Late Monday night, Israeli soldiers in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron, completed the evacuation of settlers who have been illegally occupying the downtown marketplace since 2002.The settlers departed from their illegal outpost only with the assurance from senior military officials in the region that they will be allowed to return within two years’ time. Some of the settlers left behind their belongings, and have until Thursday to retrieve them.
The withdrawal follows several months of angry protests by the approximately 50 settlers, who harassed and attacked Palestinians who had lived in the market area. Hebron as a city is infamous for settler violence – 101 physical barricades and 18 Israeli military checkpoints protect the 500 Israeli settlers who chose to illegally invade and occupy an area that is home to 130,000 Palestinians.
But the settlers’ withdrawal from Hebron will not result in the marketplace being returned to the Palestinian residents and merchants who were driven out. In a January 5th article in Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, it was noted that, "The Defense Ministry has terminated the lease with the Hebron municipality that enabled the Palestinian merchants to work in the city’s wholesale market. This means that the merchants from the wholesale market will not be able to return to their shops even if the Israel Defense Forces do evict the settlers squatting there." In fact, the settlers who are currently withdrawing will soon be replaced by ‘legal’ Israeli settlers with the full military support of the Israeli army.
Indeed, an internal source in the Israeli military revealed that settlers were told to “retain their keys to the buildings they have been occupying in order to guarantee their return”, according to Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz.