The state will evict Jewish residents from Hebron’s “Beit Ezra” by April 24, 2013, the state attorney’s office said Monday in a legal response to the High Court of Justice that garnered sharp criticism from the right wing.
Two years ago, Peace Now, in conjunction with local Arab shop owners, petitioned the court to force the state to evacuate the Jewish residents, arguing that they were residing there illegally. The settlers argue that the structure has been owned by a Jewish family since the early 20th century and should remain in Jewish hands.
Beit Ezra, or Ezra House, which is located along the route between the city’s Arab market and the heavily guarded Jewish Avraham Avinu neighborhood, received its name from the Jewish family that owned it. The Ezras, who remained there even as anti-Jewish riots swept the city in 1929, were the last Jewish family to abandon the city in 1947. After that, the house was inhabited by Palestinians who paid rent to the state custodian for absentee property.
In 2001, two Jewish families moved in and and started paying rent to Yosef Ezra, a descendant of the Ezra family, despite not having received state approval for the move. The state issued an evacuation order at the time, but a military appeals court issued a ruling permitting the families to stay, on the grounds that the Jewish building owners expressed a desire to rent to Jewish tenants.
Last month, the High Court instructed the state to reach a decision about the status of the house by mid-December, even though Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein requested that the decision be delayed until after the January 22 general elections.
On Monday, the state said the military appeals court’s ruling constituted a recommendation only, and does not bind decision makers, paving the way to the eviction.
In recent months, the settlers in Beit Ezra attempted to reach a compromise with the state. One plan suggested that the families now there, who moved in without going through proper government channels, would vacate the premises, to be replaced by other Jewish settlers approved by the state. This proposal was rejected.
A second proposal, which is still under consideration, is that the families leave, and the structure be converted to a public facility, like a kindergarten, for the Jewish community of Hebron.
MK Uri Ariel (National Union), the chairman of the State Control Committee, blasted the state’s response, saying that “when the State Attorney’s Office acts autonomously, I demand that the prime minister convene a ministerial committee on settlements that will make the correct decisions in order to prevent yet another evacuation of Jews from Hebron.”
A statement released by the Jewish community of Hebron said that “it is unfortunate that the government has once again given in to the demands of the left… adopted the position of Peace Now and is once again expelling Jews from a Jewish house in Hebron.”