the midst of a terror wave acts decisively and with no compromise to throw Jews out of their homes," i24NEWS' diplomatic correspondent Tal Shalev reports.
In a statement from the party, Yaalon's action's were condemned as "irresponsible", suggesting the ownership documents can be checked without "throwing Jews out of their homes", and saying Yaalon should "direct his passion to address Arab terror and illegal construction in terrorists' cities and villages".
The office of Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked did not respond to i24NEWS' request for comment.
Bezalel Smutrich, MK from the Jewish Home, announced he will not support the coalition in parliamentary votes until the Hebron Jews will be allowed to return to their homes, which according to Smutrich were legally purchased.
According to Shalev, the move was also slammed by members of Netanyahus own Likud party. Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein condemned the evacuation and called on the political level to "check the legality of the purchase and not fuel the flames with evacuation".
Edelstein said in a statement that "when Jewish communities abide by the law, the appropriate thing would be to wait with the evacuation and examine the legal options to strengthen the Jewish communities. These days, when our enemies are trying to hurt us and undermine our right for this land it is right to convey a message that we are back home".
Minister of Immigration and cabinet member Zeev Elkin called on Yaalon to stop the evacuation "immediately". According to Elkin, "this is the time to fight terror and strengthen Jewish communities, not fight them. It is better, in the name of law and order, that Yaalon take care of the PA and leftist activists who execute Palestinians who dare to sell homes or lands to Jews."
MK Oren Hazan threatened that "if a solution will not be found for the Hebron houses, I do not commit to supporting the coalition in votes", attacking defense minister Yaalon's "private security policy."
Since Netanyahu has a narrow coalition of 61 members, a threat by any member of the coalition not to support parliamentary legislation could lead to a political paralysis, explains Shalev.
Yaalon responded to his critics, saying that "Israel is a state of law, and I have no intention of compromising when the law is violated. In the case of the houses in Hebron the law was violated. In order to occupy the houses, there were a number of legal actions that need to be, none of which were done. Therefore the invaders were evacuated."
He continued to address the politicians to opposed the eviction, saying "I call upon the ministers, Knesset members and elected officials to act responsibly, to curb their statements and to support the rule of law - and to not encourage taking the law into their own hands. This is a sure recipe for anarchy. Conduct and statements of some politicians on this subject borders on anarchy and harms our national strength."
"The settlement is important to me and I work for it, but I will not compromise on the law. Claims of the purchase of the units will be reviewed, as well as all political and security aspects before approving habitation," Yaalon said, adding that "those who are working in violation of the law, do not help the settlement, but rather they hurt it."
Powder keg city
Yaalon would have to approve the settlers' move, which would in effect expand the boundaries of the Jewish enclave in Hebron.
The building is located near the Cave of the Patriarchs, known as the Ibrahimi Mosque to Muslims, which is held sacred by both Jews and Muslims as the biblical burial site of Abraham.
Hebron, a stronghold of the Islamist movement Hamas and a powder keg in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is a city where 500 Israeli settlers live among Palestinians behind barbed-wire, observation towers and under army protection.
Since September, almost daily attacks and clashes between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers across Israel and the West Bank have killed 136 on the Palestinian side and 25 Israelis. Many of the Palestinians killed have been attackers, while others have been shot dead by Israeli security forces during clashes.
Following the death of Genady Kaufman, a Hebron resident, from a stabbing attack in December Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, "I say to anyone who is trying to uproot us from the Cave of the Patriarchs – that except for a few years in the previous century, we have been there for nearly 4,000 years, and we will stay there forever. You cannot defeat us."
The Jewish community in Hebron also released a statement following Gennady's death saying, "the State of Israel should liberate Hebron from the talons of the 'terror authority' and begin to rule as an enlightened regime for the security of the residents of Israel."
The stabbings, shootings and car rammings have mainly been carried out by "lone wolf" attackers who have defied calls for peaceful resistance to Israel's so-called occupation.
Many of them have been young people, including teenagers, reflecting anger and lost hope over Israel's occupation, the Palestinians' fractured leadership and the complete lack of progress in peace efforts, analysts say.
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