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Hebron Settlers Spread Out

Hebron - there is a history of friction between Jews and Arabs in this southern West Bank city.
by Joshua Brilliant
UPI Correspondent
Hebron, West Bank (UPI) Mar 23, 2007
Jewish boys in skullcaps were scraping blobs of cement off a floor Wednesday while a young mother wrapped her 3-week-old baby in a pink blanket and climbed the unfinished, rubble-covered steps to the top floor of an Arab building the Hebron settlers now claim their own.

Some 100 settlers carrying backpacks and furniture Monday evening moved into the building in the Al-Jaabari neighborhood in eastern Hebron. They said they bought it for $700,000, but Palestinian Mohammad al-Baradai told police and the international observer force, TIPH, the building was still his.

The dispute is the latest episode in a history of friction, sometimes deadly, between Jews and Arabs in that southern West Bank city. For Jews, it is where their patriarchs, beginning with Abraham, were buried. Arabs consider Abraham -- or Ibrahim -- as their ancestor.

Many Jews wouldn't live in Hebron even if they were paid handsomely, but there are hardliners willing to fight to do so.

Until Monday settlers forced their way back to areas they claim were Jewish until a 1929 Arab massacre.

However, Monday they spread to a decidedly Arab neighborhood. The house they say they bought was to include shops on the ground floor and family rooms on the upper level. TIPH observers, who were at the scene when the busses stopped at the narrow one-lane road, near the stone building, noted the government backed the settlers. Soldiers, border policemen and policemen were at hand with the area's brigade commander, said TIPH spokesman Mats Lignell of Sweden.

By Wednesday several families took over rooms that still had to be tiled and covered the doorless entrances with cloth. Downstairs young children were brought over from the neighboring settlement town of Kiryat Arab to study the Bible. One of them brought a soccer ball that was left on the floor with the owner's phone number penned unto it.

With no running water, no toilets, dangling electric wires and broken orange pipes, the settlers brought mobile toilets that were in the street, a generator, and hood out to an electricity line in the street.

However, it is not clear they will be allowed to stay there.

Their spokesman, Noam Arnon, told UPI they had moved there to create territorial contiguity between Kiryat Arba, a few hundred meters away, and the old Jewish part of Hebron including the Tomb of the Patriarchs. The building is right in the middle, he said.

They were not clear on how they will use the property and were very secretive when asked how they bought it.

Their attorney, Nadav Haetzni, told UPI the original Palestinian owner had sold it to another Arab who lives abroad and who then sold it to the settlers.

"The agreement was signed, exists, police has a copy. It ... cannot be undermined," he stressed.

TIPH asked to see a copy of the agreement and was denied.

The refusal is not surprising. Palestinians who sell land to Jews risk their lives, so the Jews help the cover-up. The purchase was done through Jordan, the spokesman for the Jewish community in Hebron, David Wilder, said.

This does not necessarily mean that all the land transactions are legal under Israeli law and that no documents were forged. Hence police are examining the deal. Apparently there are some weak elements in the sale. Peace Now's legal adviser, Michael Sfard, noted the law says that the defense minister and the head of the civil administration must approve every property deal in the West Bank. Sfard doubted Defense Minister Amir Peretz approved the sale.

Peretz' press office did not comment.

As soldiers manned positions on the building's roof and border policemen were out in the street, Arab neighbors felt the effect.

Mohammad al-Jaabari, a teacher who lives across the street, said that when he left for school soldiers stopped him for an hour. Sometimes they order him back to his house. It is "a miserable feeling," he said.

Hebron is divided into two areas. The biggest one, H1, is Palestinian-run. H2 covers the Jewish-held areas and their surroundings, as well as the route from Kiryat Arba to the Tomb of the Patriarchs. Some 20,000 Palestinians live in H2.

Hebron Deputy Mayor Kamal Dweik talked of some 400 settlers there, but Arnon said there are 700 settlers and 200 students.

The old Arab shopping area, now part of H2, has been shut down. Settlers and children reportedly attack Arabs. Ofir Feuerstein, a researcher for the B'Tselem information center on human rights, said Wednesday that settlers attack Palestinians daily. He talked of physical abuse, beatings, use of sticks and destroyed shops. The soldiers are not instructed to enforce the law on settlers, Feuerstein said.

Arabs, too, contributed to the tension and have killed settlers.

Because of the tension and poor business, many Palestinians moved out of H2. Parts of the city center seem like a ghost town. Deputy Mayor Dweik anticipated a court decision on the building's future and said it would take months until a decision is made. However, TIPH's commander was concerned.

The settlers' action "can be seen by the Palestinians as an unnecessary provocation in an already tense environment. It might have serious consequences for the security situation," TIPH Head of Mission Karl-Henrik Sjursen said.

As long as the ownership is disputed, no one should be allowed to take possession of the house, he added. Hebron settlers are not the type that would yield easily. A move to force them out of that building could lead to clashes that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert wants to avoid.

Hundreds of security men, settlers and their supporters were injured during the evacuation of settler homes illegally built on privately owned Arab land, and Olmert want to avoid another such move. Hence his spokeswoman, Miri Eisin, this week told reporters in Jerusalem that the prime minister wants to negotiate with the veteran settlers he had to evacuate.

Source: United Press International

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