Last updated: 22 April, 2012

Israeli court orders settlers out of Hebron house

An Israeli court has ordered a group of Jewish settlers to leave a house in the southern West Bank city of Hebron after ruling that their claim to ownership was false, court documents showed.

The court ruling said they must leave the house by mid May, prompting a furious response from the Hebron settler community.

In a hearing at Jerusalem District Court late last week, Judge Ram Winograd ruled that the settlers’ argument that they had legally purchased the property, “does not hold water.”

They had also presented forged ownership documents and had failed to provide any evidence of proving they had legally acquired the property, which is located in the Tel Rumeida neighbourhood of Hebron, a copy of the ruling seen by AFP on Sunday showed.

Winograd said the defendants had failed to provide “minimal details about the deal” including the price paid, the date of the transaction and the identity of the actual buyer.

“The burden of proof regarding the facts of the purchase was on the defendant. They did not manage to do that,” he said, ruling that the property was owned by the Palestinian plaintiffs.

He ordered the settlers to leave the property by May 15 and to pay the Palestinian plaintiffs’ legal costs.

The ruling sparked a furious response from the Hebron settlers, who accused the government of using “racist” legislation to hold up moves to expand Jewish presence in the city.

“The Israeli government is using racist, anti-Semitic laws to prevent Jews from building or buying homes in Hebron,” Hebron settler spokesman Noam Arnon told AFP.

“Every time a Palestinian sells a house to a Jew, he is forced to lodge a complaint with the Israeli justice system in order not to be condemned to death by the Palestinian Authority,” he charged referring to unconfirmed media reports that a Hebron man who apparently sold property to settlers elsewhere in the city was facing the death penalty.

“Why does Israel, which knows the real motivations of the Palestinians, play this game with the Palestinian Authority? We demand the cancellation of these laws,” he railed. “The Jews of Hebron have rights!”

Hagit Ofran, an expert with Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now, said the Tel Rumeida property, known as the Bakri house, was taken over by settlers in 2001 after Zakaria Bakri and his wife were driven out.

“The situation began about 10 years ago when the Bakris left their home following repeated harassment by their settler neighbours, who then moved into the property,” she said.

“The Bakris took the settlers to Jerusalem Magistrates Court in 2006, and the settlers presented an alleged lease and title deeds which were not recognised by the court,” she said.

The settlers were forced out of the house, but it was immediately taken over by another three settler families who have been living there to this day.

“This time, Bakri went back to the court to claim ownership of the property and he proved that the settlers, who said they had bought it, were wrong,” Ofran said.

On April 4, Israeli forces evicted another group of settlers from another property in the city following a dispute over ownership which is still being examined.

Hebron is the largest city in the West Bank, and home to some 190,000 Palestinian residents.

But a core of 800 hardcore settlers also live in the heart of the city, protected by thousands of Israeli troops.