High Court Asks Israel to Justify Establishment of New Hebron City Council for Jews

Petitioners for Palestinian municipality hope bench will strike down government order to create a body that may infringe on non-Jewish residents' rights

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An Israel Defense Forces soldier patrols near the house of Jewish settlers in Hebron, in the West Bank, March 27, 2018.
An Israeli soldier on patrol near settlers' homes in Hebron, in March.Credit: Mussa Qawasma/Reuters

Israel's High Court of Justice issued a temporary injunction on Monday, ordering the state to explain why the court should not strike down a plan to establish a special local council that will represent Jewish settlers in Hebron.

The injunction was issued in response to a petition by the Palestinian municipality of the West Bank city, which is protesting an Israeli military order to create the new body – a sort of “small city council,” to provide services to its Jewish residents.

Until now, the Palestinian city council of Hebron has been responsible for providing municipal services to residents – including the settlers who live in the H2 section of the city. In January 1997, Israel evacuated most of Hebron and handed it over to the Palestinian Authority, with the H2 neighborhood remaining under Israeli control. The new council would ostensibly be responsible for providing services to Israeli civilians and businesses in that area.

In August last year, a military order was issued that called for establishment of the new municipal body, a move seen as compensating the settlers after evacuation of squatters in the contested Machpelah House in the center of the city, near the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

The Hebron Municipality petitioned the High Court, claiming that the order is illegal and that its wording is so ambiguous that it can be construed as allowing the new council to impose its authority over Palestinians, too, impinging on their rights. The geographical and legal jurisdiction of the body is not clear according to the order, the petitioners stressed.

The lawyer representing the Hebron Municipality told Haaretz on Monday that the fact that the three High Court justices demanded that the state justify the legality of the council scheme shows that they are leaning toward accepting the petition, and have shifted the burden of explanation to the Israeli government.