90th Anniversary Of Chevron Massacre: Time To Return Stolen Property

A ransacked house in the Jewish quarter of Hebron

Israel – This week marked the 90th anniversary of the Hevron massacre. On the 18th and 19th of Av 5689 (1929), the Arab population of Hevron fell upon their Jewish neighbors with whom they had lived peacefully for hundreds of years and murdered men, women and children in cold blood and in the most gruesome possible ways. 67 holy Jews lost their lives, including more than 20 members of the Hevron Yeshiva which had moved there from Lithuania a few years earlier. The 800-strong Jewish community, left without any protection from the British police, fled their homes, abandoning their property to the murderers.

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After the War of Independence, these properties were transferred to the “Jordanian Custodian of Zionist Enemy Property” which in turn rented the properties out to individual Arabs and to public entities. The largest property, measuring 4.5 dunams, which had belonged to the “Sephardic Kollel Magen Avot” was rented out to the Hevron municipality, which set up a “wholesalers market” there.

In 1967, Israel captured Chevron during the Six Day War. The Arab population, many of whom had participated in the massacre, were quaking and expecting retribution, as is common in their own culture. Not a shot was fired at the conquering army, such was the fear in the hearts of the inhabitants. At the same time, the former Jewish population of Chevron and their descendants expected to receive restitution of their former properties or at least compensation. Instead, Israel transferred the custodianship to the IDF, which continued to rent the properties out to Arabs rather than returning them to their rightful owners.

This sorry state of affairs continued until 1980 when Arab terrorists attacked Beit Hadassa and murdered 6 Yeshiva bochurim. At this point the government agreed that when the properties would be evacuated by their Arab tenants, they would revert to the nascent Jewish community of Hevron. In this way the community grew gradually over the years as tenants left.

Yet the wholesalers market remained in Arab hands and was clearly endangering the Jewish community nearby. The army therefore decided to close the market down.

In the 1997 Hevron agreement, Netanyahu transferred to the PA jurisdiction over development within the city, including the local Jewish community’s development. After Shalhevet Fass, a Jewish infant, was murdered by Arab snipers, a number of Jewish families entered the vacant market. They were promptly asked to leave by the state’s custodian, but the courts agreed that the property should be rented to the Jewish community, as after all it was abandoned Jewish property.

The families left voluntarily, convinced that the property would be rented to them immediately afterwards. However at this point the IDF’s attorney-general, Mike Blass, stepped in and claimed that legally the Hevron municipality had “protected tenant” status since it had rented the market originally and therefore the market could not be rented to Jews.

It took until 2018 before an opposing legal opinion was offered by the Defense Ministry’s attorney-general. He claimed that this was the only possible property referred to in the Hevron agreement as a place to “develop and maintain the Jewish community in Hevron”, since there is no other place for them to expand. He added that the “protected tenant” status had expired when the Arabs built another market in the PA –controlled part of the city. However to placate the Hevron municipality, he suggested that it be allowed to rent the bottom floor of the new building complex.

In theory this should enable the Jewish community to enter the market but they still need to deal with the Hevron municipality. In a totally absurd turn of events, the newly elected mayor of Chevron is none other than Tayser Abu Sneineh, the very terrorist who murdered the 6 Yeshiva students in 1980! Abu Sneineh spent just two years behind bars before being released in a prisoner exchange. Moreover, he doesn’t deny his part in the terrorist attack and even gloated over it online during his election campaign, describing in detail how the attack was planned in order to cause maximum casualties to the Jewish community.

Thus, incomprehensibly, in order to return the stolen property of murdered Jews of 1929, the Jews must now deal with the murderer of Jews in 1980. It behooves the Israeli government to find a way out of this legal conundrum and pass a law allowing for all 1929 stolen properties to be returned to Jewish hands irrespective of the Hevron agreement. The Palestinians are anyway ignoring the agreement as they build thousands of illegal units in Area C which is supposedly under Israeli jurisdiction. We could even suggest a biblical name for such a law- “Have you murdered and also inherited?”

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