Construction work on permanent housing began yesterday in the Tel Rumeida quarter of Hebron, where seven families are currently living in mobile homes. The families, which have been living at the site for the past 20 years, will be moving to a new building that will include 14 apartments.
The apartment block will be constructed over the covered area of the archaeological dig in Tel Rumeida. The Antiquities Authority plans to turn the archaeological site into a park that will be open to visitors.
The original permit to build permanent housing in Tel Rumeida was granted by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the wake of the murder of Rabbi Shlomo Ra'anan, who had lived in one of the mobile homes with his wife. The rationale was that permanent housing was a necessity since the mobile homes were not bulletproof. At the time, a small yeshiva, attended today by a number of students, was set up at the site.
Subsequently, the mobile homes were rearranged, one on top of the other, so as to make it possible to explore the archaeological remains.
Following petitions from Palestinians who live close by, the High Court of Justice ordered the government to plan the site according to the law, but eventually permitted the permanent construction work. Heads of the Jewish settlement in Hebron yesterday described the beginning of the construction work as "an important day for Jewish settlement."
Hebron settlers are currently making efforts to prevent the Gaza and Bethlehem First plan from being extended to Hebron immediately after the upcoming holidays. Deputy Minister Meir Porush visited the area yesterday and came out against plans to evacuate the surrounding hills, Abu Sneina and Harat a-Sheikh. Thus far, 29 Knesset members have signed a petition to the prime minister against withdrawing the Israel Defense Forces from Hebron.
Meretz MK Mossi Raz yesterday demanded that the defense minister put a halt to the building at Tel Rumeida, saying that it "fans the flames of hatred and endangers the lives of Israel's soldiers." Joined by Peace Now activists, Raz and MK Anat Maor (Meretz) yesterday toured some of the illegal outposts set up by settlers near Rehelim and Ramallah and saw work on a new asphalt road to one of the sites. This is "organized crime," Raz said.
When the group tried to visit Nofei Nehemia, near Rehelim, their way was blocked by settlers, who closed the road with three vehicles. The peace group then left their armored vehicle and marched on foot to the outpost. The settlers' council said in response that "Peace Now is acting like a self-hating left-wing gang whose only purpose is to sow dissension and to inform [on us]. They would do better to show regret for the Oslo [process] and handing weapons to [Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser] Arafat."
Peace Now last week published a list of eight new settlements that have been illegally established. Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer has informed settlement leaders that he plans to dismantle another 20 illegal settlements. The settlers have been lobbying Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to prevent this.