By the time Yosef Ezra was four years old, his family was the only Jewish family still in Hebron following the 1929 massacre. They left only in 1947, a day after the UN voted to establish the state of Israel. He still has clear memories of his 15 years in the city.
Today, Ezra is 75 and lives in Jerusalem. But he still has registration documents for the Hebron lands and houses owned by both his family and Magen Avot, an umbrella organization of Sephardi yeshivas in the city. So this morning, he intends to publicly come to the aid of today's Jewish residents of Hebron, at a High Court of Justice hearing on whether those residents should be allowed to remain in the so-called "Triangle Market."
A Civil Administration appeals committee decided a few months ago that the families could continue living in the market, until a final decision was made on the legality of their presence. It thereby rejected the position of the custodian of government property in the West Bank, who had wanted them evicted immediately. Peace Now then petitioned the court against the committee's decision, and the State Prosecutor's Office announced that it sided with Peace Now.
Permission to speak
When Ezra heard that, he decided to go to court today and request permission to speak. The settlers have asked that he be added to the petition as a respondent.
"I never waived my rights, and those of my family, in these properties," he said. "But until we get this property back, I and descendants of other families expelled from Hebron have allowed the Hebron settlers to maintain them and use them."
Ezra claims that unlike other Jewish property in Hebron, his family's property was never taken over by the Jordanian custodian of absentee property.
"I personally traveled to Jordan and checked whether there was an expropriation order for those stores in the Triangle Market," he said. "There is no such thing. Thus the Israeli custodian is not the successor of the Jordanian custodian. This belongs to my family, and we want Jews to continue to live there; we want the Jewish community of Hebron to continue to exist."
Ezra is furious at the state for not consulting him, the property's owner - despite the fact that in his capacity as chairman of the Hebron Refugees Committee, he conducted a voluminous correspondence with the state for years in an effort to get Jewish properties returned to their original owners.
Ezra's relationship with the Hebron settlers is a lengthy one, though it has had ups and downs. More than 25 years ago, he participated in the cornerstone-laying ceremony of a new Jewish neighborhood in the compound of Hebron's Avraham Avinu Synagogue. Years earlier, he and other former Hebron residents met with then defense minister Moshe Dayan. "Dayan promised to return the Jewish property to us," Ezra said. "He promised, but he didn't deliver."
When Menachem Begin was prime minister, the government offered the Hebron refugees alternative land near Netanya, if they would waive their claims to the Jewish property in Hebron, Ezra related. The families refused.
In the years before 1947, Ezra's father used to pass intelligence to David Raziel, commander of the pre-state underground Etzel (Irgun Tzvai Leumi). If one of his Arab neighbors died, he would spend hours in the mourning tent to assess the mood and to get wind of any plans to attack or incite against Jews. Ezra believes that his father's association with Raziel is why the state refused to compensate the Hebron refugees, the way it did for people driven out of Gush Etzion and other West Bank communities: Etzel was affiliated with the political opposition to the ruling Mapai Party.
Ezra sees no symmetry between his demand that Jewish property in Hebron be returned to its original owners, and Palestinians' desire to regain their property in Jaffa, Acre, Ramle and Lod. "Every war has consequences," he said. "That's the price the Arabs ought to pay for the trouble they made."
He believes the Hebron settlers are "true pioneers, among the last who are putting Zionism into practice."
Ezra says that his family came to Israel from Spain following the Spanish expulsion of 1492. After nine months in Gaza, they moved to Hebron, and remained there continuously for the next 450 years.
Once, he said, there were excellent relations between Jews and Arabs in Hebron. But today, the Arabs, "like Peace Now and the prosecution, simply want Hebron to be free of Jews. I will fight that with all my strength."
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