Between stretching plastic sheets over the windows and placing buckets exactly under the leaks in the roof, settlers at a contested house between Kiryat Arba and Hebron are trying to maintain some sort of normal routine.
For humanitarian reasons, the Israel Defense Forces were willing to allow them to renovate the house so as to make it more livable. But Defense Minister Ehud Barak decided that the building will remain unchanged as long as it is occupied by the 20 settler families and their dozens of children.
Ten months have passed since the settlers entered the three-story building, which covers an area of over 3,000 square meters. The $700,000 to buy the house came from people in New York who originally wished to remain anonymous. But they are nurturing a grudge against Israeli bureaucracy, and this week, they decided to speak out: The buyer's son, a religious Jewish businessman from New York who agreed to be identified only as B., spoke with Haaretz about his plans for the house and his motives for buying it.
"My paternal great-grandfather lived in Hebron before the riots and the deportation of 1929," said B., referring to the murder of 67 Jews that summer by Arabs incited by false rumors of Jewish-orchestrated massacres of Arab Jerusalemites. "Part of my mother's family also lived there. They experienced the horrors of the massacre and knew many of the victims."
The carnage, 19 years before the creation of the state, had a deep effect on the Jewish community. The survivors were forced to flee Hebron, and their property was seized by local Arabs and occupied until after the Six-Day War of 1967.
"My family survived, and were deported to Jerusalem," said B. He noted that his mother and father, both born in Syria, still visit Hebron regularly.
The idea of buying the building, known as Beit Hashalom ("house of peace"), came up five years ago, he said.
"We were presented with several options for buying houses in Hebron," he explained. "We could have bought a house in Tel Rumeida, in the Avraham Avinu area. But eventually we opted for Beit Hashalom, because it's a bridge between Hebron and Kiryat Arba - which could have a dramatic and welcome effect."
B. said he never dealt with the former Arab owners who sold the house. "We had people working for us to handle that for us," he said. "But I have pictures and video footage that prove everything is legitimate. The Israeli authorities also have the material. They know it's all kosher."
According to B., the video footage shows the former owner receiving the money for the building, counting it and signing the papers to transfer the property.
"If the documents are false, as some have tried to argue, then how come the settlers have been allowed to stay there for the past 10 months?" he asked.
He also complained about the state's insistence on calling the settlers' presence in Beit Hashalom illegal squatting, despite the fact that a police investigation into the affair found that they did not break into the building.
B. said that he and his father are "not particularly wealthy" and that they had to break into their savings to pay for the real estate. "We decided to invest in the future of the people of Israel, because that future is everyone's future: the future of my children and of everyone's children."
B. said he plans to make the top floor of the dilapidated building into a festivities hall that will serve the families living in the lower stories - which he hopes will one day be brought up to standard.
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