Ten Palestinian Authority Arabs have filed a petition with the High Court to force the IDF to remove Jews from the Beit Hamachpelah building in Chevron, adjacent to Me’aras Hamachpelah. The petitioners claim that the Jewish group that claims to have purchased the building did not acquire ownership rights in a legal manner. Although the purchasers have documentation testifying to the legal purchase of the property from family members of its purported Arab owners, the Aub Rajab family, other family members claim ownership rights that they say they did not sell.
The purchase of Beit Hamachpelah, like many purchases of property by Jews from Arabs in Yehudah and Shomron, is wrapped in numerous layers of claims, contracts and government edicts dating back to the days of the British Mandate. The claims and counterclaims are due to land grants from the Jordanian government before 1967, Mandatory laws that allow “homesteaders” to lay claim to property if their presence there is not challenged for a decade, and PA laws that make it a capital crime to sell land to Jews.
The saga of Beit Hamachpelah goes back five years, when 15 Jewish families entered the building, claiming to have purchased it from a Palestinian agent representing the family.
The sale was conducted informally and quietly, as the Palestinian Authority imposes the death penalty on Arabs who sell property to Jews. Indeed, that was the case in Beit Hamachpelah, with the PA arresting the agent, and then the owner, of the property. The response of the government — specifically the Defense Ministry, then headed by Ehud Barak — was to evict the Jewish residents and seal the building, a situation that remained in effect until last month, when the families that claimed ownership in 2012 returned.
In 2012, the State Attorney for matters relating to Yehudah and Shomron ruled, based on the sales documents and evidence presented, that the property belonged to its Jewish purchasers and should be registered in their names.
In 2015, the registration process was halted, but that was reversed again two months ago, when it was renewed. The new petition claims that the registration process should be halted because ownership is being disputed, and that the building should remain vacant until a decision is made on who owns it.
Numerous ministers have spoken out supporting the residents. “I congratulate the families who have entered the building and call on the Prime Minister and Defense Minister to let them stay,” said Yerushalayim Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin. Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said in a statement that “the scandal of Jews buying homes and then preventing them from living in the houses they have purchased should have ended a long time ago. The residents of Beit Hamachpelah should be allowed to stay, and the discrimination against them and other Jews must end.”
According to Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, “This is an important development. This is the best answer to the events of recent days. I am glad to see that despite the incitement against Jewish sovereignty in Yerushalayim, Jews are continuing to stake their claims in Chevron, the city of our forefathers.”