The highly publicized IDF expulsion from Hebron’s Beit Hamachpela of Jews who purchased and were residing in it was an extraordinary event. And it does not bode well for what we can expect from the Israeli government regarding historical Jewish sites.
For one thing, the forced evacuation came about after Prime Minister Netanyahu asked Defense Minister Barak, who has the final say on such matters under Israeli law, to delay any evictions. For another, there does not seem to be any doubt that the Jewish claimants actually owned the property. Mr. Barak was invoking a narrow technicality plainly at odds with the place of Hebron in Judaism.
The IDF had ordered the Jews to leave the Beit Hamachpela apartment building, adjacent to the Cave of the Patriarchs in a Palestinian neighborhood under Israeli military control, not because there was a question about the legitimacy of the purchase but rather because the occupants had not received final approval from the IDF – which has to consider whether certain developments might be “disruptive of the public order” – to move in.
The Jewish occupants had moved into Beit Hamachpela claiming to have purchased it from a Palestinian who was under a Palestinian Authority death sentence for selling land to Jews, and saying they were fearful the empty building would invite Palestinian squatters.
Significantly, Mr. Barak said in a public statement on the issue, “I won’t allow settlers to dictate how the government runs the country.” He went on to say the eviction must be enforced immediately because of the importance of maintaining the rule of law in Israel and that he would not allow “settlers to establish facts on the ground” while his ministry investigated the sale.
He said nothing about the legitimacy of the Jewish claim to the property.
At any rate, the treatment of the Beit Hamachpela purchasers is starkly inconsistent with what should have been expected.
On December 7, 1994 then-MK Netanyahu said:
We dwell in Hebron not out of benevolence but as a right. Hebron belongs to the Jewish people eternally as a result of our right and as a result of our strength, our strength of faith, strength to stand up for what is legitimately ours…. We must protect the foundation of Eternal Israel. Hebron is ours, Jerusalem is ours, the entire Eretz Yisrael is ours.
And the following are quotes from then-MK Netanyahu when he led a delegation of 14 Likud MKs to Hebron on September 7, 1995 to demonstrate solidarity with the Jewish residents there:
The Jewish settlement will remain in Hebron permanently. If someone tries to take it away, my friends and I will be here, and they will have to take us away as well…. It will be fatal mistake to bring hundreds of armed Palestinian policemen here, and there will be a small area where the Jews can pass and where the police and IDF can operate. If there will be a conflict, the IDF will not be able to function and will quickly collide with the Palestinian forces. This is a prescription for tragedy…. There is one body responsible, and that has to be the IDF.
Will the real Benjamin Netanyahu please stand up?