ZOA Statement: The Forced Eviction Of The Jewish Residents Of Hebron’s Beit Hashalom
December 10, 2008



The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) is deeply disappointed with Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s decision to unnecessarily and forcibly evict the Jewish residents of Beit Hashalom (Peace House).  Beit Hashalom is a large building in Hebron strategically overlooking Worshippers Way, the access road to the Cave of the Patriarchs.  It was apparently purchased by an American Jew from its Arab owner for close to $1,000,000 and transferred to the Jewish Community of Hebron in a legal transaction that is now being challenged in the Jerusalem District Court.  Up until the last moment before the eviction, it was abundantly clear that Mr. Barak could have avoided last Thursday’s violent confrontation by continuing to negotiate through the good offices of the local regional council.


To the best of our knowledge, there are legal documents, videotapes and audiotapes attesting to the legitimacy of the sale of Beit Hashalom by its former Arab owner to a Jewish owner.  Having at first confirmed the sale, the former Arab owner has now recanted, for fear of Arab retribution.  Remember, Palestinian Authority law calls for the death penalty for selling land to a Jew.


After refusing to consider the aforementioned video and audiotape evidence, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that “it will be possible to act in accordance with Squatters’ Evacuation Law” and evict the residents.  Therefore, until the Jerusalem District Court decides on the legal ownership of the structure, authorities may remove the tenants.  This does not mean they are required to be removed, as was confirmed in no uncertain terms by former Israeli Supreme Court Justice Yaakov Turkel who said, “The ruling does not obligate the State to act to evacuate the Jews, but rather gives them the freedom to decide whether to do so or not.”


It should also be noted that Israeli Supreme Court President Dorit Beinish unfairly “biased” the panel by unilaterally removing two justices, including Orthodox Justice Edmond Levy.  Our understanding is that both of the removed justices might have been more sympathetic to the Jews of Hebron.  Justice Beinish substituted two justices, Ayala Procaccia and Salim Joubran, who are known to be hostile to Jews in the territories.  But even with these unsympathetic justices, they did not rule that the Jews of Beit Hashalom House are required to be moved but only authorized the removal if the government made that decision.


*In fact, approximately 50 Members of Knesset (out of 120) sent letters to Ehud Barak, Minister of Defense, and Avi Dichter, Minister of National Security, as well as to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz pleading with them to not evict the Jews from Beit Hashalom.  The letter also states that the Supreme Court ruling does not require the eviction and they plead with these officials to review an audio cassette tape in which the Arab seller states that he sold the building to the American Jew, Morris Abraham. (These letters were sent on November 2, 2008 to Mazuz and November 24, 2008 to Barak and Dichter).  The letters signatories included  Sylvan Shalom, former Foreign Minister; Reuben Rivlin, former Speaker of the Knesset; Gideon Sa’ar, Chairman, Likud Faction; Uri Ariel, Chairman, National Union Faction; Yoel Hasson, Chairman, Kadima Faction; Yaakov Margi, Chairman, Shas Faction; Yaakov Litzman, Chairman, Yahadut HaTorah Faction; Robert Elituv, Chairman, Yisrael Beteinu Faction; Yitzhak Galanti, Chairman, Gil Faction; Rafi Eitan, Minister – Gil; Tzachi HaNegbi, Chairman, Knesset Committee – Security & Foreign Affairs; Michael Eitan, Chairman of Knesset Committee for State Comptroller; Limur Livnat, former Minister of Education; Yuval Steinitz, former Chairman, Knesset Security & Foreign Affairs.  Some other signatories included Yuli Edelstein (Likud); Zeev Elkin (Kadima); Gilad Erdan (Likud); Yitzhak Ziv (Gil); David Tal (Kadima); Shlomo Mula (Kadima); Sarah Marom-Shelo (Gil); Michael Nudelman (Kadima); Moshe Sharoni (Gil).


The letters statements to Defense Minister Barak and Security Minister Dichter included, “We Knesset members from various parties, request and demand that you act fairly and responsibly to prevent eviction from Beit Hashalom in Hebron, at least until after the elections.  The Supreme Court…did not obligate the government to evict them, rather it permitted them to do so and left in its hands the full decision-making power as to the actual eviction, which can be totally cancelled,… There is a very heavy feeling of bias and injustice accompanying the handling of this case by the various law enforcement bodies concerning Beit Hashalom from its inception. These hard feelings have recently increased with the strange refusal of the attorney general’s office to review the case in accordance with the audio cassette presented by the settlers,… We believe that responsible leadership obligates you to prevent from creating an additional split against a loyal population which justifiable feels that it is being biased against.”


The letter to Attorney General Mazuz included the following statements: “In light of the new evidence presented last Thursday to the prosecutor’s office: an audio cassette in which the Arab seller admits that he sold the building and received full compensation for it and in addition, the renovations was done for the purchaser.


“As public representatives we believe that the new cassette that was presented to the media, strengthens the troublesome question marks around the very decision to evict the building’s residents/owners. It seems that the settlers have serious evidence to prove their claims,…


“This heavy feeling of bias and injustice has followed the entire case. As public representatives we warn that continued proceedings along these lines, leading to this result, is liable to significantly  damage public faith in the judicial system.


“For this reason we suggest that the Attorney General hold a renewed hearing, paying attention to the new evidence, paying attention to the serious intervention of the Palestinian Authority, and to pay attention to the bias against the purchasers only because they are Jewish settlers.”


Approximately twenty-four hours prior to the violent eviction, ZOA’s Israel Director, Jeff Daube, was in Beit Hashalom for the official opening of a ZOA branch office.  The intended purpose of the office was to serve as a focal point for visits to Beit Hashalom; to raise public awareness about the strategic importance of the structure’s location for access to the Cave of the Patriarchs; to express solidarity with the peaceful Jewish residents of Beit Hashalom; and to affirm the right of Jews to live in peace in Hebron. Hebron is the city of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs, and the first capital of the State of Israel during the reign of King David.


Due to the escalating crisis, even this short ceremony commemorating the opening of the ZOA’s office had to be curtailed.  When news broke about the forced evacuation of Beit Hashalom, Mr. Daube said, “I was hopeful earlier this morning – especially when I heard that negotiations were ongoing – that a nonviolent resolution could have been found to the Beit Hashalom dispute, so I planned another visit later in the day.  I was obviously wrong.  As an Israeli citizen, a proud Jew and a Zionist, I am deeply troubled by my government’s behavior in forcibly uprooting the residents of Beit Hashalom before the Jerusalem District Court decision has been made as to the building’s legal owners.  Apparently those Arabs who are dancing on their rooftops and clapping gleefully at the sight of Jews being forcibly removed from Beit Hashalom understand the implications of this rash and misguided act far better than we.” This act may send a message that the Jews are less committed to the Land than the Arabs; delegitimizes the Jews of Judea & Samaria; encourages more Arab intransigence; and sends a message that the Arabs are winning, which will only cause them to demand more concessions and could even promote more Arab violence.


The ZOA cannot help but question the motivation for this tragic action in light of Deputy Prime Minister Eli Yishai’s denunciation of Barak’s “strange and wretched” decision on the same day as the Labor Party primaries.  Yishai had told Barak that he should wait for a court ruling on the evacuation before ordering the security forces to carry it out (Ha’aretz, December 4).


MK Arieh Eldad also lashed out at Barak, saying that he was responsible for all those wounded in the lightening-quick raid in Hebron:  “Barak sent the IDF and police as part of the left-wing’s election campaign and the blood of the casualties is on his hands.”


MK Uri Ariel said:  “Defense Minister Barak violated all the understandings with him, and he has provided proof that he cannot be trusted.”


Yechiel Leiter, former Deputy Director General of Israel’s Ministry of Education and former Chief of Staff to Benjamin Netanyahu, said that to evict the Jews was not judicial but rather political.  “If it was a matter of law, then the law must be distributive, i.e, must be applied to all sectors alike. There are thousands of orders against illegal Arab structures that are not being implemented…”

Even a member of the Kadima party, MK Zev Elkin, called on Minister of Defense Ehud Barak to avoid a confrontation with Peace House activists in Hebron.  Elkin said:  “Barak is trying to get the Left to love him and save himself and his party on the back of the Jews of Hebron. We must negotiate with the settlers otherwise Barak and Olmert will be responsible for repeating the mistakes of Amona.”

Many have also asked why Defense Minister Barak has flexed his muscles against innocent civilians in Beit Hashalom, while failing to defend the Western Negev communities from Gaza terrorist rocket attacks.  Ashkelon’s outgoing mayor, Roni Mahatzri, perhaps said it best on Saturday:  “We saw that when the defense minister wishes to show determination and resolve, he knows how to do that; he did it while handling the case of the house in Hebron.  I would like to see the same determination when it comes to the rocket fire.”


While the ZOA is troubled by the fact that the defense minister chose to resort to what he surely knew would be a violent confrontation, the ZOA does not condone and, in fact, strongly criticizes the random and senseless acts of violence and vandalism committed by some Jewish youth, however few.   Noam Arnon, the leader of the Jewish community of Hebron, expressed the same sentiments.  It is the responsibility of parents, educators and community leaders to provide these often well-meaning young people with the proper guidance to channel their energies in a manner that allows their voices of protest to be heard, without compromising their potential to serve as ambassadors of a truly inspired Zionism.


Nevertheless, as Mr. Daube reported based on his observations and conversations, the overwhelming majority of young people at Beit Hashalom were there to make a non-violent, positive statement of support.  Notwithstanding the few “hotheaded” young people, there was an overall sense of a desire to avoid confrontation.  “I sat in on one meeting conducted by an adult leader, who instructed a large group of teens on exactly how to act with grace and dignity in the best tradition of Ghandi and Martin Luther King, should police forces enter to forcibly evict them. They were even given emergency phone numbers in the event that they were detained,” recalled Mr. Daube.


ZOA National President Morton A. Klein said:  “We are also troubled that the forced violent eviction took place before the Jerusalem District Court determined the legal ownership of Beit Hashalom.  Even if the District Court rules against Jewish ownership, the ZOA urges that every peaceful avenue be explored before there is ever again a forcible eviction.


“The ZOA sincerely hopes that ways could be found to avoid future Gush Katifs, Amonas, and Beit Hashaloms, so that we will never again witness Jews being dragged from their homes by force.  This is not good for Israel.  This is not good for the Jewish people.”


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