Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Kadima MK Backs Jewish Settlement in Hebron

Ze'ev Ben-Yechiel

MK Yoel Hasson, from the Kadima party and head of the coalition caucus, said on Tuesday he supports the expansion of the Jewish community of Hevron. The statement came on the 79th anniversary of the 1929 Hevron massacre, when local Arab residents attacked and slaughtered 69 of their Jewish neighbors. Hasson, together with other Knesset faction leaders from a wide range of parties, signed a statement written by Hevron’s Jewish community. The statement calls for the return of Jewish property confiscated by Arabs after the Jews’ expulsion by the British, following another riot, in 1936.

The statement demanded that the Israeli government recognize the legal right to the property of those Jews, including houses that are now occupied by Arabs. The paper, endorsed by leaders from both the coalition and opposition parties, included MKs Gideon Sa’ar (Likud), Uri Ariel (NU-NRP), Moshe Sharoni (Social Justice Party), and Yaakov Margi (Shas) among its signatories.

Some members of Hevron's current Jewish community have family that lived there prior to 1929. In addition, the Magen Avraham organization that oversaw public buildings, such as the famous Avraham Avinu synagogue in the original community, exists to this day; it has asked the reborn Hevron Jewish community to take over custodianship of those facilities.

Jews from today’s community have long insisted, against normally stiff government opposition, that they have every historical and moral right to return to the pre-1929 Jewish areas.

Orit Strook, a spokesperson for the Jewish community of Hevron, noted that Jews have been allowed to return to only a third of that property. She said that in addition to the homes now in Arab hands, much of the rest has been abandoned. There are numerous houses that once belonged to Jews that the government continues to refuse to allow Jews to take over, despite the fact they remain abandoned.

Based on the signatures of Tuesday’s paper, Strook said she believed that some 65 MKs support the expansion of the Jewish community’s presence in Hevron, assuming those who signed the statement did so on behalf of all the MKs in their respective parties. This would mean that a majority of the Knesset supports the Jewish community and its efforts to reestablish its presence, at least to the extent of the pre-1929 settlement.

It is uncertain whether all Kadima MKs would support Hasson’s signature on the statement, but the Hevron spokeswoman believes that the measure enjoys enough support in Kadima to ensure a Knesset majority supporting the move.

Hasson himself was cautious in describing his intent in signing the document: "We are working in a period following an international agreement that divides the city into Jewish and Arab areas.” Hasson pointed out that he originally opposed the internationally-backed decision in 1997 to divide the city into Jewish and Arab zones.

"In signing the petition, I did not seek to change the status quo of the international agreements, but rather to make sure that those agreements were being honored," said the Kadima legislator. "Currently Jewish building and development is being restricted even in those areas that are internationally recognized as Jewish."

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