Israel’s newly installed far-right defense minister, MK Naftali Bennett, announced on Sunday, December 1, his approval for the planning of a new settlement in the flashpoint Palestinian West Bank city of Hebron. The decision was quickly praised by the right and condemned by Hadash, Israeli peace movements and Palestinians.
The settlement in Hebron is now made up of several enclaves located deep in the heart of the largest Palestinian city in the West Bank. The roughly 800 Jewish settlers there live under heavy military guard amid some 215,000 Palestinians. It has been the scene of numerous stabbings and other violent incidents between Palestinians and Israelis in recent years.
On Sunday, the defense minister’s office released a statement that Bennett had ordered the relevant offices within the Israel military establishment to inform the Hebron municipality that planning was starting for a new neighborhood near the city’s old market. Bennett assumed the position of defense minister in the current caretaker government after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was forced last week to resign from all his ministerial portfolios after his indictment by the attorney general.
Hadash (The Democratic Front for Peace and Equality – Communist Party of Israel) called Bennett’s decision “criminal” and a “dangerous step that deepens the occupation regime over millions of Palestinians.” Joint List leader MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash) issued a statement saying that “The war against peace continues,” and condemned the “dangerous and messianic vision of the right.”
Hadash MK Ofer Cassif (Joint List), made reference to Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish settler and terrorist who murdered 29 Palestinians and wounded scores of others at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron in 1994 and was subsequently killed by Palestinians who overcame him. “Baruch Goldstein is looking from hell at Defense Minister Naftali Bennett and swelling with pride,” he said, warning that the move would escalate violence. “Apparently more people being killed is a price Bennett is happy to pay as election bribery to the Kahanists” — followers of the late racist rabbi Meir Kahane.
“The settlement in Hebron is the ugliest face of Israel’s control in the Occupied Territories,” anti-settlement campaigners from Peace Now said in a statement. “In order to maintain the presence of 800 settlers among a quarter of a million Palestinians, entire streets in Hebron are closed to Palestinians, denying them freedom of movement and impinging on their livelihoods.” Peace Now said however that the land legally belongs to the Hebron municipality and the tenancy of its residents is protected, meaning they cannot be evicted without legal grounds, but that this status had been disregarded by Israeli courts, paving the way for the new settlement.
“Israel’s decision to build a new illegal settlement in occupied Hebron is the first tangible result of the US decision to legitimize colonization; this cannot be taken out of the context,” said Saeb Erakat, Secretary-General of the Palestine Liberation Organization.