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Crossing all the lines

By Nadav Shragai Haaretz Last update – 12:02 24/11/2008

Hebron in the eyes of the state prosecutors and the High Court of Justice is
an Arab city where a few hundred Jews reside until “the final status
agreement” is struck. Hebron in the eyes of the settlers is the city of our
forefathers in which Jewish settlement has existed “from time immemorial”
and will exist “forever.”

Hebron, where David established his kingdom before the conquest of
Jerusalem, is also a true reflection of the fault line that divides Israeli
society between political and secular Zionists – for whom this country is
first and foremost a refuge and a national home – and religious Zionists,
whose existence is obviously rooted primarily in Judaism; between those for
whom “the future of our sons is more important than the graves of our
forefathers” – and those who are convinced that there is no future for our
sons in a place that is without the graves of our forefathers, no
physical-existential future, and most of all no spiritual future.

For years, these two streams fed off one another. David Ben-Gurion, who was
the main figure who merged these two worldviews, thought that “we will make
a huge, tremendous error if we do not settle Hebron, Jerusalem’s neighbor
and predecessor, with an ever-expanding Jewish settlement in the shortest
amount of time.” Even the 51 members of Knesset who signed a letter opposing
the evacuation of Hebron’s “House of Peace” are in their own way merging
these two worldviews, as is Morris Abraham of New York, a descendant of Jews
who were banished from Hebron following the 1929 massacre, who gave up his
retirement funds to buy the building in Hebron, to link Kiryat Arba with the
Tomb of the Patriarchs.

Now, however, in the case of that Hebron building, also known as the “House
of Contention,” all lines have been crossed by both sides. On the one hand,
Jewish fanatics from the fringes of the settler camp whose place is in
prison vandalize Muslim tombstones, and harm Arabs and Israel Defense Forces
soldiers; a former member of Knesset says Kadima is worse than Hamas; and a
rabbi says the State of Israel is the enemy of the nation (although he later

On the other hand, and we are not talking here about the fringes, our
nation’s government is developing its own fanaticism whereby the ends – the
banishment of Jews from Hebron – justify nearly all the means, to the point
where that government and its mouthpieces become mute, deaf and blind. Even
in the face of the facts and from a moral standpoint.

Here is a “minor” matter: the death sentence which the Palestinian Authority
hands down to anyone who “commits the crime” of selling land to Jews. In any
properly functioning state, the government, its attorney general and its
Supreme Court would cry out to the heavens against such a punishment, which
more or less constitutes a license to murder. But this law is accepted with
near indifference, perhaps because the champions of human rights who were
supposed to rise up in protest are themselves of the mind that a Palestinian
who sells land to a Jew is a criminal.

Anyone who has listened to the tape that the settlers presented to the High
Court of Justice cannot comprehend how the justices did not do the minimum
that is required, and ask the state to reconsider its position in relation
to the House of Contention. This audiotape includes everything. The supposed
seller recalls how he sold the property, received the money, made
renovations at the request of the buyer and even resisted serious pressure
from the PA. Remarkably, the High Court and the prosecutors do not question
the authenticity of the tape, but the latter – due to some bizarre,
procedural considerations – simply refuse heed it.

In addition, Faid Rajbi, the ostensible seller, who in his first
interrogation by Hebron police claimed that he never sold the house, but is
later seen in a video tape counting his money, repeatedly changed his
version of events – a serious mistake in the best-case scenario, and at
worst an obstruction of justice which serves a political agenda.

There is no doubt that a case on a similar scale within tiny Israel proper
would have been heard in a District or Magistrate’s Court. There the facts
and the evidence would have come into clear focus for their approval. But
when dealing with Hebron and the House of Contention case, one gets the
impression that the facts are not so relevant, and that someone here has
decided that he will not let the evidence confuse him.

Even retired District Court judge Uri Shtruzman, perhaps by dint of the fact
that he was the one who presided over one of the cases cited by Ayala
Procaccia in her decision, was under the impression that the High Court
erred in its legal interpretation of “his” case, noting that “there’s no
surprise in the settlers’ forceful protests that it wasn’t a fair trial that
guided the High Court’s considerations, but a political perspective.”

Defense Minister Ehud Barak needs to take this into account. The High Court,
contrary to misleading media reports and of which Barak has been made aware
by his advisers, did not require the state to evacuate the settlers from the
House of Contention, but simply enabled it to do so. The appointment of an
impartial investigative panel or a deferment of a final decision until the
facts have been sorted out in district court is the proper, measured way to
handle this affair.

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