Israeli construction plans for Hebron anger Palestinians
Project result of recent US decision to not deem Israeli settlements illegal, says official
Israeli visitors enter an old market building in the flashpoint city of Hebron: construction will add “insult to injury”. Photograph: Hazem Bader
Palestinians have reacted angrily to Israel’s decision to build a new neighbourhood in Hebron, a move that could double the number of settlers in the flashpoint West Bank city.
Hebron mayor Taysir Abu Sneineh warned that Israel’s “dangerous” decision would lead to escalations in the “entire region”. He added that the Hebron municipality, under instructions from the Palestinian leadership, would exert “all its efforts” to protect Palestinian land and preserve the property and presence of its citizens.
Israel’s defence minister Naftali Bennett said the neighbourhood would be constructed at the site of the wholesale market, which was purchased by the old Hebron Jewish community at the beginning of the 19th century, but which became a centre for Palestinian commerce when the city came under Jordanian rule between 1948 and 1967.
“After many years in which this issue was stuck on account of differences of opinion between the residents of the Jewish community and the Palestinian residents of Hebron, planning is to begin for a new neighbourhood that will double the number of Jewish residents in the city,” a defence ministry statement said.
Hebron, south of Jerusalem, contains the site known to Jews as the Tomb of the Patriarchs and to Muslims as the Sanctuary of Abraham, which is believed to be the burial site of the biblical characters Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob and Leah. The site is holy to both Muslims and Jews.
The city was divided under the terms of the Oslo peace accords and some 800 Jews live in the small enclave under Israeli control, including some of the most militant settlers, protected by Israeli soldiers.
Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said the new project was a result of the United States’s decision last month to no longer consider Israeli settlements illegal. “The Bennett plan is the first tangible result of the US decision to legitimise colonisation,” he said.
The Israeli anti-settlement NGO Peace Now said it would appeal the construction of the new neighbourhood in the courts.
“The settlement in Hebron is the ugliest face of the Israeli dominion over the territories. Construction in the wholesale market adds insult to injury, is a waste of taxpayer money and is detrimental to Israeli interests. No future political agreement includes the Jewish settlement in Hebron, and its expansion fails to serve anything except the messianic vision of an extremist minority,” it said.
Yishai Fleisher, spokesman for the Hebron Jewish community, said the land was purchased by Jews in 1807; he denied the move would raise tension.
“Why should Jewish life in an ancient Jewish city create tension?” he asked. “For those who don’t want a Jewish presence in Hebron that’s too bad. We have our rights and our history.”