Palestinians Lose Appeal Over Hebron House Ownership

Supreme Court upholds ruling that settlers' purchase of 'House of Contention' through a front was legal.

Israel's Supreme Court rejected Tuesday two Palestinians' appeal for ownership of a house in the West Bank city of Hebron, upholding a 2012 ruling to leave the property in the hands of the settlers who purchased it through a front man.

In 2007, a group of settlers broke into the four-story building known as the House of Contention, claiming they bought it three years earlier.

The building, located on a 1,100 square meter property with space for some 20 apartments, was built in 1995. It is located in the a-Ras neighborhood of Hebron in the West Bank, strategically linked to Kiryat Arba and adjacent to the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

In 2008, then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak ordered the house vacated after questions were raised over the legality of the Tal Building and Investments Karnei Shomron group's purchase, which was carried out by a straw man named Ayub Yosef Jabar. Clahes erupted when the security forces evicted the house later than year, sparking clashes that ignited riots and a wide public debate.

The settlers subsequently submitted a petition to the Jerusalem District Court, asking it to uphold the real estate sale agreement for the property and declare the purchase legal.

In 2012,  the court ruled that the state must return the house to the evicted settlers, deeming the purchase from the Palestinian owners Abdelkader Salwar and Faiz Rajabi legal.

In upholding its decision and rejected the owners' appeal on Tuesday, Supreme Court Justice Daphne Barak-Erez ruled that the purchase was above board and that the owners turned a blind eye to the fact that the buyer was a straw man working on behalf of the Jewish group.

The rejection of the appeal paves the way for resettlement of the  house, although this will not take place immediately.

The Supreme Court ruled that the buyers still owe money for the purchase of the property, and that they can not reenter the house until they pay up the $ 217,000.  In addition, the defense establishment has said that the house cannot be inhabited until security forces prepared a safety program for it, a technical matter which should take a number of weeks.

Kiryat Arba council head Malachi Levinger responded to the decision by demanding that the defense minister ensure the "immediate populateion of the house."

He also called the government's attention to the case of another contested Hebron house near the Tomb of the Patriarchs (called by the settlers Beit Hamachpela).  "I call on the government to immediately rectify the suffering inflicted on  Beit Hamachpela to the same families that bought their houses with the best of their money and according to the law."

Daniel Bar-On