Jack Guez, AFP
Last updated: 3 April, 2012

Settlers remain in Hebron house as deadline expires

Jewish settlers remained inside a disputed home in Hebron on Tuesday, despite the expiry of a defence ministry deadline for them to prove their presence there was legal.

As the 3:00 pm (1200 GMT) deadline came and went, there was no movement in or around the house in the southern West Bank city, where six settler families have been living since they entered the building last Wednesday.

Earlier, a defence ministry official told AFP the eviction order “has not been cancelled or postponed” and the settlers had until 3:00 pm to present proof that the building was legally purchased and occupied.

“We must uphold the law,” the official said.

If they failed to provide such proof, an evacuation would take place, the official added, saying it was not clear when such a move would take place.

On Monday, the Israeli civil administration, a military unit which falls under the Israeli defence ministry, ordered the settlers to evacuate the property by 3:00 pm on Tuesday if they failed to provide the necessary proofs.

After that, the authorities would “take action to immediately clear the building.”

But overnight, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appealed to Defence Minister Ehud Barak to delay the evacuation in order to verify the legal issues, the premier said on Tuesday.

“I coordinate with the defence minister and he coordinates with me,” Netanyahu told reporters in Jerusalem.

“I asked him last night to wait before carrying out the evacuation in order to check the legal facts and the facts on the ground, and that is what we will do.”

Shortly after the deadline passed, Hebron settler officials told AFP they were awaiting the outcome of a meeting between Netanyahu and several of his senior ministers.

“There is nothing new, we are waiting for a decision by the ministers who are meeting at 6:00 pm (1500 GMT),” said David Wilder, a spokesman for Hebron’s settler community.

The defence ministry official said Barak was to meet Netanyahu, but could not confirm reports they were to discuss the Hebron house standoff, while Netanyahu’s office refused to confirm or deny reports about the meeting.

There was no word on the outcome of such a meeting more than two hours later.

The settler families moved into the second floor of the building overnight between Wednesday and Thursday, but five days later the civil administration ordered them out.

“After examining all the evidence that was handed over and after considering all the circumstances of the incident, it was decided to return to the situation which existed before… the settlers entered the house,” the military order said.

It said the settlers did not obtain the necessary approval for the purchase of the house, and that the eviction decision was based on concern for “public order.”

The settlers say the property, which they have dubbed Beit HaMachpela, was legally purchased, but relatives of the Palestinian owners, who live on the first floor, dispute the claim.

Civil administration spokesman Guy Inbar told AFP on Tuesday it was possible the settlers could eventually receive retroactive permission to stay there.

“There are two things on the legal issue: the first is the legality of the contract; the other is the legality of them being there,” he told AFP.

“In terms of the legality of them staying there we know it’s illegal, that’s why we sent the order yesterday.

“Now what we also have to check is the legality of the contract. You can do that by evacuating them and then verifying, or you can examine the contract while they are still in the house,” he added.

“If we see that the contract is legal, then we will see if the civil administration or the ministry of defence gives them the permit to stay.”

A closed military zone has been put in place around the house, which is near the contested religious site known as the Cave of the Patriarchs (or the Machpelah Cave) to Jews and the Ibrahimi Mosque to Muslims.