Richard Melson

May 2006


"The Beit Shapira" struggle and eviction

Noam Arnon and Orit Struk
May 10, 2006

"The Beit Shapira" struggle and eviction:

The Jewish Community of Hebron will continue the battle to restore the building to its lawful Jewish residents

The Shapira House is located on the main road between the Avraham Avinu neighborhood and the Cave of the Patriarchs. It is a big, three-storey building and the housing of Jews in it significantly expanded the geographical extension of the Jewish Community of Hebron, almost creating a continuity of Jewish houses between the renewed Jewish quarter and the Cave of the Patriarchs. The house was bought more than a year ago by a "middle man", and was rented to the "Tal Hashka'ot Uvinyan, B.M." company, which made it available to the families of the Jewish Community of Hebron.

In order to "take possession" of the building, even before its population by Jews, the Jewish community carried out several actions (more than a year ago), such as: changing the doors of the house and its locks, and introducing various movables into the house.

About a week before Passover, three Jewish families took up residence in the house, some of them – from among the families that had been forced to leave their homes in the Jewish property of "Mitzpe Shalhevet" (the "market"). IDF Officers and the Civil Administration came to check and patrol the area, were given the documents verifying the transfer of possession of the property to the Jewish community, and approved the continued stay in the house. The redemption of the house was a highly significant event in expanding the community.

A Tendentious Investigation

A short while after that, it became clear than any expansion of the Jewish Community in Hebron is seen with disdain by parties in the establishment who are committed to "the Left." The Police began to investigate the issue with the clear aim of expelling the Jews from the house. The representatives of the Community who were summoned for interrogation noticed that in the case about which they were being investigated there were no plaintiffs; there were only "suspects" – the Jews who had been active in populating the house. At that stage, the Police were still occupied in seeking and locating Arabs who would be registered as "Plaintiffs" in the case. The Chairman of the Municipal Committee of Hebron, Avraham Ben Yosef, spoke with the investigating Officer, Superintendent Avi Rothenberg, after the interrogation, who told him: "You'll see, this time we'll succeed in expelling you from the house!" – Just like that! Avraham's question: "Is it your job and your purpose to expel us from the house – or to investigate and find out the truth with respect to ownership of the house?" – This question was left unanswered.

What did the investigating Officer, Avi Rothenberg, mean, when he used the words "this time"? The answer is interesting: About a year ago, residents from the Jewish Community of Hebron entered another large house, which had also been bought by that same "middle man", a house in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood.

Immediately after the entry of the families, the Head of the Civil Administration at the time, who was nicknamed "Pitzi", convened a meeting attended by Officers of the Civil Administration, the Army and the Police, in which he gave instructions to do anything necessary in order to remove the Jews from the house. One of the participants noted, that the house had been legally bought and was lawfully held in the possession of the Jews; this comment remained unanswered. Indeed, the authorities did everything they could to carry out the important task of evicting Jews. Among other things, the "middle man" was detained for several weeks, and a confrontation was even conducted between the Arab "Plaintiff" and him, while various means of pressure were exerted on the Community, including the deliberate delay of various other development activities carried out in the Community – but all these measures didn't succeed, the investigation didn't come up with anything, and the house remained populated by Jews.

Officer Rothenberg and probably some other Police and Civil Administration Officers decided that this time they would succeed, this time they would expel the Jews from the house. And sure enough, the investigation that was conducted was clearly tendentious and biased. All the previous owners of the building (numbering 8 persons) were located by the Police, and each of them, obviously, filed a complaint (otherwise their lives would have been jeopardized). The Arab Mayor was also summoned by the Police to give testimony, and testified – not surprisingly – that the transaction was illegitimate.

The Police, who know that the Arabs have no other choice but to complain – chose to respond to their complaints in all seriousness. The "Middle Man" was again detained, and received both threats (that he would be imprisoned for life) and an irresistible proposal: To become a witness on behalf of the State against the Jews, in return for a financial reward. All this didn't help. Finally he was released, without being indicted and with no restrictions. In view of their experience "on the previous occasion", the Police preferred not to hold a "confrontation" between him and the Arab "Plaintiffs". And who wasn't interrogated? Three senior attorneys, Israeli Notaries, who had signed the transaction documents – they weren't interrogated at all. Their testimony probably didn't "suit" the purpose of the biased investigation …

About a week before Independence Day, the residents received a letter from the Hebron Police: "Your occupation of the place is illegal … you must vacate the house without delay". The proceeding employed was carried out pursuant to the law of "recent intrusion."

What is the Law of "Recent Intrusion?

This is a uniquely exceptional law, according to which a person is given permission "to take the law into his hands" and to remove a person who has intruded into his property by his own means, without needing to receive permission from the Courts. The law restricted and limited the cases in which it is permitted to carry out "self-execution of the law", to the following cases:

In addition, the law determines, that if necessary, the owner of the property is entitled to be assisted by the Police in order to remove the intruders, but this only under the aforesaid restrictions. (In other words: 30 days, reasonable force, non-prejudice to security and public order). The Police, of course, shall assist only whoever has proved that he is indeed the owner of the property.

The High Court of Justice's Miscarriage of Justice:

The Jewish residents and the Housing Company appealed to the High Court of Justice. The Purpose of the Appellants to the High Court was to prove that more than 30 days had passed since they had taken possession of the property, and that the property indeed belonged to them and not to the Plaintiffs.

The proceeding was conducted on Thursday, following the Day of Independence.

The judges found it difficult to decide with respect to the issue of ownership of the property. Again and again they asked questions, from which it was obvious that they were finding it difficult to decide between the claims of the two opposing parties. Finally, they wrote in their decision, that they were not expressing any opinion with respect to this issue, but they instructed that the house be vacated by the following day, that it be sealed, and that this issue was to be adjudicated before the Magistrate's Court. In the course of the hearing it became clear that the hearing was in no way material, but was rather political. The representative of the State Prosecutor expressed groundless political arguments, according to which, due to the "volatile situation in Hebron", the occupation of the house by Jews was liable to inflame the atmosphere in Hebron and to lead to a conflagration – and this after Jews had been occupying the house for a month already, under conditions of complete calm … it was also insinuated that the "relations" between the Army an the Police and the Arab population of Hebron obliged them to throw out the Jews … and other similar arguments. The representatives of the residents offered to deposit money with the Court in order to ensure payment of the rent, should it become evident that the house belongs to the Plaintiffs. For some reason, this offer was also rejected. The lawyers cited precedents and proved that if the residents were the party that had appealed to the Court – then the count of 30 days was deemed to continue and they were entitled to remain in the house. However, for some reason, these arguments were also of no avail. It became clear that for Jews there is no justice and no relief from the Court, and that there was no chance to have a fair trial. The decision that was made was entirely political: The Jews were required to evacuate the house on the following day, and then to appeal to the Magistrate's Court. The entire establishment, including the Civil Administration, the Police, the Prosecution and the Court – had all mobilized for one purpose: to evict the Jews from the house. This angered many people and hundreds of volunteers came to Hebron to protest.

The Trampling Upon Jewish Holy Sites by the IDF: Desecration of the Shabbat, Closing the Cave of the Patriarchs

Although the Commander of the Central Command declared before the High Court of Justice that the evacuation would not be carried out on Friday "because this was not a case in which lives were put at risk and because many religious soldiers and policemen were supposed to participate in the operation", in practice, the eviction operation was carried out involving the desecration of the Shabbat by hundreds of soldiers, and almost involving the desecration of the Shabbat by hundreds of civilians as well, who had been on their way to Hebron and were blocked by the IDF until a very short time before the entrance of Shabbat.

On Sunday, the date of the expulsion itself, the Cave of the Patriarchs was completely closed for the first time in twelve years, due to the decision to use the Border Guard Policemen of the "Cave Guard" for execution of the expulsion. Ma'arat HaMachpela remained closed that entire day, even after the expulsion was completed, because "the policemen needed to rest" …

It should be noted, that even in days of most severe terrorist acts in the Hebron area, Ma'arat HaMachpela had never been closed, and no use was made of the soldiers of the "Machpela Guard" for security purposes. However, it seems that the evacuation of Beit Shapira is an overriding purpose for the sake of which it is possible to violate not only the rules of investigation and the rules of adjudication, but also the ironclad rules of the Security establishment. …

The False Reports in the Media:

The media, in general, made every effort in order to emphasize the claim made by the Prosecution as if the documents were forged and the house didn't belong to the Jews at all. Some of the media even went further than that, and published articles according to which the High Court of Justice had also determined that the affair concerned "a band of crooks" and forged documents.

On Monday, the Attorney of the Jewish Community and the resident families, Adv. Gilead Corinaldi, sent letters to the editorial boards of "Haaretz" and "Yediot Acharonot", and demanded that they apologize and pay compensation in the sum of NIS 1,000,000 for having published libelous reports while ignoring the rules of journalistic ethics.

The Conduct of the Police on the Ground – Have the Lessons of Amona Been Learned?

On Friday, it became clear to the residents of Beit Shapira that on their doorstep, the Police were preparing for "Amona 2". Teams of police riot squad, of the "Frontier Guard" and even of Border Police Riot Squad – the expulsion unit of the Frontier Guard, in their notorious black uniform, with helmets and clubs, many of them without identification labels, arrived in the area. Among them many who had acted violently and beaten up protesters at Amona were identified. The intervention of Members of the Knesset who notified the Police Inspector General, led to their displaying identification labels after several hours, but these were later removed. On Motzaei Shabbat the Yassam policemen went up to the roof of the house, from where they threw stones into the building, and even injured one of the children. In addition, they cursed the residents of the house and threatened them: "We're going to come soon and break your heads and your hands …"

Before the incursion into the house the picture changed: All the top brass of the police and the IDF appeared on the scene. Never had so many senior officers been seen in one place. The representative of the Community's Committee demanded that photographers be allowed to enter the house, in order to document any violence on the part of the police. After an argument, a decision was reached to allow photographers chosen by the Community to enter as well (in addition to the police photographers). The actions of the police inside the house was accompanied by "close supervision" by the senior officers over every movement made by every policeman, under the close supervision of the photographers and the representatives of the Community's Committee. (Prior to that, the Commanders themselves checked to make sure that all the policemen were wearing identification labels). Even when eggs, paint, Coca Cola, etc. were thrown at the policemen, the Commanders instructed the policemen to act with restraint, and to make use of force only for execution of their task – the eviction of the people from the house (and at times this was a difficult task!) – and not as punishment or as revenge.

It was evident that the police were conducting the eviction from the building pursuant to the "lessons of Amona": With strict observance of the "proportionate use of force", of the presence of the Commanders on the ground, of the use of policewomen when handling women and girls, etc. During more than four hours the police evacuated about 50 people from the building. It should be remembered that in Amona, during the same period of time, 3,000 people had been evicted and 9 houses had been demolished. …

Outside the house, the events unfolded in a completely different manner: There, the policemen were left without "close supervision" by the senior Officers and conducted themselves violently and cruelly, while beating up anyone who got in their way, placing a siege on the Avraham Avinu neighborhood, invading the roofs and the balconies of private houses, causing damage to property, and carrying out unwarranted arrests without any justification. Of course, there were no policewomen there, and male policemen beat up and arrested girls.

The High Court of Justice – In Breach of the Law

One of the main issues in the affair was – had the 30 day period of "Recent intrusion" passed, or not? If 30 days had passed – the Police were prohibited from removing the residents from the house, and the entire affair should have been transferred to the Magistrate's Court to decide the issue of ownership. On this issue the High Court Judges had decided that the 30 days would end on Friday, in other words, on the next day.

In the verdict it was determined that the residents of the house would be enabled to vacate it of their own accord ("voluntary eviction") until Friday at eleven o'clock, and that the Police were entitled to evict them "Tomorrow (- on Friday) from the hour 11:00".

A few hours afterwards, the IDF, the Police and the Prosecution understood that the High Court's verdict had ensnared them in a trap: Their 30 days would end on Friday, and on this day it was almost impossible to carry out the eviction. In their distress – they appealed to the High Court with a special request.

The request was called by the special name: "Urgent Request to Clarify the Verdict" – A proceeding that does not even exist in the legal procedure. In the request it was written – "Because the succession of 30 days is about to end tomorrow … and because it is apprehended that it might be impossible to complete the evacuation until the entry of the Shabbat … the Respondents are requesting the Court to clarify its verdict, in a manner that it shall determine that the submission of the plea has curtailed the succession of the 30 days …" – Allegedly, the request was a request for "Clarification", but in fact – it was actually a request to change the verdict, a procedure that doesn't exist and is irregular.

An impressive affidavit was attached to the request, signed by the Chief of the Central Command, in which it was said that the "Operation was complicated and required the participation of hundreds of soldiers and policemen" and that it would be impossible to complete it before the entry of the Shabbat".

The request was submitted to the High Court on Thursday night, and the hearing was set for Friday morning.

If the High Court had made its decisions in accordance with the law and the rules of adjudication to which it is committed – the "Request for Clarification" should have been rejected out of hand:

However, the High Court Judges did not take into account all these facts and rules, and immediately upon their entry into the Court they announced in a friendly tone to the representative of the Prosecution, that the Police would "of course" be granted their request, and this even before they had heard the arguments made by the parties. Judge Naor even further questioned the attorneys on why the residents of the building were not honoring the decision of the High Court and were not vacating the property voluntarily.

At this stage, Orit Struck, the representative of the Jewish Community, requested leave to speak and explained to the judges that when they themselves do not honor their own decisions and the rules of the law and of the verdict to which they were committed – it would be difficult to demand that the public honor them. "The High Court has made a laughing stock of itself", she said later to journalists in the hallway of the Court. This obviously did not prevent the system for doing what it wanted to do.

Barriers in the Entire Region

In the course of the legal proceeding, and apparently even before the verdict became known, already the IDF imposed barriers in the entire region. The residents of the area were blocked on the roads and had to undergo unnecessary difficulties and suffering. A curfew was imposed on a large section of Hebron, which aroused harsh feelings among the residents. It became clear that the Police and the Army were acting without regard for the law, or maybe they were given advance hints with respect to what would be the outcome of the hearing at the High Court of Justice. …

What about the Future?

The residents of the region, including the residents of Hebron, have been living under no illusions for many years. We know that any progress in populating the area is accompanied by many difficulties and sacrifices. Currently, we are commemorating the murder of six members of the Community near Beit Hadassah, which took place on Friday evening, the 17th of Iyar, 5740. Three months earlier, Yehoshua Saloma, was murdered. But only because of these sacrifices, the Jewish Community of Hebron, which was renewed by virtue of the pioneer women of Beit Hadassah, has made advances, and in memory of those who were murdered, the community of Beit Haggai was established (Haggai – Hannan, Gershon, Yaacov, Yehoshua). Every stage of development was accompanied by difficulties and struggles, and after them came the advance.

With G-d's help, the same will happen this time as well, and we'll return to this house – and to many other houses, which will be redeemed and will be restored to us, and the City of the Patriarchs will be rebuilt.

"The Beit Shapira" struggle and eviction


Wednesday, May 10, 2006