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JERUSALEM – Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s office informed the Palestinians that Israel would uproot Jews from a building in the oldest Jewish city as part of agreements to be announced at next week’s U.S.-sponsored Mideast summit in Annapolis, senior Palestinian negotiators told WND.
The building in question, purchased by Jews with the approval of the Israel Defense Forces, is situated at a strategic, elevated area that afford Jews in Hebron a lookout post to protect their vulnerable community from Palestinian attacks.
Hebron is home to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, the second holiest site in Judaism. The tomb is believed to be the resting place of the biblical patriarchs and matriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca and Leah.
In March, Hebron’s Jewish community purchased a 37,600-square-foot building it later titled Beit HaShalom, or House of Peace, from local Arabs for $700,000 in cash, according to documentation. Eight families moved in to the structure, which the Jews heavily renovated.
The building’s purchase papers were immediately transferred to the Israeli police and IDF. The police confirmed during an initial investigation the purchase was legitimate. Israel heavily restricts the expansion of Hebron’s Jewish community, located in the West Bank, for fear of upsetting the Palestinians, who control most of the biblical territory.
A few weeks after the purchase went through, the former Arab owners of the Hebron house were arrested by the Palestinian Authority and Jordan, since selling land to Jews violates Palestinian law.
Upon interrogation, the former owners claimed the sale did not take place in spite of a video recorded by Hebron Jewish leaders and provided to Israeli police showing one of the former Arab owners counting $700,000 in cash handed to him purportedly for the purchase of Beit Hashalom.
Last month, the former Arab owners, released from PA and Jordanian detention, filed a complaint with Israel’s Supreme Court claiming their property was stolen. The court ordered the Israeli police to investigate, but the police have not yet released the results of any investigation.
Earlier this month, Israel’s attorney general, Menachem Mazuz, ordered the police to evacuate Beit Hashalom’s Jewish residents, taking advantage of a law that allows the Israeli court system to evict any occupant of a building within 30 days of a dispute in the structure’s ownership. The occupants cannot return until the dispute is resolved.
David Wilder, a spokesperson for Hebron’s Jewish community, told WND he was “confident” once the court reviews the case, it would determine the purchase of Beit Hashalom was “completely legitimate and legal.”
“We spent a substantial amount of money to purchase and fix up the building. We only do these things carefully, with every stage scrutinized by lawyers and coordinated with the proper Israeli authorities,” said Wilder.
But senior Palestinian negotiators told WND they received a list of what they termed “illegal Jewish outposts” in the West Bank that Olmert pledged to evacuate, including the Beit Hashalom building.
The Palestinian negotiators said they were told by Olmert’s office that Beit Hashalom was on the top of Olmert’s list of pending evacuations.
Olmert’s pledges were part of negotiations leading up to next week’s Annapolis summit at which the Israeli prime minister is widely expected to outline a Palestinian state in most of the West Bank, ultimately handing the strategic territory to the Palestinians.
Wilder speculated any planned evictions from Hebron would “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 building itself.”
Jews have lived in Hebron 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 Jewish community returned when Israel recaptured the area in 1967, after the Jewish state won a war launched by Egypt, Syria and Jordan.
To interview Aaron Klein, contact Tim Bueler Public Relations by e-mail, or call (530) 401-3285.