Palestinian Family Petitions Israel's Top Court to Evacuate Settlers From Hebron Home

The Abu Rajab family claims that the Machpelah House in Hebron was illegally sold to several Jewish families, who broke in two weeks ago and stayed

Palestinian children sit in a Hebron window on July 7, 2017.
Olivier Fitoussi

The Abu Rajab family of Hebron has petitioned the High Court of Justice to demand the evacuation of the building known as Machpelah House, which they claim they own and which was broken into by settlers last month.

The settlers assert that they purchased the three-story building from a member of the Abu Rajab family who was later arrested by the Palestinian Authority. The family denies that this man had the right to sell the house.

The Civil Administration had determined in the past that the transaction was invalid, but an appeals committee criticized that decision and said the purchase must be reexamined. No conclusion has yet been reached in that reexamination – it still isn’t clear if the sale was legal – but several Jewish families entered the building two weeks ago without waiting for a decision. They have been there since, with the backing of some government ministers and other coalition lawmakers.

In the petition, the Palestinians recall that in 2012 settlers entered the property on grounds that they had “purchased the rights from part of the Abu Rajab family, a claim that is categorically denied by the petitioners. As a result of the incursion the petitioners [the Palestinians] approached police at the time and filed a trespassing complaint.” The state then expelled the settlers from the building.

The petitioners, 10 members of the Abu Rajab family, stressed that “The appeals committee has not in any shape or form decided that the deal was proper or legal, but established that if the permit in question was given, the validity of the transaction would be discussed by the initial registration committee. ... After that decision was released, there was a tendentious publicity campaign in the media by the settlers claiming that the appeals committee had determined that the transaction was valid, which is false and baseless.”

Abu Rajab family members argue that the state “violated its legally mandated obligation to maintain the public dignity of the place as the occupier in a belligerent occupation. ... The conduct of the respondents during the settlers’ invasion of the property amounts to a serious failure and the inability to enforce [the law] effectively.”

State officials, including representatives of the Defense Ministry, are negotiating a possible voluntary eviction with the settlers. The building has been declared a closed military zone, but the order is not being enforced, with settlers and visitors coming and going freely over the past few days.

Supreme Court Justice Neal Hendel has ordered the state and the settlers to respond to the petition by August 16.