The Civil Administration has notified a group of Jewish settlers in Hebron that it would not grant them a permit to purchase a contested house in a Palestinian neighborhood of the city, due to faults found in the purchase agreement.
The Civil Administration's decision, which comes after six months of examinations, effectively eliminates the legal justifications of the purchase.
At the end of March, several Jewish families from Hebron's settler community entered a house near the Tomb of the Patriarchs. They claimed that the house was purchased legally and that they had authorization to use the property.
During the first few days, several government ministers arrived at the property to show their support for the settlers. Defense Minister Ehud Barak opposed the move, and managed to persuade Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to evict the families.
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Meanwhile, Civil Administration officials checked the validity of the deal. The families were evicted in a lightning quick procedure on the eve of Passover.
Following objections by right-wing ministers, Netanyahu promised that there would be a speedy month-long assessment of the situation. But it was only in the last few days that Doron Kedmi, an acting officer in the Land Registration Office of the Civil Administration, announced that the request to approve the transaction had been denied.
According to Kedmi, there were several faults found in the purchase agreement. The first reason given was that an agreement dividing the house into sections that was signed in 1984, does not match the current state of the house (the Jewish settlers only purchased part of the property). This is due to illegal building additions added over the years. Therefore, it is not possible to determine which parts of the building belong to the heirs to the property.
Secondly, Kedmi believes that not all of the heirs were party to this 1984 agreement, and that it could not be indisputably approved.
Thirdly, one of the power of attorneys to the deal (that was completed in a roundabout fashion) signed the paperwork at the Palestinian embassy in Jordan. According to Kedmi, "this power of attorney cannot be accepted at the Civil Administration" – as Israel does not recognize the embassies of the Palestinian Authority.
The settlers in Hebron will now try to apply political pressure to change the decision. Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon visited the city on Wednesday, in support of the settlers. In the future, the residents are likely to turn to the military court of appeals, which has the authority to overturn Kedmi's ruling, which is likely to be a lengthy process.
The Jewish settlers released a statement condemning the Civil Administration's decision.
"The weak excuses made by the Civil Administration are nothing but a ridiculous and shameful attempt to find microscopic defects out of nothing, and they only strengthen the conclusion that the house was indeed purchased legally. We hope that the government will come to their senses and instruct the Civil Administration to conduct a fair and unbiased check, so we do not have to once again go down a long path to prove we are right."
The disputed house in Hebron is the fourth site in the city that is at the center of legal disputes between the Jewish settlers and the Palestinians, or the authorities. The most familiar of these is the "House of Contention" – the brown mansion on the main road in the city, which was occupied by settlers in 2007. They were evicted from the property in 2008. The settlers, who claimed they had purchased the land, petitioned the district court. In September, Judge Moshe Baram ruled that the house belonged to them. The Palestinians, who have also claimed ownership, have announced they will appeal to the Supreme Court.
The second site is the house owned by Palestinian Zechariah Bakri, adjacent to the neighborhood of Tel Rumeida. Here too, the settlers claimed they had purchased the property, and the Palestinians claimed the documents had been forged. Several months ago the Jerusalem District Court ruled in favor of the Palestinians, and ordered the eviction of all the Jewish settlers. They appealed to the Supreme Court, and a hearing was set for next year.
The third site is Beit Ezra, in Hebron's wholesale market. Prior to 1948, the property was under Jewish ownership. It was then transferred to a Jordanian caretaker whose function was to deal with enemy properties. The property was rented out to Palestinian shopkeepers, and later the Israeli army recognized these merchants as protected tenants. In 1994 the army closed the market. In 2001, Jews from the Avraham Avinu neighborhood broke into the homes, but the military court of appeals ordered their eviction. The Peace Now human rights group petitioned the Supreme Court to enforce the evacuation. The judges issued a conditional order instructing the state to explain why it wouldn't evict the invaders. The response of the state has been delayed for several months due to disagreements between the ministers and the prosecution. Meanwhile, the judges have fined the state for dragging its feet.