Leftist Says He's True Owner of Hebron Market

Left-wing activist Haim Hanegbi claimed yesterday that he is the rightful owner of the land on which the Hebron Municipality built its wholesale market. In a letter to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, Hanegbi said he must be consulted on any future decision regarding whether to stop leasing the land to the Hebron Municipality and rent it out to Israeli settlers, and that he wants Palestinians to occupy the market compound.

Hanegbi's lawyer, Michael Sfard, sent the letter following reports of an agreement supposedly reached between the Israel Defense Forces and the Hebron settlers, under which the Jewish squatters would voluntarily vacate the area, in return for ownership of the market being transferred to them in a few months.

Hanegbi claims he is the sole grandson of Rabbi Haim Bejayo, the last leader of the Sephardi Jewish community in Hebron until the Jordanians conquered the city in 1948. Bejayo inherited the land from his grandfather Chaim Yeshua Bejayo, known as "Chaim the Egyptian." Hanegbi even sent Mazuz a copy of the Turkish deed of ownership, which indicates the purchase of the five-dunam plot in 1807 by Chaim the Egyptian, "the Jew in charge of the Jewish sect in Hebron." The price at the time was 1,200 grush.

Sfard's letter states that the reported agreement between the IDF and the squatters, "besides rewarding the criminal for his crime, violates Hanegbi's rights as the sole descendant of Rabbi Bejayo, and the sole legal heir of Chaim the Egyptian and his lineage."

If the state indeed means to restore the land's ownership to Jews because it was Jewish property that was expropriated by the Jordanians, Sfard wrote, then Hanegbi must be consulted regarding the future of the stores in the market. And Hanegbi thinks the stores should be returned to their Palestinian tenants, and activity resumed at the market, which operated until 1994.

The market was closed down for security reasons following Baruch Goldstein's massacre of 29 Palestinians at the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

The settlers claim Hanegbi's grandfather transferred the land rights after 1948 to a hekdesh, or Jewish charitable trust, which permits Jews to settle there. But Hanegbi says there is no documentary proof of that transfer.

A reply yesterday from attorney Eyal Yinon of Mazuz's office stated: "Whenever a decision is made to end the protected occupancy in the wholesale market, Hanegbi will be entitled to present his claims concerning his property rights."