The Jerusalem District Court on Thursday ruled that the State must return a house in Hebron to settlers who were evicted from it in December 2008, stating that they had purchased it legally.
Judge Moshe Baram determined that the Palestinian owner's claim that the purchase agreement had been annulled before it was finalized was not credible. He ordered the Palestinian to pay NIS 50,000 (about $13,000) in legal fees.
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The affair began in March of 2007 when Jewish settlers moved into the so-called "house of contention," located on the main road linking Kiryat Arba to the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. In response Faizi Rajabi, the seller, filed a police complaint saying he was the owner and that the purchase agreement was never finalized.
Evacuation of 'house of contention' in December 2008 (Archive photo: AFP)
Following a lengthy legal battle, security forces removed the settlers from the house, also known as "Beit HaShalom," in December 2008. The eviction led to a series of violent clashes between settlers and security forces. Following the eviction, it was determined that the house would remain in the State's hands until the court rules on the settlers' ownership claims.
On Thursday Judge Baram ordered the State to prepare to turn the house over to the settlers within a month. However, the judge stressed that he is not ordering the Civil Administration to pursue legal measures that would allow the settlers to live in the house. Jews who purchase a home in the territories cannot move into it without the Civil Administration's authorization.
The settlers lauded the court's decision and said they were convinced it would pave the way for the return of the Machpelah house to Jewish hands. Settlers were evicted from the Machpelah house five months ago.
"The verdict bolsters our claim that Jews have a right to settle in all parts of the Land of Israel," said Malachi Levinger, head of the Kiryat Arba Hebron Council. "I urge the government of Israel to allow the settlers to return to the house immediately, and at the same time rectify the injustice that was done at the Machpelah house."
In response to the ruling, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz called on Defense Minister Ehud Barak to "instruct the Civil Administration to authorize the deal and allow the Jewish families to move into the house.
"The defense minister's decision (to evacuate the home) was reckless and was aimed at fanning the flames. Jews have always lived in Hebron, and they will continue to do so," the minister added.
Yesha Council head Danny Dayan urged Barak and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to "uphold the court's decision and not try to thwart it using various tricks."
Aviel Magnezi contributed to the report