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Palestinians Petition High Court to Evict Hebron Squatters

Homes in the area were under Jewish ownership until 1947, and during the two decades of Jordanian rule of the city, they functioned as a wholesale market.

Two and a half years after a military panel ordered settlers forcibly removed from a Hebron neighborhood, the army has yet to take any steps toward implementing the ruling. This week, however, the buildings' former tenants petitioned the High Court to enforce the order.

IDF soldier patrolling in Hebron, AP

The petitioners run four small stores in the neighborhood, which was once a wholesale market in the West Bank city. The homes in the area were under Jewish ownership until 1947, and during the two decades of Jordanian rule of the city, they functioned as a wholesale market.

After Hebron came under Israeli rule in 1967, the market was put under the control of the Civil Administration, which manages it to this day. Jewish settlers later moved in, but following the 1994 murder of 29 worshippers by an armed settler at the Ibrahimi Mosque, the army ordered the stores closed and the residents removed.

Since then, settlers have tried to regain control of the area several times, only to be evicted each time by the army. In 2001, settlers broke into a small area of the market abutting the city's Jewish-inhabited Avraham Avinu quarter, and since then the area has been inhabited by a number of Jewish families.

In 2007, the inhabitants were served an eviction notice by a military appeals committee. Jewish residents of the city protested the move but pledged to abide by the ruling. Ultimately, the committee found that the settlers had violated the law by breaking into the area and that they had no legal claims to the property there.

Since then, however, the army has consistently maintained that the neighborhood's fate is a political, not a military, matter. This week, two members of the Awiwi family filed a petition with the advocacy group Peace Now for the order to be implemented.

Michael Sfard, the attorney representing the petitioners on behalf of the group, wrote in the petition, "Without the esteemed court's intervention, the fate of these stores would be the same as those of many other structures in the city of Hebron and in many other areas that were forcibly appropriated."

Yariv Oppenheimer, the head of Peace Now, said in a statement, "It's a shame the government needs to receive a High Court petition in order to maintain a bit of order in Hebron and to keep settlers from seizing property that isn't theirs."

Orit Struck, a representative of the Hebron Jewish community said, "Since a firm majority of cabinet members have recently expressed their support for strengthening the Jewish presence in Hebron, we can only hope the government's decision is in line with the ruling, and in favor of populating and developing the city of the patriarchs and against the eviction of Jews."