Thursday, November 17, 2005

The case for Mitzpe Shalhevet

During the past several weeks, over 100 members of the Likud Central Committee have come to Hebron to see, feel and experience the first Jewish city in the Land of Israel. They've come mostly to view Jewish property that is inaccessible to Hebron's Jewish community.

The story properly begins in 1807 when Haim Bajaio purchased, on behalf of the Hebron Jewish community, a five-dunam plot of land adjacent to the centuries-old Jewish Quarter, for 1,200 grushim. The deal was witnessed and signed by no fewer than 22 Hebron Arab notables. This property served Hebron's Jews and later accommodated the home and synagogue of its chief rabbi, Eliahu Manni.

Following the Jordanian occupation of Hebron in 1948, the entire Jewish Quarter - founded by Spanish-Jewish exiles in 1540 - was razed to the ground. Among the structures destroyed was the ancient Avraham Avinu Synagogue. In the early 1960s, an Arab fruit and vegetable market was constructed on the property bought by the Hebron community in 1807.

Following the liberation of Hebron during the 1967 Six Day War, these structures continued to function, having been rented to the Hebron Arab municipality by the Israeli government. The property contracts for these buildings expired in the 1990s, and the site was gradually closed over a period of several years, due to security concerns. The market was finally shut down following an attempted terrorist attack: Arabs placed a booby-trapped teddy bear in a plastic bag in the market near the entrance to the Jewish neighborhood, hoping a Jewish child, finding it, would play with it and be killed in the ensuing explosion.

Despite numerous requests by our community to rent the structures, the site has been left vacant.

On March 26, 2001, at the beginning of the Oslo War an Arab sniper shot and killed 10-month-old Shalhevet Pass. Following the murder, Hebron children began utilizing the abandoned Arab shuk as a place to play and take cover during shooting attacks from the overlooking Abu Sneneh Hills. Over a period of time, the Hebron community invested tens of thousands of dollars to convert the former fruit and vegetable stalls into livable apartments. Presently, the former market, renamed the Mitzpe Shalhevet neighborhood, houses Hebron families and a Torah study hall opened in Shalhevet's memory.

Mitzpe Shalhevet is presently on the brink of obliteration, not by Arabs, but by the government.

FOUR YEARS ago, in response to an Arab demand to reopen the market, the Attorney-General's office notified the Supreme Court that: (1) the Arabs no longer had any legal rights to the market and (2) that Israeli "trespassers" would be evicted from the site.

The Supreme Court, however, never ruled that the former market's Jewish population should be expelled from their homes.

The reason behind the attorney-general's decision is summed up in his own words: "The criminal must not be rewarded."

The criminal, in this case, is not defined as the Arabs who murdered 67 Jews, destroyed the Jewish Quarter, shot at Hebron Jews from the surrounding hills and killed Shalhevet Pass. Rather, the criminal is defined as Hebron's Jews, who had "usurped" the vacant buildings belonging to the State of Israel.

Following issuance of an eviction order, Hebron's Jewish community appealed to the courts, claiming private Jewish ownership of the property. An appeals committee of three judges ruled 2-1 that the land did legally belong to a private Jewish organization, but that the buildings legally fell within the jurisdiction of the Israeli government. Concurrently, two of the three judges ruled that the optimal solution to the problem was to lease the structures to Hebron's Jewish community.

The defense minister delayed executing the eviction order for over two years, due to security issues and other concerns. However, recently, following the successful expulsion of 10,000 Jews from Gush Katif and northern Samaria, the Attorney-General's Office has exerted tremendous pressure on Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz to execute the eviction orders and remove Hebron's families from the Mitzpe Shalhevet neighborhood.

Mofaz may be under the mistaken impression that the Supreme Court ruled that the structures must be evacuated. This is, as previously noted, not true. To the contrary, the easiest and most just solution, as recommended by the judges, is to lease the buildings to Hebron's Jewish community.

On the Shabbat of November 26, thousands of Jews are expected to arrive in Hebron to celebrate the annual Torah reading of Hayei Sarah commemorating Abraham's purchase of Ma'arat Hamachpela, the Cave of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, some 4,000 years ago.

There could be no better way to affirm a permanent, eternal Jewish presence in Hebron than to officially proclaim the reclamation and rededication of Mitzpe Shalhevet. No doubt Abraham and Sarah would smile down upon us from the heavens above.

The writer is the spokesman of the Jewish Community of Hebron. This article can also be read at

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