Prime minister to visit Hebron for first time in two decades

On the eve of Benjamin Netanyahu’s appearance at a ceremony marking the 90th anniversary of the 1929 Hebron massacre, 17 Likud MKs urged him to renew building in the historic city.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will speak at Wednesday’s commemoration of the 1929 Arab massacre of Jews in Hebron in his first visit to the ancient city in 21 years.

Once a decade there is an official ceremony marking the murder of 67 Jewish residents of Hebron and the wounding of dozens more by an Arab mob on August 24 70 years ago, in what was then British-mandate Palestine.

In 2009, the highest government official present was Supreme Court justice Elyakim Rubinstein, and the ceremony took place in the ancient Jewish cemetery.

This time around, Netanyahu, who has not made an official visit to the city since 1998, will give a speech at one of the two state ceremonies that will be held in the much larger open space in the compound near the Cave of the Patriarchs.

The timing of his return to the controversial city in which about a thousand Jews live in section under Israeli control among over 150,000 Arabs under Palestinian Authority control is no coincidence, as it will give the prime minister another chance to shore up his right-wing credentials just two weeks before elections.

Hebron activists know this as well, and told newspaper Maariv on Tuesday that they expect action more than words.

“For many years the Jewish community in Hebron has been working to give back to the owners – which is the Jewish community of the city – the ancient wholesale market,” they said.

“Nine months ago a legal breakthrough was achieved: The Attorney General approved to discontinue the [Arab] Hebron municipality’s hold on the market, and to plan a large Jewish neighborhood there instead. The only thing remaining to implement this historic decision is the prime minister’s approval. We expect Netanyahu to declare this decision in his speech on Wednesday.”

The market area was originally bought by a Jewish rabbi for communal use in 1807, but following the 1929 massacre, the British forced all remaining Jews to leave the city.

When the region was occupied by the Jordanians after Israel’s War of Independence, the municipality leased its buildings to Arab vendors.

After a Jewish doctor, Baruch Goldstein, killed 29 Arabs in the Cave of the Patriarchs in 1994, the area was evacuated and has remained vacant ever since. It took until 2018 for all the legal difficulties to be ironed out, even though the Jewish ownership of the land was upheld in court several times.

Last November, then-defense minister Avigdor Liberman ordered that the planning of the new residential project should go ahead, but facts have yet to be established on the ground.

Seventeen Likud ministers and Knesset members have now taken the opportunity of the upcoming anniversary to sign a letter urging Netanyahu to get the building started.