HEBRON, Israel – In what some here are calling the beginning of a possible large-scale withdrawal from the West Bank, Israeli forces are currently preparing to evict Jews from their homes in select area neighborhoods including the biblical city of Hebron, considered the oldest Jewish community in the world.

Clashes broke out here yesterday between Jewish protesters and hundreds of policemen and Israeli Defense Forces soldiers deployed in Hebron ahead of the announced eviction of eleven families from a marketplace near the entrance to the city.

The skirmishes began after a protest organized by community leaders was at the last minute declared illegal by Israel’s Police Authority. Rioters reportedly threw eggs and paint at security forces and yelled anti-withdrawal slogans. There were some reports of soldiers using excessive force against the protesters.

Protest leaders last week had obtained the necessary permits to hold the rally, but yesterday afternoon, after hundreds of Israelis had already amassed, police told the crowd the gathering had to be called off.

“People came to express their rights and protest,” said Mikey Rosenfeld, a Jerusalem resident who attended the gathering. “It was irresponsible of the authorities to call off the rally right as it was beginning. They knew the atmosphere was explosive, and they basically ignited it themselves with the last minute declaration.”

Israel earlier this month issued eviction notices to the resident’s of Hebron’s Mitspe Shalhevet, a marketplace built in 1929 after Arab riots temporarily forced Jews from the area. For a period of over 30 years, a sign was posted on the market boasting in Arabic the structure was built on stolen Jewish property.

Arab families had moved into the market but were asked to leave by the IDF after a series of clashes broke out in the mid-1990s. Then in 2001, Jewish families took up occupancy in the market to strengthen Jewish ties to the area after a Palestinian sniper murdered a Jewish infant nearby.

Even though the original owners of the property recently signed over the market to Hebron’s Jewish community, Israel considers the structure, in which eleven families currently reside, an illegal outpost.

Jews lived in Hebron – home to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, believed to be the resting place of biblical patriarchs and matriarchs – almost continuously for over 2,500 years. There are accounts of the trials of the city’s Jewish community throughout the Byzantine, Arab, Mameluke and Ottoman periods.

In 1929, as a result of an Arab pogrom in which 67 Jews were murdered, the entire Jewish community fled the city, with Hebron becoming temporarily devoid of Jews.

The Jews re-established their presence in Hebron after the West Bank was recaptured in the 1967 Six Day War, with some prime ministers allowing Jewish construction in the city, and others calling it off.

Hebron residents believe evacuation of the marketplace is imminent. The 11 families had until yesterday to leave on their own accord or they may be forcibly removed, according to the eviction notices obtained by WND, which were worded similarly to eviction documents distributed to Jews living in the Gaza Strip just before their withdrawal from the area.

Hebron is not the only Jewish city facing evacuations. In what some commentators here are calling the start of a larger withdrawal from the West Bank, Israel has announced several other area communities now face evacuation, including nine homes in the Binyamin community of Amona, a home in the large Gush Etzion block, and three hilltop outposts in northern Samaria.

Also, Israel is now debating closing off the main Jewish highway in the West Bank to Jewish traffic, rerouting the major commuter artery for the area’s roughly 200,000 Jews to a series of roads that run dozens of miles away from West Bank Jewish communities. The highway was constructed in the early 1990s to ease traffic for Arab and Jewish commuters, and to make it safer for Jews to travel throughout the West Bank by bypassing major Arab cities from which snipers had fired on Jewish vehicles.

Moshe Jacobs, a West Bank doctor who commutes during the week to his office in Jerusalem, told WND, “Now I am going to have to drive over 15 miles out of the way closer to major Arab cities to get to work. There is no reason in the world for this road to close. The only thing it will accomplish is make our lives uncomfortable and more dangerous.”

Sara Frankel, a resident of the West Bank town of Eli, said, “Before Israel evacuated Gaza, it took steps just like this to make life harder and conditions unsafe for the Gaza Jews by closing roads and taking away protection. If they close the highway it would be a clear step in the direction of a future forced evacuation.”

Indeed, just prior to the Gaza withdrawal, the Israeli army rerouted Jewish traffic, closed several roads and began removing army outposts from Jewish communities.

Several years before the withdrawal, residents of an entire Gaza Jewish community, Nitzarim, were banned from driving their vehicles on the only access road that led to their town. Instead, Nitzarim residents had to take hourly shuttles into their community provided by the IDF.

Last month, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced he is leaving the ruling Likud Party he helped found to start his own “centrist” party, Kadima, prompting new elections that will be held in March. The new party was widely regarded as a bid to carry out further Israeli withdrawals after Sharon drew the ire of senior Likud figures for his decision to evacuate Jews from Gaza.

Multiple Kadima members have stated the new party is looking to change Israel’s borders. Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is filling in for Sharon as head-of-state following the Israeli leader’s massive stroke two weeks ago, has expressed approval of West Bank withdrawals and has made statements to reporters about the possibility of vacating some parts of Jerusalem.

Olmert, currently leading in a series of national polls for the figure most likely to win in the upcoming elections, was the first Sharon deputy to go public with the Gaza-withdrawal plan.

The West Bank is considered landlocked territory not officially recognized as part of any country. Israel calls the land “disputed.” The United Nations claims the West Bank is “occupied” by Israel, which maintains overall control of most of the area while the Palestinian Authority has jurisdiction in about 40 percent. The Palestinians claim a population of roughly 2.4 million, but new demographic studies show the numbers are likely inflated. The actual Palestinian population could be up to 1 million less.

The territory remained under Jordanian rule from 1948 until Israel captured the West Bank in 1967 after Jordan’s King Hussein ignored Israeli pleas for his country to stay out of the Six Day War. Most countries rejected Jordan’s initial claim on the area, which it formally renounced in 1988.

The West Bank borders most of Israel’s major cities, including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Military strategists have long estimated Israel must maintain the West Bank to defend its borders from any ground invasion.

Many villages in the West Bank, which Israelis commonly reefer to as the “biblical heartland,” are mentioned throughout the Old Testament.

The Book of Genesis says Abraham entered Israel at Shechem (Nablus) and received God’s promise of land for his offspring. He was later buried in Hebron.

The nearby town of Beit El, anciently called Bethel meaning “house of God,” is where Scripture says the patriarch Jacob slept on a stone pillow and dreamed of angels ascending and descending a stairway to heaven. In that dream, God spoke directly to Jacob and reaffirmed the promise of territory.

And in Exodus, the holy tabernacle rested in Shilo, believed to be the first area the ancient Israelites settled after fleeing Egypt.

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