A disputed building in the West Bank city of Hebron was occupied by settlers in recent days while the IDF has turned a blind eye, according to a Sunday report.
A settler group called “Harchivi Makom Aholech” claimed to have purchased the building in July 2022, following a fundraising campaign. Settlers renamed the property “Beit Hacherut” (Freedom House) and occupied it immediately after the alleged purchase, in a move welcomed by settler leaders, such as MK Orit Struck (Religious Zionism). The occupants were, however, evacuated a few days after.
It is not clear exactly how many settlers have reoccupied the property, nor when. It appears that since their evacuation in July 2022, they have been moving in and out intermittently, Haaretz reported. An IDF official was quoted as saying that the settlers to this day do not have the permits necessary to take up residence.
In an official response, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), a unit in the Defense Ministry, said that after the settlers moved into the “Freedom House,” despite the military closure order, they submitted documents purportedly showing their rights to the building, and that the Civil Administration is currently evaluating those documents.
While the details of the transaction are still under verification one year on, it is often the case that settlers manage to acquire the rights from one holder, but the other owners do not agree and the issue goes to the courts for lengthy deliberations, according to Peace Now, an NGO that monitors settlement activity in the West Bank. In previous cases in Hebron, settlers hurried to establish “facts on the ground,” entered houses and only then received the Defense Minister’s approval,
In January 2023, two Palestinian residents of Hebron petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court arguing that they were the legitimate owners of the “Freedom House” building and that the settlers’ group had occupied it illegally.
The Court responded in February, claiming that, after an inspection of the building, it found that it was not inhabited. The petition was therefore denied since there was allegedly nobody to evacuate.
Meanwhile, the army declared the house a “closed military zone,” meaning that Palestinians are prevented from visiting the house unaccompanied.
Peace Now told Haaretz that “this is an illegal settlement in every respect. The settlers are taking advantage of the government’s inability to enforce the law and once again invaded a property without the requisite permits.”
The stated objective of the settler NGO “Harchivi Makom Aholech,” which claims to have purchased the property, is to “redeem Hebron, following the footsteps of our forefather Abraham.”
The organization, which has been operating for about 10 years, describes on its website the systematic approach it follows for the acquisition of Palestinian houses. It first contacts the Palestinian owner of a building and makes the purchase secretly. It then moves in the new occupants in a “calculated” manner, based on its risk level of the property.
If the transaction is challenged in court, the group provides legal support to the buyers. At the same time, it allegedly protects the Palestinian sellers from retaliation by other Palestinians, by providing them with safehouses and economic and legal aid.
Hebron differs from other Arab West Bank cities in that it is home to a Jewish community that, per the 1997 Hebron Agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, lives in an area under Israeli control — about 20 percent of the city, known as H2. The community has existed for hundreds of years, though with several gaps during the 20th century.
The community is made up of several enclaves located deep in the heart of the city, the largest in the West Bank. The roughly 1,000 Jewish settlers there live under heavy military guard, amid some 215,000 Palestinians. It has been the scene of numerous violent incidents between Palestinians and Israelis.