RAMALLAH: Seventy buildings owned, lived in and used by Palestinians in Hebron city for decades are likely to be confiscated and have their ownership transferred to Israeli settlers in the city, according to human rights activists.
Palestinian human rights sources expressed to Arab News their concern about the alleged Israeli government plan, which will apparently be carried out under the supervision of the Israeli army.
Israeli forces have already notified the municipality of Hebron — in the south of the West Bank — to evacuate the old municipal building in the Ain Askar area near the entrance to Hebron Old City in preparation for its seizure. The two-story building covers an area of 205 square meters. The army has give the municipality 45 days to appeal.
“This is a blatant assault by the Israeli occupation on the municipality’s property,” said Hebron Mayor Tayseer Abu Sneineh, stressing that the municipality wholly owns the building and has the official documents to prove it. He added that the municipality would take “all necessary legal measures to protect its property and stand up to this … aggression.”
Abu Sneineh called on the international community, human rights institutions and UNESCO to exert “real pressure” on the Israeli government to stop its settlement plans.
“They should intervene quickly to preserve and protect this cultural heritage,” said the mayor, pointing out that the region is included on the UNESCO World Heritage List, which requires its protection and preservation.
Rawhi Fattouh, head of the Palestinian National Council, said: “The Israeli government’s seizure of the historic Hebron Municipality building located in the Old City — in preparation for handing it over to settlement associations — is bullying and a blatant assault on the municipality’s property.”
In a statement issued by the Presidency of the National Council, Fattouh stressed that the building is a historic cultural property that belongs to the city of Hebron. He said that the occupation’s seizure of it constitutes a new crime: theft of the city’s historical landmarks.
Fattouh echoed Abu Sneineh’s call for the international community, human rights institutions and UNESCO to pressure on the Israeli government to cease its seizure of buildings.
Hebron’s deputy mayor, Asmaa Al-Sharabati, told Arab News that the Israelis’ aim is to establish a settlement outpost in the old vegetable market area of the Old City and to seize Palestinian buildings, claiming that they were owned by Jews before the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
Al-Sharabati confirmed that the municipality is gathering the necessary paperwork to prove its ownership of the old municipal building and will lodge an appeal with the Israeli courts against its seizure.
Hebron is home to 200,000 people, of whom 800 are Israeli settlers living in seven outposts. One of those settlements, Father’s Hill, is inhabited by some of the most extremist settlers in the West Bank — including the far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, Baruch Marzel, leader of the extremist Jewish movement Kach, and Noam Friedman, another senior Kach leader.
Attacks by the Israeli army and settlers on Palestinian property in Hebron escalated significantly in April. Settlers demolished five Palestinian shops, and the army told several shop owners to evacuate and hand the buildings over to settlers.
“The dangerous thing is that part of this property is located in the H1 area, which is under the control of the Palestinian Authority,” Al-Sharabati told Arab News.