Squatting Israeli Settlers Begin to Vacate Contested Building in Hebron

The building’s ownership has been in dispute and in the courts for years, and it’s still unclear who can actually claim it as theirs

A resident of Hebron walks past the contested Beit Hamachpela building, March 22, 2018.
Emil salman

Jewish settlers in the West Bank city of Hebron started to vacate a contested building on Thursday, which they had invaded and had been squatting in since July of last year.

The removal of the settlers, which defense sources said was taking place with their agreement, came after a High Court of Justice ruling allowing the eviction earlier this month. The court denied the settlers’ petition to remain in the three-story building, stressing they had not proved their ownership.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that the petition of the [settlers’] company must be dismissed, since there are no grounds for intervening with the state’s position regarding the evacuation of the company and its representatives from the structure,” wrote Supreme Court President Esther Hayut. The court rejected the settlers’ proposal to retain partial control of the building until it is determined to whom it belongs.

The structure in question, Beit Hamachpela, is located near the Cave of the Patriarchs; as of now it is still registered in the names of Palestinians. The building’s ownership has been in dispute for years. In a similar case in 2012 the state evacuated settlers who squatted in it, claiming they had bought it from the registered owners.

The settlers appealed a subsequent 2015 court ruling that determined that the building’s sale was “not legally proved” and that even if a purchase had been made, it was not purchased from everyone who had rights to the land.

The appeals committee criticized the work of the initial registration committee and ordered it to reevaluate the settlers’ request. That reevaluation is still ongoing, meaning that it is still unclear whether the settlers who entered the building actually own part of it or not.

In July 2017 settlers reentered the building and Palestinians petitioned to evacuate the squatters.