Question asked by Fred, Peter and “PB”, on May 13, 14 and 15.
You ask us about viral videos showing a group of men, women and children taking possession of a building in Hebron, a city in the West Bank partly occupied by Israel. Relayed in multiple publications on social networks, some of which have accumulated hundreds of thousands of views, these images have been differently perceived according to the convictions of Internet users. For some, supporting the Israeli line of development of the settlements, the installation of new families in Hebron makes it possible to move forward “in the Zionist dream”. For others, defending rather the end of the occupation of part of the Palestinian territory, this sequence embodies “all the ugliness of colonialism”.
Between colony and sacred place
It is Friday, in the middle of the afternoon, that is shared one of the videos sent to CheckNews. We see a crowd circulating along a stationary bus: after extracting their belongings from the vehicle, individuals carry suitcases, coolers and other mattresses in the direction of the same building. The tweet reads: “Hebron, today. Settlers hastened to move into a Palestinian building in the city, taking advantage of the absence of its inhabitants who had left to attend the funeral of Shireen Abu Akleh. All the ugliness of colonialism, of the dehumanization it induces, summarized in image (sic)». The same day, in fact, was held the funeral of the American-Palestinian journalist from Al-Jezira, killed Wednesday in Jenin – and whose circumstances of death are not yet known precisely.
A few hours earlier, this sequence had appeared on social networks, via accounts held by Israelis. One of them uploads it following another videowhich shows the same scene with a wider shot, revealing that other vehicles are also being unloaded, and that the number of people present at the scene is in the dozens. “Another building was redeemed in the holy city of Hebron. Look at all these families who want to take back control of the land […] Carry on in the Zionist dream!” says the caption. In similar images, this time posted on Facebook, a moving truck, in which long piles of chairs have been stored, is being emptied.
Also on Friday afternoon, the spokesperson for the Jewish community of Hebron publishes a fourth video which consists of a visit to the building: after a tour of the living space, the sequence continues on the roof of the building, where Israeli flags have been installed. Faced with comments denouncing “the theft, in broad daylight, of a Palestinian house”the author of the tweet responds: “The Jews broke in while the residents of the building were out ???? Please stop the lies. The place had no running water or electricity – no one lived there – it was just a skeleton and it was sold by a normal Arab to a normal Jew.” After settling in, the Israeli settlers celebrated their arrival, as evidenced by a video shot on Saturday night.
The scene actually takes place in Hebron, about thirty kilometers south of Jerusalem. This city, the most populous in the West Bank, has between 200,000 and 215,000 Palestinian inhabitants, according to the sources. To which must be added a small community of 700 to 1,000 Israelis, spread over several residential complexes located in a section of the city under Israeli military control. The settlement of Kiryat Arba (delimited by the green rectangle on the map) is one of them.
If most of the town is under the control of the Palestinian Authority, its historic center has been occupied by the Israeli army for twenty-five years. In this part of the city, there is a sacred monument, the object of the covetousness of both Muslims and Jews (blue circle on the map): called the mosque of Ibrahim for the former, vault of the patriarchs for the latter, it is today divided into a mosque and a synagogue.
CheckNews was able to geolocate the building concerned (exact location accessible here), and represented it on the map by a red triangle. It is along an important road, taken to reach the tomb of the patriarchs (or mosque of Ibrahim, therefore) from the colony of Kiryat Arba. The building, measuring 1,200 square meters over three floors according to the Palestinian news agency Wafa, was baptized “Beit Hatikuma” (“House of the Resurrection”). And the association responsible for the project, “Harchivi”, which works to buy houses in Hebron, announced on Friday that fifteen families have taken up residence there, even before the end of the renovations.
Everything therefore indicates that the viral videos show Israeli settlers moving into a building in the Palestinian city of Hebron. Did they have the right? Is it a “palestinian building” – implying belonging to a Palestinian owner? And did the settlers “benefited from the absence of its inhabitants” to settle there?
Building surrounded by the army
On the Israeli side, it is assured that this installation project is perfectly legal. MK Miri Regev, a member of Likud (a right-wing party that includes former Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu), said in comments transcribed by the Channel 7 news media: “The Resurrection House was religiously and legally purchased in the ancestral city of Hebron, and is registered. Therefore, there is no possibility to challenge the legality of the purchase.” the Jerusalem Post adds, in an article published on Saturday, that their intention was known, since these families “had already been accessing for almost a month” to the building.
The Harchivi association also mentions “a religious and lawful purchase”. The latter is also requesting, through a petition, financial aid for the settler installation project. “The costs of entering and staying in the house are numerous, and on top of the high costs of legal aid and the purchase itself”, she explains. Previous houses – including “Hashalom”, “HaMachpala”, “Rachel” or “Leah” – have in the past been taken over by Harchivi to install settlers there, already causing tensions with the Palestinians of Hebron.
With regard to the Beit Hatikuma, Miri Regev therefore called on the Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister, Benny Gantz, to prevent any attempt to evacuate the fifteen families established in the building. A video from the Arabic news site Middle East Eye shows that Tsahal (Israeli army) soldiers were deployed around the building, in order to prevent the inhabitants of Hebron from approaching the settlers.
Because the legality of this occupation is disputed by the Palestinians, but also by the Israelis opposed to colonization. The Israeli Daily (ranked left) Ha’aretz asserts that the settlers do not have the necessary permit to live there. “The settlers claim to have bought the house, but Ha’aretz learned that they had not received a transaction permit”writes the newspaper.
“A permit is required to buy a house in the West Bankdetails the article published on Saturday. This permit is the most initial step in a registration procedure and indicates acknowledgment by the civil administration that payment has been made for housing. In the case of the building in Hebron, no transaction permit was issued to the settlers association. In any case, after issuing a transaction permit, a lengthy procedure for clarifying ownership with the Civil Administration Registration Committee is required. This procedure can take years, and has not yet started in this case.”
As for the “Peace Now” movement, which promotes a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it acknowledges in a press release that it does not have “no information regarding the alleged transaction in this case”. But is, on the basis of past experience, very perplexed as to the existence of a legally concluded purchase: “We know from many other cases in Hebron and the West Bank that these are questionable purchases, which are sometimes based on tampering with or buying only small parts of the property.”
Several owners have reported themselves to the media, so it remains impossible to know for sure who owns or once owned the house. Fact, “Muhammad Jabari, a Palestinian resident of Jerusalem, told Haaretz that he owns the building, which is registered in his name, and that he complained [vendredi soir] to the police at the entrance of the settlers”. Except that another name was sent to the Wafa agency: that of Walid al-Ja’abri, “a local Palestinian resident”. The only certainty, according to information from Wafa: the building was empty, since it was being renovated, when the Israeli settlers settled there. No inhabitant would therefore have been dislodged.