High Court rules squatting settlers must evacuate Hebron building
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High Court rules squatting settlers must evacuate Hebron building

Justices accept state's opinion that 15 families failed to prove their purchase of Machpela House

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

An Israeli border police officer guards outside the 'Machpela House' in the West Bank city of Hebron on August 28, 2017. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)
An Israeli border police officer guards outside the 'Machpela House' in the West Bank city of Hebron on August 28, 2017. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

The High Court of Justice ruled Monday that a group of settlers who have illegally been squatting in a disputed Hebron building for the past seven months must be evacuated, due to their failure to prove that they had purchased the structure.

Agreeing with the state’s position on the matter, which had been submitted last October, the court stated that nothing had changed since the building was last evacuated in 2012. Then, too, residents failed to fully prove the purchase of the building before they took it over.

Some 15 families, numbering nearly 100 people, have been living in the Machpela House, adjacent to the Tomb of the Patriarchs in the flashpoint West Bank city, since July 25.

After a High Court petition against the squatters was filed by a group of Palestinian residents of Hebron, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit issued a response on behalf of the state in late August, giving the settlers a week to peacefully vacate the Machpela House before the IDF would be ordered to remove them by force.

On the final day of the grace period, the squatters filed a High Court petition of their own, arguing that they had purchased the property legally and that the registration document that the government said they were missing was not actually required for them to maintain occupancy in the apartment building.

The State Attorney’s Office was supposed to respond to the petition a week later, but requested several delays, through the fall Jewish holidays, before providing its response, in late October, in favor of evacuating the squatters.

An IDF soldier guards Beit Hamachpela in Hebron, which has been declared a closed military zone (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash 90)
An IDF soldier guards Beit Hamachpela in Hebron, which has been declared a closed military zone (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash 90)

During that time, however, the court issued an order temporarily delaying the evacuation. That order was canceled with Monday’s decision.

In December, the squatters offered a compromise, whereby they would evacuate the Machpela House peacefully as long as the state would demolish an awning on the other side of the building that they claim was built illegally by neighboring Palestinians.

That compromise was also rejected by the court on Monday.

No date was given by the High Court for the evacuation of the Machpela House, but because the state itself ruled in favor of evacuating, the decision is expected to be carried out in the near future. Still, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman told reporters in August that he has no problem “dragging his feet” with the evacuation.

Following Monday’s decision, the Peace Now settlement watchdog called on the state to “show zero tolerance for any further attemptd to postpone the evacuation” and expressed hope that “this time the invaders will honor the court and evacuate without violence and without unnecessary dramas.”

The Harhivi organization that has led both takeovers attempted several times to appeal the 2012 decision blocking its claimed purchase of the Machpela House, and in June, a Civil Administration committee agreed to re-hear the settlers’ case. However, the inquiry has not yet taken place, and the army order banning them from living in the building remains in effect.

Nonetheless, the squatters have been able to enter and exit the building freely for over two months, enjoying heavy IDF protection after the compound and its perimeter were declared a closed military zone.

Several hundred Israeli settlers live in Hebron, amid tens of thousands of Palestinians. In October, the Defense Ministry approved permits to expand the settler enclave with more than 31 new homes, the first approved building in 15 years.

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