In West Bank’s Hebron neighborhood, specter of settlers’ return looms

By John Davison ,AFP

HEBRON, Palestinian Territories — Before they were evicted, the Israeli settlers threw bottles of urine, attacked children and poisoned a horse, according to Palestinian residents in Hebron — who now fear their former neighbors will return. When Israeli soldiers evicted the settlers in 2008 and took over the Rajabi building in the West Bank city — which is still home to hundreds of radical Israeli settlers — even the daily drag of inspections seemed civilized by comparison. But the nightmare looks set to resume for Palestinians living near here and another flashpoint property called the Abu Rajab house, both of which have been claimed by settlers in the heart of the tense city considered holy by both Jews and Muslims. The settlers were forced out of the Abu Rajab house last year, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently ordered they be allowed back in after a soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper. And Israel’s Supreme Court is set to rule on the ownership dispute over the Rajabi building, with a verdict in the settlers’ favor likely to bring back the violence and abuse. Both properties are located close to a contested holy site known to Muslims as the Ibrahimi Mosque and to Jews as the Cave of the Patriarchs in an area called H2 — a tightly-controlled Israeli enclave where many key streets are off-limits to Palestinian cars. Jewish settlers forced their way into the four-story Rajabi building in 2007 but were evicted by Israeli troops the following year after a week of violence. Settler community spokesman David Walder said the buildings were legally acquired “through a purchasing agent for the Jewish community.” Palestinians view the selling of property in occupied territory to Jewish settlers as a betrayal of their national cause, so such purchases are nearly always conducted in secret or through middlemen, increasing the potential for disputes. Palestinians fear the court will rule in favor of the settlers, despite the fact that police said some of the documents had been forged. “We’re already living in a prison,” said local shoemaker Bassem al-Jabbari, who lives opposite the property.

“I can’t park my car outside my own shop because the army has closed this road to most Palestinian vehicles,” he told AFP, motioning towards a roadblock set up when troops took over the contested property. “But when the settlers were there it was worse … They would physically attack us, including throwing bottles of urine at us and our children,” he said. “The settlers also poisoned my horse. They tried to steal it from me by telling the police it was theirs, but when I produced the paperwork showing I owned it, they got angry and came to poison it.” Walder denied settler responsibility for the horse poisoning, and blamed much of the violence on Israelis “from outside Hebron.” “People who came in from outside Hebron behaved in ways we opposed, caused problems and did not abide by our guidelines,” he said.