The Jewish community in Hebron celebrated this week the decision of Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar to fund Jewish heritage trips for students to the city’s Tomb of the Patriarchs.
But last week, the community suffered a setback when the Supreme Court ruled that Jews could not be given property which belonged to them in the city before 1948, and that they are also not entitled to be given any compensation for it.
Since the re-establishment of Jewish settlement in Hebron in 1968, settlers there have repeatedly demanded the return of Jewish properties abandoned after the War of Independence.
The assets are extensive and include properties in the market area, at the Beit Hadassah compound, Beit Romano, Beit Hizkiya, Tel Rumeida and a plot nearby.
Abandoned Jewish property had been used in the past to establish a Jewish settlement in the city. The neighborhoods of Avraham Avinu, Beit Hadassah and Tel Rumeida were built this way.
The Supreme Court ruled in the past that the wishes of the owners should be taken into account in deciding the use of the properties, but rejected petitions to restore it to its owners.
In 1948, following the Jordanian occupation of the city, the properties were handed over to a Jordanian caretaker whose function was to deal with enemy properties.
The Jordanians razed large portions of the Jewish Quarter and in the 1960s King Hussein built up the market complex.
In 1967, then-Defense Minister Moshe Dayan decided to continue the functioning of the office of the Jordanian caretaker, which now functions under the Civil Administration.
Only a small portion of Jewish-owned properties in the West Bank have been returned to their owners.
In 1997 the state decided that the matter would be decided in an agreement between the Civil Administration and the Jews claiming them. One of them was Yossi Ezra, from Jerusalem. His family was the last one to leave Hebron in 1947, the day after the UN decided on the partition plan.
Most Jews fled the city in 1929 following a massacre of 66 members of the community. Ezra is now in a legal battle to receive back the home of his parents, near the Avraham Avinu neighborhood close to the market.
“It is not abandoned property but property that was taken away,” he said.
The issue of Jewish properties in Hebron is also at the center of another petition to the High Court, filed by two Palestinians and Peace Now. The Palestinians had shops in the market that were closed down after 29 Muslims were gunned down at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in 1994. Some of the shop areas were used to expand Jewish homes and the Palestinians want the settlers removed and their property rights returned.
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