Rajabi building update: Israeli court decides in favor settler ownership

The long disputed case of the Rajabi house in Wadi al Hussein in Hebron today saw a decision from the Israeli Supreme Court in favour of settler ownership of the house. EAPPI met with representatives of Youth Against Settlements (YAS) to discuss the issue. They expect that this development will likely see increased tension, as settlers have claimed that they will ‘take back’ the house. There is talk among Palestinian organizations such as YAS and Hebron Rehabilitation Committee (HRC) to arrange demonstrations and other non-violent activities in the coming days in response to the decision. Coupled with the fact that the holiday of Purim is just in a few days, the coming week will probably see increased tension in the H2 area of Hebron.

In EAPPI’s fact sheet on the Rajabi building published last September, we point out that the decision to give the house to Israeli settlers is against international law as it means the establishment of a new settlement in Hebron.  This decision hinders the current peace process and could have severe humanitarian implications for Palestinians who live in the vicinity of the Rajabi building.

For more, read our fact sheet on the Rajabi case and its humanitarian implications, watch an animated film created by some of our EAs, and read our previous posts about the case.

Also read, Palestinians lose appeal over Hebron house ownership.

4 Humanitarian Implications of a New Israeli Settlement in Hebron

Facts about the Al Rajabi building in Hebron and the humanitarian implications of a new settlement in Hebron.

You can download, print, and share our new fact sheet.

*Read more about the Al Rajabi building.

What is the European Union doing for Palestine, and what should it be doing?

EAPPI observers actively involved in relaying facts on the ground from their eyewitness experience to the EU delegation in Jerusalem.

by Helga and Johanna

EAPPI visits the European Commission delegation in Jerusalem. Photo EAPPI/H. Edvindsen

EAPPI visits the European Commission delegation in Jerusalem. Photo EAPPI/H. Edvindsen

Working as human rights observers in the West Bank, we constantly see the European Union flag. We have attended trainings funded by the European Commission, met EU humanitarian aid workers improving hydration and sanitation facilities in vulnerable communities, learned about an EU funded project preserving the oral tradition of Bedouin culture. The list goes on…

On Monday, October 12, we visited, with 2 other EAPPI colleagues, the Office of the European Representative for the West Bank and Gaza in East Jerusalem. Our mission – to present our work and discuss EU policies in the region.

What is the EU doing?

In our meeting, the EU delegation representatives explained that the EU is helping the Palestinian Authority build institutions for the future independent and democratic Palestinian State and working to enhance economic and political cooperation with the EU. All of these efforts are based on the EU’s Interim Association Agreement on Trade and Cooperation.

The Lithuanian Presidency of the EU Council recently called on Israel to “end the settlements”, stating that they undermine the peace process.  Such an active stance is encouraging.

What we’ve seen…

Despite these positive developments, we’ve seen many counteractive actions and took the opportunity to share with the EU delegation what we have seen in our 3 months.

We discussed the rise in house demolitions in Area C. The UN recorded at least 8 demolitions in Palestinian villages since mid-August, including the demolition of Az Za’ayem Bedouin village, which we witnessed with our own eyes. This is only one example of a demolition in the E1 area, which will displace over 2,300 Jahalin Bedouins from the area east of Jerusalem. We pointed out that many EU funded buildings are those that are demolished, as was the case in Khirbet al Makhul. The Association of International Development Agencies in Jerusalem, reported in May 2012 that the Israeli authorities demolished 30 European funded structures between March to May 2012 alone. 

We expressed concern over the steady expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and the continuation of this expansion, despite current peace talks. Since 1967, Israeli has allowed the creation of over 150 settlements and 100 settlement outposts.

We shared the situation of settlement expansion in Hebron, in which Israeli settlers aim to move into the Rajabi building. If allowed, they will create a new settlement in Hebron, which will link the settlements of Kiryat Arba and Givat Ha’avot to the Israeli settlements in the Old City of Hebron.  This new settlement will also have a devastating humanitarian impact on the local Palestinian community.

Israeli settlers threw rocks and broke these windows of the Jab'a Bedouin community. Photo EAPPI/J. Kaprio

Israeli settlers threw rocks and broke these windows of the Jab’a Bedouin community. Photo EAPPI/J. Kaprio

We showed pictures of settler attacks against Palestinians; the burning of more than 400 olive trees in Jalud and pictures of windows of several buildings in the Jab’a Bedouin community that settlers damaged with stones.

What the EU must do?

Consistency and determination is required from the EU and its member states in policies towards supporting the development of a future Palestinian state and peace in the region.

As a major market for agricultural products from Israeli settlements, the EU helps sustain settlements, making them viable and profitable. This reality, necessitates that the EU fully implement its new guidelines, which will come into force on 1 January 2014 and ensure that Israeli settlements are not benefitting from trade with the EU.

Recent speculations reveal that the guidelines may not be fully implemented after all, due to the political dismay they caused in Israel and in order for Israel to be able to participate in the EU’s Horizon 2020 financial instrument. We expressed our concern and emphasized that the Horizon 2020 programme must not happen at the expense of human rights.

Respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law are core values of the European Union embedded in the charter of fundamental rights of the European Union.  These values are binding to all 28 Member States.

While EU policy making does not happen on the delegation level, we know they are important avenues in relaying facts from the ground to the corridors of Brussels’ institutions.

“Europeans are finally beginning to understand the situation in Palestine, we welcome their efforts to help and we welcome the guidelines,” the headmaster of Al-Fakheit school in Masafar Yatta recently told us.

We share his welcome and are glad we could portray the effects of the Israeli occupation on the everyday life of the Palestinians.

House of Peace, House of War

On September 2, 2013, the Israeli High Court, in its final hearing on the Al Rajabi building, stated it would make a final decision in 1-6 months. For those like Fatma Jabari, the past, present, and future of the house, which has affected her everyday life, looks grim.

by Susanne, Hebron team

A demonstration in support of the Al Rajabi building. Photo EAPPI/S. Hefekaeuser.

A demonstration in support of the Al Rajabi building. Photo EAPPI/S. Hefekaeuser.

Fatma Jabari clearly remembers when the Israeli settlers moved in at the opposite site of the street. At 9:30 pm, two soldiers came into her house. Instead of ringing the bell, they crashed the door. They stood with their rifles in the hallway of the family home, in which plastic chairs and sofas are normally waiting to seat the guests of the family. With a brisk voice, they told the family to leave the house. “My husband was very sick and weak, he already had a couple of heart attacks, he could barely move”, says the old woman, deep crinkles of sorrow casting shadows on her face. The family had to wait outside several hours while the soldiers searched the house for weapons or any other source of danger for the settlers.

Fatmas new neighbors were fourteen Israeli settler families who, in March 2007, moved into the three-story house that the Palestinians call “Rajabi house”, while the settlers refer to it as “Beit Hashalom”, or “House of Peace”. Located at the rim of Wadi Al Hussein, the Rajabi building is strategically located on the street that connects Kiryat Arba settlement on the outskirts of Hebron with the settlement houses in the Old City of Hebron.

A religious dream

Claiming to have bought the house legally from the Palestinian Rajabi family, the settlers moved here to make a religious vision come true:

“We have been praying for Eretz Israel for 2000 years, so that we could come back to Eretz Israel. Now we are here.” says the settler Ruti Hizmi in a video on YouTube. The forty-something lady is sitting on a red velvet sofa, her hair is covered with a violet scarf.

Eretz Israel or “Greater Israel”– the land God promised to the Jews – is a project, which the politics in Israel tries to impede. This is a project that must be defended, says Ruti: “We do exactly the opposite. Instead of destroying it, we build Eretz Israel anew.” In the process of building anew, the settlers work against the people whom she simply refers to as “our enemies” – the Palestinians that inhabit the land.

“We are 70 people, where are we supposed to go?”

Fatma is one of those enemies. She limps through the small courtyard of her house which lies sandwiched between the Kiryat Arba settlement and the Rajabi building in the valley. She has been living in this house for 41 years. A horde of children slides down the stairs in wooden fruit boxes into the yard whose fence has been stuffed with cardboard and ply wood in order to protect the inhabitants from the curious looks of passersby on the street. Fatima is dressed in a golden robe and white headscarf. She has friendly brown eyes, but has difficulty moving. She broke her hip once, she explained, while trying to protect her grandson from an assault by a settler girl.

With a tremor in her hand she points to the bullet holes in her window frame.  They are a reminder of the settlers, she says. On a daily basis, they threw rocks at her house or shot the house with live ammunition. On her daughter’s wedding day, the settlers even threw tomatoes and eggs at the bride. According to a B’tselem report, the soldiers did not intervene on the Palestinians behalf. Instead, they ordered the wedding guests to stand along a wall, hands crossed behind their heads. In spite of all the difficulties, Fatma never thought about moving out of her house.

“We are 70 people, where are we supposed to go?”, she asks.

The settlers burnt houses and cars, beat up people and opened fire

The settlers have been gone for five years now. In November 2008, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the ownership situation of the building is not entirely clear. The Rajabi family denies they sold the house to the settlers. When they realized to whom they sold the house through a Palestinian middleman, they cancelled the contract immediately. In court, however, the settlers used two forged documents to prove their purchase.

Due to the court decision, the settlers were evacuated by force from the building in December 2008, but retaliated in the following days. They burnt houses and cars, beat up passersby and journalists, and threw stones at Palestinian homes. One group of outraged settlers attacked the house of the Abu Saifan family in the valley between Kiryat Arba and the Rajabi building. One settler opened fire and hit three men of the family.

Human Rights Organizations expect a catastrophe

During the September 2 court hearing, the Israeli judges allowed the Rajabi family’s lawyer to speak only rarely. “They did not listen to all my arguments”, he says. He is not very optimistic to win the case. Legally speaking, it is a difficult case. It is about forged papers, money that has been paid or not and the legality of middlemen in transactions.

The International Human Rights Organizations active in Hebron, however, know that the Rajabi case is about far more than that. From a Human Rights perspective they expect a catastrophe should the house be turned into a settlement once again. The street in front of the house could be closed for Palestinians altogether, new military checkpoints could be installed in the area that would impede the access of students to two Palestinian schools and there could be further assaults on the mosque next to the building, the Palestinian cemetery and on the Palestinians themselves. The affected persons are the men, women in children living in the valley, people like Fatma.

Fatma’s family will lose anyway

Fatma stands under a Jasmine tree in the atrium of her house, gazing to the Rajabi house that rises above her head on the other side of the street in an almost threatening way. On the roof, there are two soldiers on watch. When the Israeli High Court makes its decision, Fatma knows that she and her family will lose anyway. Should the settlers win, the daily hassle will begin once again for the family: Flying stones, shooting, assaults. Should the settlers lose, Fatma fears their revenge. “I want to live in peace, with my children, my grandchildren. I want the violence to stop”, Fatma says. She looks to the group of children who are still playing around wildly in the courtyard. In the meantime, they have shattered the stair sliding fruit boxes to pieces.

Sign the Petition: Al-Rajabi building faces looming court decision

The Al-Rajabi building. Photo EAPPI/M. Prisco

The Al-Rajabi building. Photo EAPPI/M. Prisco

The Israeli Supreme Court will decide the future of the Al-Rajabi family building, located in Hebron’s H2, on September 2, 2013.  The building is situated in a valley at the southern entrance of the Kiryat Arba settlement, in a strategic location that could link this settlement to five other nearby settlements around Hebron’s Old City.

When did it all begin?

On 19 March 2007, approximately 200 settlers occupied the building and claimed to have purchased it. The settlers launched a campaign of attacks against Palestinian families and their property in an effort to pressure Palestinians to move away from the area. Their efforts were supplemented by an increased presence of Israeli soldiers in the area to provide security for the settlers, which resulted in severe movement and access restrictions for Palestinians.

On 17 November 2008, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the ownership deed produced by the settlers was forged, and declared that the ownership of the building should only be decided after the case has gone through all levels of litigation in the Israeli Judicial system. The settlers were ordered to vacate the building, which they did, while injuring approximately 25 Palestinian civilians, damaging seven cars, and vandalizing three homes in the process.

Determining the future

In July 2013, the Israeli district court granted ownership to Israeli settlers, despite proof that they used forged and illegal ownership documents. The Hebron Rehabilitation Committee appealed the July decision and now awaits the final decision of the case on September 2, which will determine the future of the building.

“The community feels it is in a lose-lose situation. If Israeli Supreme Court grants settlers ownership, Palestinians will have lost part of their community,” noted a former EAPPI observer in Hebron.  “If the court does not grant settlers ownership, Palestinians fear reprisal from the settlers as happened in the past.”

Take action to protect the Al-Rajabi building

With the court decision only 1 week away, you can help protect the Al-Rajabi building. Sign the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee’s petition HERE.

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Bassam’s Story – the new settlement threatens the existence of his shop

Christian Peacemaker Teams coverage of the building including interviews with 4 affected families

EA Blog: Hebron locals fear new ‘House of Peace’ settlement

by Michele, Hebron Team

A few days ago we visited Bassam Jabari, a shoemaker who lives in Wadi al-Hussein, the area just behind Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron. Wadi al-Hussein is a valley between two settlements, Kiryat Arba and Givat Ha’avot. As all settlements in the West Bank, Kiryat Arba and Givat Ha’avot are illegal according international law. Bassam’s shop is small.  His family is growing, they are now eight and live in a small apartment behind the shop.

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He has tried to extend his house by building an extra floor, but the Israeli authorities have stopped work several times because his house is located in the Israeli controlled Area C, despite the fact that Hebron city has granted him a construction permit. According to “The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories” (B’tselem), over the past three decades have Israel has employed a policy of planning, development and construction in the West Bank that significantly limited the building of Palestinian homes and buildings and instead favored the establishment and the expansion of Israeli settlements. Palestinians who request a construction permit from the Israeli authorities must undergo a time-consuming, complicated and expensive process that usually ends with refusal.

Since 28 May 2012 Bassam has been prevented from performing any further work in his house. “A few weeks ago, Israeli soldiers came to my shop and ordered me to stop work in the house. It was just a plumber who fixed a problem we had at home. The captain said, do not touch anything house, I’ll try to help you with this. Nothing has happened yet. ” According to Bassam, Israeli border police intervened just because the settlers who live in the area contacted them. “Every time they suspect I resumed work, they call on the Border Police.”

In Wadi al-Hussein, almost opposite to Bassam’s store, it is located al-Rajabi house (which the settlers call Beit HaShalom, Fredshus) that have caused much tension in the area since March 2007. The Israeli settlers claimed to have an agreement to buy the house signed in 2007.

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This claim was disputed by the Israeli Supreme Court which in November 2008 ordered the settlers to leave the building. As a consequence, the settlers reacted violently.  Al-Rajabi house contributes also to Bassam’s problems. He says, “The settlers once came to my shop and told me that only when they get al-Rajabi house I will be allowed to continue to build.” The legal battle over al-Rajabi house continues but Bassam’s situation has not improved. A week ago, he turned to Hebron city, the DCO 7  and even TIPH. 8. Now he is waiting and hoping that he will soon be able to resume the works.