Israeli Settlers Say They Will Evacuate Contested Hebron Building if Conditions Are Met

The Beit Hamachpela building has been at the center of a legal dispute between settlers and Palestinians in the West Bank city

Israeli border police officers in front of a building in the West Bank city of Hebron, July 26, 2017.
Nasser Shiyoukhi/AP

Settlers who had taken over a contested building in Hebron known at Beit Hamachpela informed the High Court of Justice on Sunday that they would voluntarily vacate the building if the state agrees to demolish an adjacent storage facility that they claim Palestinians built there recently.

They also requested to be able to station their own guards at the building until a final decision is made on the building's rightful ownership.

The final decision on the matter is to expected issued by a committee from Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank.

The statement to the court, which follows a court hearing on the case last week, said that out of respect for the court, the settlers would accede to the conditions, which had been proposed in a recent court hearing, “despite the painful concession involving vacating the building with all of the psychological aspects involved even if it means vacating for a short period, as the [settlers] hope.”

Beit Hamachpela, which is adjacent to the Tomb of the Patriarchs in the West Bank town, has been at the heart of a longstanding legal dispute that has not yet been resolved.

The settlers claim that they purchased the building from a Palestinian six years ago while Palestinians claim that the purchase was invalid, arguing that even if the building was purchased, it was only bought from one of a number of heirs to the site.

The issue was submitted to a land registry committee of Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank, which rejected the settlers’ claim and ruled that the property belong to the Palestinians. The settlers appealed and the appeals committee ordered the initial panel to reexamine the case, but no ruling has yet been made by the initial committee.

In 2012, settlers had broken into the building, prompting an eviction order from the Defense Ministry. The building was vacated and stood empty until it was again taken over by settlers in July of this year. Since the takeover in July, the case has been the subject of a petition to the High Court of Justice.

As long as the settlers’ conditions are accepted, the building is again expected to be vacated until a decision is made by the Civil Administration land registration committee on its ownership. If the committee determines that the settlers’ ownership claim is valid, they will be allowed to retake possession of the building.