Israeli Army Declares Hebron Building Reoccupied by Settlers a Closed Military Zone

Army hopes to prevent additional people from entering the building; talks ongoing between settlers and defense establishment as possibility of forceful evacuation being examined

Border Police officers remove structures placed by Israeli settlers outside the reoccupied Palestinian builiding in Hebron on July 26, 2017.
HAZEM BADER/AFP

After dozens of Israeli settlers broke into the so-called Machpelah House in Hebron Tuesday night, the Israel Defense Forces regional commander declared the area a closed military zone on Wednesday. Meanwhile, representatives of Israel's Defense Ministry are currently holding talks at the structure with representatives of the settlers.

The order was issued to prevent additional people from coming to the three-level residential house in the West Bank and may indicate the security services' possible intention to evict those who are already barricaded within.

Talks were still ongoing as of Wednesday evening, with Koby Eliraz, a senior aide to the defense minister, representing the defense ministry. At this point it is unclear if a compromise can be reached as the settlers claim the purchase is legal.

The documents are currently being examined by law enforcement as the defense officials try to reach a compromise with settlers. Meanwhile, the possibility of forcefully evacuating the structure is being examined, though talks are being held to see if a voluntary evacuation is possible.

In 2012, settlers entered the building but were later evicted by the army at the order of the then-defense minister, Ehud Barak. The settlers claimed that they purchased the building, which has been the subject of an ownership dispute for several years, six months ago from a local Palestinian. Palestinians, however, contend that that if the was indeed purchased, the Israelis only contracted with one of its legal owners who received the house in a shared inheritance.

As a result of the order given by Col. Itzik Cohen, the Hebron Brigade commander, Border Police officers were stationed at the entrance to the building to prevent more people from entering. Around the building, several dozen settlers gathered to express their support for those who had entered the house.

The settlers who had barricaded themselves in said that they expected representatives from Defense Ministry and the prime minister to negotiate with them for a voluntary evacuation. The settlers may be offered to leave a limited number of people in the building as one if the others agree to vacate. 

The settlers told Haaretz that Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman had recently approved a deal in principle regarding ownership of the house, as military directives govern real estate deals in the West Bank. However, the minister asked them to refrain from entering the building until the end of the negotiations on the matter.