JERUSALEM – Fresh from ordering security forces to destroy a synagogue built by Jews to pray near Joseph’s Tomb, Judaism’s third holiest site, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert now has directed his forces to forcibly evict two families that moved into a market in Jewish sections of Hebron, the oldest Jewish community in the world.
The evictions are scheduled for Monday. Israel says the occupation of market by the two families is illegal since their arrival wasn’t coordinated with the Israeli military.
The market in question, now converted to small, two-story apartments, was built in 1929 after Arab riots temporarily forced Jews from Hebron – the first time the city was without a Jewish presence in over 2,500 years. For more than 30 years, a sign was posted on the market boasting in Arabic that the structure was built on stolen Jewish property.
Arab merchants illegally set up shop at the market but were asked by the Israel Defense Forces to leave after a series of clashes broke out in the mid-1990s. Even though the market was stolen by the Arabs, Hebron’s Jewish community purchased the market from its original Arab occupants in 2001.
In January 2006, Jewish families took up occupancy to strengthen Jewish ties to the area following the murder of an infant by a Palestinian sniper, yards away from the market.
The market, integrated within the Hebron Jewish community, is adjacent to several Jewish apartments and Jewish municipal buildings. It is not located in an Arab neighborhood. It doesn’t require any original additional protection from IDF soldiers already patrolling the area.
Despite the original property owners’ recent signing over of the market to Hebron’s Jewish community, as well as Israel’s Supreme Court ruling that the structure was Jewish-owned, the government considers the occupancy of the marketplace illegal, saying families living inside did not negotiate their arrival with the IDF.
Following a standoff with the army last year, the Jews who had moved into the market decided to leave, reportedly after receiving promises from military officials they could return a few months later, after the court systems – which deemed the property Jewish – worked with the IDF to verify the legality of the Jewish residence.
But Israel’s attorney general overturned the Supreme Court decision and declared the residents cannot move in.
Still, two Jewish families recently moved back in, and Olmert’s government immediately ordered that they be evacuated by Monday, even threatening that the families may need to reimburse the IDF for the costs of their evacuation.
Shlomit Bar-Kochba, who was among those who agreed to vacate in January 2006, moved back into the market with her husband and eight children. She told the Jerusalem Post she was shocked by the interest of the Olmert government in her move.
“We didn’t think it would interest anyone that we returned,” she said. “I thought it doesn’t interfere with anyone. We came back very quietly. We didn’t make noise or celebrate.”
“The agreement was that we would leave in January, and shortly they would allow us to return,” she said, explaining that when the agreement didn’t come to fruition months later, her family decided not to wait anymore.
It seemed illogical to her, she told the Post, that the government was upset by their presence some 10 months later, explaining no additional security was required and that her home sits on land owned by Jews.
Hebron is home to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, believed to be the resting place of biblical patriarchs and matriarchs. Jews lived in Hebron for thousands of 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 – including the market – becoming temporarily devoid of Jews.
Olmert’s decision to single out for evacuation two Jewish families living in Jewish sections of Hebron has been called into question by religious leaders here.
While Jewish construction projects deemed illegal in Jewish cities in the West Bank are regularly bulldozed or evacuated by the government, Olmert’s office has taken no action against hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living in illegal outposts in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
WND also previously reported the city of Jerusalem, under orders from Olmert, deleted files documenting hundreds of illegal Arab building projects throughout eastern sections of Jerusalem housing tens of thousands of Palestinians, according to a report by the Jerusalem Forum, which promotes Jewish construction in the city.
Aryeh King, chairman of the Jerusalem Forum, said Jerusalem municipal workers told him they were instructed by Olmert’s office to ignore illegal Palestinian construction in Jerusalem.
“Ehud Olmert gave the order not to deal with the problem and not to put Israeli security forces to the duty of taking down the illegal Arab complexes,” said King. “Senior municipal workers told me Olmert said not to bother with the illegal Arab homes because eventually eastern Jerusalem would be given to the Palestinian Authority.”
Joseph’s Tomb synagogue destroyed by Israeli forces
Olmert’s ordering of the two families to be forced from the Hebron Jewish market comes just days after the prime minister ordered his security forces to destroy a synagogue used by Jews to worship near Joseph’s Tomb, Judaism’s third holiest site and the believed burial place of the biblical patriarch Joseph – the son of Jacob who was sold by his brothers into slavery and later became the viceroy of Egypt.
Under the 1993 Oslo Accords, which granted nearby strategic territory to the Palestinians, Joseph’s Tomb was supposed to be accessible to Jews and Christians. But following repeated attacks against Jewish worshippers at the holy site by gunmen associated with then-PLO leader Yasser Arafat’s militias, Prime Minister Ehud Barak in October 2000 ordered an Israeli unilateral retreat from the area.
The tomb is located near the modern day West Bank city of Nablus, or biblical Shechem.
Currently, Jewish pilgrimage to Joseph’s Tomb is legal only several times per year in convoys protected by the Israel Defense Forces. Still, some Jews regularly attempt clandestine visits to the holy site.
Jewish students last year built a structure on the West Bank’s Mount Gerizim, which is just outside the tomb area. The structure was used as a synagogue and was constructed on the Mount so Jews can pray and study Torah as close to the tomb site as possible. Dozens of Jewish students congregated daily at the makeshift synagogue.
But Olmert’s office and Israeli government officials deemed the structure – which they refused to call a synagogue – illegal since it was built without a government permit.
On Monday, under direct orders from Olmert, the Israel Civil Lands Administration destroyed the structure.
The Torah describes how Jacob purchased a land plot in Shechem, which was given as inheritance to his sons and was used to re-inter Joseph, whose bones were taken out of Egypt during the Jewish exodus. Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, are also said to be buried at the site.
As detailed in the Torah, shortly before his death, Joseph asked the Israelites to vow they would resettle his bones in the land of Canaan – biblical Israel. That oath was fulfilled when, according to the Torah, Joseph’s remains were taken by the Jews from Egypt and reburied at the plot of land Jacob had earlier purchased in Shechem, believed to be the site of the tomb. Modern archeologists confirm Nablus is the biblical city of Shechem
Yehuda Leibman, who until the Israeli retreat from Joseph’s Tomb in 2000 was director of a yeshiva constructed there, explained, “The sages tell us that there are three places which the world cannot claim were stolen by the Jewish people: the Temple Mount, the Cave of the Patriarchs and Joseph’s Tomb.”
There is evidence suggesting for more than 1,000 years Jews of various origins worshipped at Joseph’s Tomb. The Samaritans, a local tribe that follow a religion based on the Torah, say they trace their lineage back to Joseph himself and that they worshipped at the tomb site for more than 1,700 years.
Israel first gained control of Nablus and the neighboring site of Joseph’s Tomb in the 1967 Six-Day War. The Oslo Accords signed by Arafat and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin called for the area surrounding the tomb site to be placed under Palestinian jurisdiction but allowed for continued Jewish visits to the site and the construction of an Israeli military outpost at the tomb to ensure secure Jewish access.
Following the transfer of control of Nablus and the general area encompassing the tomb to the Palestinians in the early 1990s, there were a series of outbreaks of violence in which Arab rioters and gunmen from Arafat’s Fatah militias shot at Jewish worshipers and the tomb’s military outpost.
Six Israeli soldiers were killed and many others, including yeshiva students, were wounded in September 1996 when Palestinian rioters and Fatah gunmen attempted to over take the tomb. Eventually, Israeli soldiers regained control of the site.
The Palestinians continued to attack Joseph’s Tomb with regular shootings and the lobbing of firebombs and Molotov cocktails. Security for Jews at the site increasingly became more difficult to maintain. Rumors circulated in 2000 that Barak would evacuate the Israeli military outpost and give the tomb to Arafat as a “peacemaking gesture.”
In early 2000, the Israeli army began denying Jewish visits to the tomb on certain days due to prospects of Arab violence.
Following U.S. mediated peace talks at Camp David in September 2000, Arafat returned to the West Bank and initiated his intifada.
During one bloody week in October 2000, Fatah gunmen attacked the tomb repeatedly, killing two and injuring dozens, prompting Barak to order a complete evacuation of Judaism’s third holiest site on Oct. 6.
Within less than an hour of the Israeli retreat, Palestinian rioters overtook Joseph’s Tomb and reportedly began to ransack the site. Palestinian mobs reportedly tore apart books, destroying prayer stands and grinding out stone carvings in the Tomb’s interior.
Palestinians hoisted a Muslim flag over the tomb. Amin Maqbul, an official from Arafat’s office, visited the tomb to deliver a speech declaring, “Today was the first step to liberate (Jerusalem).”
One BBC reporter described the scene: “The site was reduced to smoldering rubble – festooned with Palestinian and Islamic flags – cheering Arab crowd. …”
Palestinians on Oct. 10 began construction of a mosque on the rubble of the tomb’s adjacent yeshiva compound. Workers painted the dome of the compound green, the Islamic color.
In a WND exclusive interview, Tariq Tarawi, a Fatah lawmaker who in 2000 served as chief of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terror group in the vicinity of the tomb, said the Palestinians would “never” allow Israel to rebuild a yeshiva or synagogue at Joseph’s Tomb. The Brigades carried out most of the attacks against the tomb site.
“A yeshiva is an institution,” said Tarawi. “An institution can be the beginning of claiming rights and these claims can bring once again the Israeli army to establish a base in the place, and we can not accept this. If the Jews try to build a yeshiva, we will shoot at them.”
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