Hebron marketplace slated for evacuation.

HEBRON, Israel – In what some believe is the beginning of a series of withdrawals from the West Bank, large numbers of Israeli forces yesterday continued amassing in the biblical city of Hebron to evict 11 families from their homes here in the oldest Jewish community in the world.

The Israeli Defense Forces declared Hebron a closed military zone, saying the move was a bid to stem the flow of protesters to the area ahead of the eviction of the families, who are living in a converted marketplace at the entrance to the Jewish section of the city.

IDF soldiers, snipers and police took over several buildings that surround the marketplace, while the residents inside were busy preparing food for the dozens of protesters stationed near the structure in hopes of preventing the evictions.

Military leaders say they will begin removing the protesters within the next 24 hours, and then they may proceed to carry out the evacuation of the structure’s residents.

The market, now converted to small, two-story apartments, was 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 merchants set up shop at 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 to strengthen Jewish ties to the area following the murder yards away from the market of an infant by a Palestinian sniper.

The market is integrated within the Hebron Jewish community and is directly adjacent to several apartments and Jewish municipal buildings. It is not located in an Arab neighborhood.

Even though the original owners of the property recently signed over the market to Hebron’s Jewish community and Israel’s Supreme Court ruled the structure was Jewish-owned, the government considers the current occupancy of the marketplace illegal since the families living inside did not negotiate their arrival with the IDF.

Girls in marketplace apartment prepping food for protesters. Photo: WND.

Israel last month announced it will remove the 11 families living in the market. Hebron residents believe the evacuation is imminent – families had until yesterday to leave on their own accord or they may be forcibly removed, according to the eviction notices obtained by WND. The notices were worded similarly to eviction documents distributed to Jews living in the Gaza Strip just before their withdrawal from the area last year.

Most of the 11 families told WND they plan to resist any eviction attempts.

“I am not leaving,” marketplace resident Miriam Grubowski told WND. “This isn’t just about a market, it’s about our country. After [the evacuation this past summer of the Gaza Strip] we see the government has the capacity to throw Jews from their homes. If they can evacuate us here and now, they can evacuate the rest of Hebron, the [entire West Bank] and even Jerusalem.”

Hebron spokesman David Wilder, whose daughter and son-in-law live in the marketplace, said he expects strong resistance against the soldiers.

“We will put up a fight. We are not going to greet the soldiers with songs like you saw in Gush Katif (Gaza’s former slate of Jewish communities).”

Many of the families are armed, but, Wilder said, “there are no plans whatsoever on the part of the residents to use weapons. This is not what we’re about. Still, there will be strong resistance.”

Wilder called the arrival of a massive number of troops to evict 11 families living in a structure within the Hebron Jewish community “a show of force to demonstrate this area [and all of the West Bank] is on the chopping block and might be given up by Israel. This is not about the market itself.”

Several senior Hebron Jewish leaders told WND they have been in negotiations with the military about the possibility of avoiding the evictions, but so far the talks have been unfruitful, they said.

“This whole thing can be worked out easily,” said a Hebron leader. “We can arrange to lease the land if that is what it takes. But the government wants a conflict. They want a media circus so the public understands that more withdrawals are on the way.”

Indeed, yesterday throngs of correspondents from international media outlets including CNN and Reuters were posted in the city.

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 by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War, with some prime ministers allowing Jewish construction in the city, and others calling it off.

Hebron is not the only Jewish city facing evictions in the next few weeks. 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.

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.

Meanwhile, a group of prominent Israeli rabbis has sent a letter to Olmert warning him to cancel the Hebron evictions to avoid a “personal catastrophe” akin to the massive stroke Sharon suffered several months after the Gaza withdrawal.

“We follow with concern the reports from Hebron on clashes between the people of Israel and IDF soldiers. These acts are a continuation of the eviction and destruction brought about by Sharon,” the rabbis wrote.

“It is out of sheer concern that we offer you, Mr. Olmert, not to walk down the path of your predecessors who brought disasters on the people of Israel. All those who harm the land of Israel declare war on God and his commands, and face the consequences. Don’t make the hasty move of abandoning the land of Israel, and don’t bring catastrophe upon the people of Israel and yourself.”

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