HEBRON – In what some fear is a harbinger of future expulsions of Jews from the West Bank, large numbers of Israeli forces amassed this week in the biblical city of Hebron to evict 11 families from their apartments.
IDF soldiers, snipers and police took over several buildings that surround the marketplace, while the residents inside were busy preparing food for some of the protesters stationed near the structure in hopes of preventing the evictions.
Earlier, clashes broke out between the protesters and security forces after a demonstration organized by community leaders was at the last minute declared illegal by Israel’s Police Authority. Rioters threw eggs and paint at security forces and yelled anti-withdrawal slogans. There were reports that soldiers used excessive force against the protesters.
The market, now converted to small, two-story apartments, was built in 1929 after an Arab massacre forced Jews from Hebron. For a period of 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 set up shop at the market but were asked to leave by the IDF after a series of clashes broke out in the mid-1990’s. Then, in 2001, Jewish families took up occupancy to strengthen Jewish ties to the area following the murder, yards away from the market, of 10-month old Shalhevet Pass 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 Hebron̓s Jewish community, and Israel’s Supreme Court ruled the structure was Jewish-owned, the government considers the current occupancy of the marketplace illegal because the families living inside did not negotiate their arrival with the IDF.
Israel last month announced it would remove the 11 families living in the market.
Hebron residents believe the evacuation is imminent – families were given until this past Sunday to leave on their own accord or face forcible removal, according to eviction notices. The notices were worded similarly to eviction documents distributed to Jews living in the Gaza Strip just before Israel’s withdrawal from the area last year.
Most of the 11 families said they plan to resist any eviction attempts.
“I am not leaving,” said marketplace resident Miriam Grubowski. “This isn’t just about a market, it’s about our country. After [the Gaza evacuation] 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.”
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz released a stern warning in which he said there would be no compromises or tolerance shown to the “criminals and asked lawbreakers.”
Mofaz declared that those who take part in the unrest “will not be permitted to dictate the order of the day or the agenda of security forces. All those who violated the law will be arrested, there will be no tolerance,” he said.
Hebron spokesman David Wilder, whose daughter and son-in-law live in the marketplace, 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 the 11 families “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 said they have been in negotiations with the military about the possibility of avoiding the evictions, but that so far the talks have been unfruitful.
Jews lived in Hebron – home to the Tomb of the Patriarchs – 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 the Arab pogrom in which 67 Jews were murdered, the entire Jewish community fled the city.
The Jews reestablished 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.
Israel has announced that 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.