The Israeli government gave settlers, on Wednesday, 30 days to voluntarily leave a Palestinian building they occupied in the southern West Bank city of Hebron three weeks ago. Following which they will be evacuated by force.
Israeli media reported that Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said Wednesday that the legal process will allow the settlers 15 days to leave voluntarily, followed by a 15-day extension. Haaretz, an Israeli online daily stated that Israeli Civil Administration officials are expected to distribute evacuation orders to the settlers on Wednesday, after Defense Minister Amir Peretz on Tuesday officially instructed the Israeli army to evacuate the building.

Three weeks ago some 200 armed Israeli settlers seized a Palestinian-owned house in the city of Hebron, claiming ownership. The settlers, all yeshiva youth students, broke into a Palestinian home located near the main road between the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba’ and some Palestinian residential buildings. The settlers alleged that the house had been legally purchased a few years ago. Settlers in Hebron have attracted much attention to themselves in the past as religious extremists.

Meanwhile, the owner of the house, a Palestinian civilian named Faris Al Rajabi, says that he and his father possess all the documents proving their ownership. Al Rajabi added that he is the sole owner of the house and that he has never contacted the settlers. The Israeli authorities justify the evacuation passed on the fact that the building was inhabited without the permission of the Israeli defense minister, as required by the Israeli law.

Israeli Tourism Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich, who visited the house when setters occupied it to show spurt to the settlers three weeks ago stated on Wednesday that ‘if the disputed building was purchased legally, its buyers must be allowed to stay and must not be evicted’. The legality of the purchase is irrelevant, since the settlers did not ask for approval to inhabit the property as they should have according to the regulations, Israeli official told Haarretz. The Yesha Council of Settlements, which represents the settlers in Israel stated that they will fight the decision.

Some 500 Israeli settlers, of the Kiryat Arba’ settlement, are occupying a large area of this ancient Palestinian city, where about 20, 000 Palestinians are inhabited. There is a constant massive Israeli military presence in the city, outnumbering the settlers themselves. Not only does this restrict the movement and freedom of Palestinian civilians, it often denies them basic human and legal rights.

Thus a large number of local Palestinian residents are leaving their homes in the old city of Hebron and near the illegal settlements in several parts of the city. As a result, scores of Palestinian-owned buildings become easy targets for right-wing settler groups, a phenomenon which was termed by some international human rights organizations as ‘the silent transfer’.