Revealed: An Arab prince’s secret proposal to sell the Western Wall to the Jews

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Revealed: An Arab prince’s secret proposal to sell the Western Wall to the Jews

A quixotic overture by a courageous prince lay hidden in files at the UK Colonial Office for 90 years, where this author discovered it. Now it can proudly take its place in history

On August 29, 1929, Prince Mohamed Ali Pasha, the uncle and future regent to King Farouk of Egypt, walked into the British Embassy in Istanbul and hand-delivered a letter to British Ambassador Sir George Clerk. The letter was addressed to the British High Commissioner for Palestine, Sir John Chancellor. The prince asked Ambassador Clerk to forward the letter to Chancellor in Jerusalem.

The prince had written and signed the letter less than one week after the shocking August 24, 1929, massacres in Hebron, following months of rising tensions at the Western (Wailing) Wall. The letter began by deploring the violence, with the prince expressing hope the Arabs and Jews could settle their differences peacefully. The prince then offered a stunning suggestion:

My proposal for a solution is that, instead of fighting or dealing unjustly by one party or the other, it would be infinitely better to come to an understanding. The Mohametans may be willing to accept a sum of money which would help them to do good for the community and as the Jews are rich, if this thing [the Wailing Wall] is so much desired by them, there seems no reason why they should not pay for it. If this could be done, it would avoid coercion and possibly injustice to one or other of the parties. Certainly I am sure the Mohametans and Arabs will not accept a small sum such as £10,000 or even £20,000 for a matter in which their honour is so far involved… Let them give £100,000 and I feel sure this would settle the difference.

This is the story of Prince Mohamed Ali Pasha’s surprise proposal to sell the Western Wall to the Jews, revealed here for the first time.

***

The Temple Mount and the Western Wall today represent the defining religious symbols of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The same was true during the 1920’s, following the British conquest of Palestine. Muslims and Jews clashed repeatedly over the Wall throughout the 1920’s.

The Jews claimed rights of prayer at the Wall, the only surviving remnant of the ancient Temples and the holiest and most sacred site for Jews to pray. Jews had been praying at or near the Wall nearly continuously since the Roman conquest.

‘The Mohametans may be willing to accept a sum of money which would help them to do good for the community and as the Jews are rich, if this thing [the Wailing Wall] is so much desired by them, there seems no reason why they should not pay for it’

The Muslims, for their part, also regarded the Wall (or the Buraq, named for Mohammed’s steed whom the Angel Gabriel, according to Muslim legend, tethered to the Wall at the end of Mohammed’s celestial journey from Mecca) as an Islamic Holy site that had been dedicated as Wakf property nearly a millennium ago. The Muslims asserted absolute ownership of both the Wall and the narrow strip of pavement facing the Wall. Prior to 1967, as shown in the following photograph, the pavement was sandwiched between the Wall on one side and an area of small dwellings, known as the “Moghrabi Quarter,” on the other side:

The Western Wall and narrow strip of pavement, late 19th Century (Library of Congress).

The Muslims refused to accord the Jews any rights to pray at the Wall, for fear the Jews would use that as a wedge to encroach further on Muslim property and eventually seize control of the entire Temple Mount area. During Ottoman times the Jews would pay small bribes to bring chairs and benches to the Wall, even as the Ottoman authorities issued formal rulings banning such practices as late as 1911.

After the British captured Jerusalem in December 1917, General Allenby immediately pledged to honor the so-called Status Quo prevailing at the Holy Sites. Allenby’s pledge became embedded as a legal concept five years later in Article 13 of the Mandate for Palestine, requiring the British to “preserve existing rights” at the Holy Sites.

The British soon found themselves caught in the middle between conflicting Jewish and Muslim assertions of rights and claims to the Western Wall and the pavement facing the Wall. The Mandatory authorities struggled to enforce the shaky Status Quo that had prevailed during Ottoman times, when Jews were allowed to utter individual prayers at the Wall, but not allowed to take any steps which could be viewed as asserting symbolic ownership of the Wall. Thus, the British enforced the Turkish ban on the Jews bringing chairs and benches to the Wall, as well as most other accoutrements of congregational prayer.

Jewish Legion soldiers at the Western Wall after British conquest of Jerusalem, 1917 (Public Domain)

The tensions led to controversy at the Wall during Passover 1922, Yom Kippur 1923 and Yom Kippur 1925. The most notable confrontation occurred on Yom Kippur 1928, when the British Deputy District Commissioner for Jerusalem, E. Keith-Roach, ordered the forcible removal of a screen (mehitza) the Jews had placed on the pavement in front of the Wall to divide men from women, causing the Jews to file an angry protest with the League of Nations. Tensions continued escalating during 1929 as the Mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, launched the so-called Buraq Campaign to galvanize Muslim and Arab Nationalist sentiment around the Wall dispute. The Jews likewise formed groups to “defend” their asserted rights to the Wall.

The tensions reached boiling point and exploded into violence in August 1929. On Tisha b’Av (August 15) 1929, a group of Jewish youth marched to the Wall, where they raised the blue and white flag, listened to a brief speech from one of their leaders, and sang the Hatikvah. The Muslims held a counter-demonstration the following day, the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday. The Muslim demonstration quickly turned violent, resulting in the murders of several Jews outside the Old City. The violence continued throughout the following week, culminating in the Hebron massacre of August 24, 1929, where approximately 60 Jews were butchered.

Jews flee the Old City of Jerusalem, August 1929. (US Library of Congress / Public Domain)

While the history of the violent clashes at the Wall during the 1920s has been told many times, less-known were various attempts by the Jews and British to strike a deal with the Muslims to buy the area in front of the Wall and the Wall itself.

Sir Ronald Storrs (Library of Congress / Public Domain)

In the spring of 1918, for example, Chaim Weizmann approached the British military government about buying the Wall and pavement area, along with the Moghrabi dwellings. The Military Governor, Sir Ronald Storrs, floated the idea with the Muslim community. Storrs reported the Muslims were offended, and “it would be a grave error of policy for the Military Government to raise the question at all.”

In August 1918, another British Official, Brigadier General Sir Gilbert Clayton, told the Muslims they might be able to secure “a large sum of money for a property which is to-day of little value.” The Muslims, however, opposed any such initiative, fearing it would be the first step toward Jewish encroachment on the Temple Mount.

In October 1918, Clayton notified London of an unauthorized Jewish attempt to buy the Wall, interfering with Clayton’s ongoing, quiet efforts to persuade the Arabs to consider selling the Wall:

“Up to quite recently signs were not wanting that the Moslem Dignitaries and notables were beginning to be impressed with the arguments explained to them at great length in favour of the scheme [for the Jews to buy the Wall]. The hopelessness … of obtaining the funds to put into effect … the restoration of the Haram es Sharif, the possibility of replenishing the Wakf coffers and so promoting Moslem education of a liberal scale, the comparative unimportance and squalor of the buildings and their [Moroccan] inhabitants in the precinct, the lurking fear that they might have one day to yield for nothing (as a City improvement scheme or otherwise) that for which they would now receive a very large sum of money – these and a variety of other considerations appeared to be modifying a ‘non possumus’ attitude into one of critical apprehension and fear of the effect on the local and general Islamic world. From the moment, however, that an attempt was apparently made by a Jerusalem Jew (doubtless without the knowledge of the Zionist Commission) to get into direct pecuniary contact with the Moslems concerned something approaching a panic set in, and from that day things have gone from bad to worse in so far as concerns the Zionist hopes in this respect.”

In 1926, a Jewish effort was launched to buy properties in front of the Wall as a first step toward acquiring the entire Moghrabi area and eventually the Wall itself. In early October 1928, Frederick Kisch, a Jerusalem-based Zionist official proposed, in a confidential letter to the Zionist Executive in London, that the Muslims be compelled to sell the pavement and the Moghrabi area to the Jews for £100,000, “in exchange for another suitable area in the Old City, with the inevitable addition of a cash payment for the benefit of the Wakf authorities.”

But these efforts, like those preceding them, went nowhere.

Three unique initiatives

Suddenly, however, in the days immediately following the Hebron massacre, three new initiatives appeared. While none of these new initiatives succeeded, their close proximity to each other and the dramatic nature of their presentation make them, especially Prince Mohamed Ali Pasha’s proposal, unique in the history of Mandate Palestine.

The first initiative came from a prominent Egyptian Jew, the Baron Felix de Menasce, the President of the Israelite Community in Alexandria. On August 26, 1929, only two days after the Hebron Massacre, Menasce walked into the British Embassy in Paris and met with Adrian Holman, the Second Secretary at the Embassy. Later that day Holman cabled the Foreign Office in London and reported as follows:

“[Menasce] explained to me at some length that the frequent cases of rioting at the Wailing Wall were due to the fact that the buildings surrounding the Wall were in the hands of the Moslems and had always been looked upon by the British Government as bearing a religious character. It had consequently always proved impossible for the Jews to buy the buildings in question and thus prevent troubles in the future. He maintained that the buildings were purely civil as opposed to religious and that the present moment might be an opportune one for the British Government to reconsider the possibility of arranging for the Jewish community to buy the buildings for demolition or other purposes. He was sure that if this were done, the Jewish community throughout the world would easily be able to find the necessary sum of money.”

George W. Rendell of the Foreign Office’s Eastern Division responded to Holman’s cable on September 7, noting the Muslims viewed the Wall as a religious site and would not be willing to sell the nearby dwellings to the Jews. Rendell poured more cold water on the idea, adding, “[t]he Colonial Office are, I think, familiar with the advantages and difficulties of a solution on the lines of the Baron de Menasce’s proposal, and seeing how overworked they are at the moment with a variety of Middle Eastern crises, I am not adding to their correspondence by passing the suggestion on to them.”

Dr. Chaim Weizmann. (AP Photo 1938)

Menasce sent a handwritten letter in French to Weizmann reporting on his meeting with Holman at the British Embassy in Paris. Menasce wrote, “J’ai la conviction c’est le moment psychologique de transfer tout l’argent necessaire, si jamais les Juifs deraint acheter ce Wakf …” (“I am convinced that if the Jews are ever going to buy this Wakf, this is, psychologically, the right time to find all the necessary money …”) No record has been found indicating whether Menasce had been acting on Weizmann’s behalf, or whether Weizmann ever responded to Menasce.

The second initiative came from Pinchas Rutenberg, the Managing Director of the Palestine Electric Corporation. On August 29, 1929, three days after Menasce’s meeting at the British Embassy in Paris, Rutenberg sent a letter to Lord Reading (previously known as Rufus Isaacs, a Jew and Chairman of the Palestine Electric Corporation), urging the British government to expropriate the entire area in front of the Wailing Wall to create “a suitable and dignified Jewish praying place.”

This was not the first time expropriation had been floated, but never at such a high level. Rutenberg was the preeminent Jewish businessman in Palestine and the future Chair of the Va’ad Leumi. Lord Reading took matters to the very highest level of the British Government, forwarding Rutenberg’s letter to Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald the next day, with a cover letter of endorsement:

“I would therefore earnestly represent that the necessary measures should be adopted as soon as practicable to make a complete end of this cause of dispute by expropriating the more extended area, as suggested by Mr. Rutenberg in his letter to me. I understand that this could be accomplished without interfering with any part of Moslem ‘Holy Ground.’”

But nothing came of Rutenberg’s expropriation proposal. The Colonial Office reacted negatively, noting “the present time is not opportune for considering the question of compulsory expropriation… Quite apart from the legal aspect, such action would be intensely resented by the Moslems and we have taken the line hitherto that expropriation is out of the question.”

In addition, High Commissioner Chancellor had already told the Permanent Mandates Commission (PMC) of the League of Nations in July 1929 that the first conclusion he came to after arriving in Palestine as High Commissioner and studying the Western Wall issue was that “there must not … be any attempt to expropriate, in favour of the Jews, the area of the pavement in front of the Wall.”

Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini (Library of Congress / Public Domain)

However, at that same PMC meeting, Chancellor disclosed he personally had asked the Mufti to consider selling the Moghrabi dwellings (“mean hovels,” as he described them) to the Jews, assuming the Jews would pay to relocate the Moghrabi inhabitants to superior accommodations elsewhere. Chancellor explained the Jews would be able “to make there a courtyard surrounded by a loggia where they could say their prayers in peace and in dignified surroundings.”

Weizmann embraced the idea and had £70,000 at the ready. But the Mufti rejected the plan, even after Chancellor suggested the Mufti consider an indirect sale, whereby the Mufti would transfer the property to the Mandatory Government as middleman, which would then complete the sale to the Jews, thereby allowing the Mufti to avoid looking as if he had sold Muslim property to the Jews.

An unprecedented proposal

The third initiative involved Prince Mohamed Ali Pasha of Egypt. Ali Pasha had built the famous Manial Palace on Rhoda Island on the Nile River in Cairo. The prince was the uncle of and future Regent to Farouk, the future King of Egypt. Those who knew Ali Pasha regarded him as a “very liberal-minded man,” with a “courtly bearing.” Storrs described Ali Pasha in his memoirs as “Prince Muhammad, afterwards Regent, with his great “lucky” emerald ring, the revived Oriental splendours of his Manial Palace, his courtly bearing and graceful entertainment; his fine devotion to his mother.” The Jewish, Alexandria-based lawyer Alec Alexander once described Ali Pasha as “the one person who could use his good offices to bring about peace between Muslims and Jews.”

Prince Mohamed Ali Pasha (Public Domain)

In an amazing coincidence of history, Ali Pasha entered the stage on August 29, 1929, the same day Rutenberg had sent his letter to Lord Reading, and only three days after Menasce’s meeting with Holman at the British Embassy in Paris.
On that fateful day of August 29, 1929, Ali Pasha, while on a visit to Istanbul, hand-delivered to the British Ambassador to Turkey, Sir George Clerk, a letter addressed to High Commissioner Chancellor in Jerusalem. The letter contained a stunning proposal from Ali Pasha for settling the Muslim-Jewish dispute over the Western Wall:

“Having heard about the troubles going on in Palestine between Jews and Mohametans, and having a certain knowledge of the Arab and Mohametan aspirations, I thought I might be of service outlining a proposal by which this quarrel might perhaps be ended peacefully.

The Mohametans and Arabs having been masters in Palestine for over one thousand years, they are fighting for their honour and do not want to lose anything which they have acquired as a possession. They fear that either through administrative channels or by force they will be compelled ultimately to relinquish rights they have held for so long.

Every one knows that in every country in law after the lapse of a certain period proprietary rights are established. In this case the rights of the Mohametans go back one thousand years.

My proposal for a solution is that, instead of fighting or dealing unjustly by one party or the other, it would be infinitely better to come to an understanding. The Mohametans may be willing to accept a sum of money which would help them to do good for the community and as the Jews are rich, if this thing is so much desired by them, there seems no reason why they should not pay for it. If this could be done, it would avoid coercion and possibly injustice to one or other of the parties.

Certainly I am sure the Mohametans and Arabs will not accept a small sum such as £10,000 or even £20,000 for a matter in which their honour is so far involved. In Zurich the Zionists have collected £240,000 for Palestine. Let them give £100,000 and I feel sure this would settle the difference.”

Although the letter does not specifically mention a “sale” of the Wall, Ali Pasha made clear in his meeting with Ambassador Clerk that selling the Wall was precisely his intention. According to Clerk’s contemporaneous recollection of their conversation, Ali Pasha “submit a suggestion which would, he thought, provide a solution to the question of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem;” specifically, “the idea of the Jews buying the Wall.”

Ali Pasha’s letter was extraordinary. No one in the Muslim world had previously – or ever since – proposed to sell the Western Wall to the Jews. Surely Ali Pasha never spoke a word of this to anyone in the Muslim world, as he lived peacefully for nearly three more decades

But Ambassador Clerk never forwarded Ali Pasha’s letter to High Commissioner Chancellor in Jerusalem. Instead, Clerk sent Ali Pasha’s letter directly to the Foreign Office in London, along with a cover note adding his own observation that “the idea of the Jews buying the Wall has long been considered and rejected, and recent events seem scarcely favorable to the idea of the Muslims accepting even as fancy a price as £100,000, supposing the Jews were prepared to offer that sum.”

The Foreign Office kept Clerk’s original cover letter in its files, together with a copy of Ali Pasha’s letter. The Foreign Office made the following file notation regarding the prince’s letter:

Foreign Office File entry, E 4557/204/65 (September 3, 1929; photo by the author).

W. L. Knight of the Foreign Office made a sarcastic handwritten file entry several days later:

“It would appear from the last para. of the prince’s letter that while the Jerusalem Arabs would scorn to sell their honour cheap, they would probably be prepared to do so for £100,000!”

Foreign Office File entry, E 4557/204/65 (September 10, 1929; photo by the author).

The Foreign Office later recorded the prince’s letter in its official index for 1929 as, “Suggested sale of wall to Jews by Moslems: proposal of Prince Mohamed Ali Pasha:”

Foreign Office Index, 1929 (photo by the author).

The Foreign Office sent the original of Ali Pasha’s letter, along with the calling card Ali Pasha had given to Ambassador Clerk, to the Colonial Office, where both items were tucked inside an envelope and filed away for the next 90 years.

The prince’s calling card, given to the British Ambassador to Turkey, Sir George Clerk, on August 29, 1929 (CO 733/163/5, British National Archives, London; photo by the author).

Ali Pasha’s letter was extraordinary. No one in the Muslim world had previously – or ever since – proposed to sell the Western Wall to the Jews. Surely Ali Pasha never spoke a word of this to anyone in the Muslim world, as he lived peacefully for nearly three more decades. Nor is there any evidence he had any authority from the Muslim authorities in Jerusalem to make the offer. But his letter nevertheless represents an extraordinary and courageous – if not somewhat Quixotic – step for a highly prominent Arab and future Regent to the King of Egypt to have taken so soon after the August 1929 violence.

The letter also seriously undermines Muslim claims regarding the holiness of the Buraq. Surely Ali Pasha would never have dreamed of proposing to sell any truly sacred Muslim shrines, such as the Dome of the Rock or the Al Aqsa Mosque, to the Jews. Clearly he did not regard the Western Wall as even a minor Muslim religious site. Indeed, no evidence exists of any Muslim prayer or veneration at the Buraq since the 7th Century Muslim conquest of Jerusalem.

Moreover, during a 1930 courtroom trial presided over by three League of Nations-approved judges, pitting Muslims against Jews regarding their respective rights and claims to the Wall, the Jewish side offered evidence that the Muslims had repeatedly defiled the Wall and the pavement. Dr. Mordechai Eliash, the Jerusalem-based lawyer representing the Jewish side, said the following in his opening statement (pages 53-54 of the transcript, the only surviving copy of which is located at King’s College, London):

“Evidence will be brought before you that time and again the Wall was desecrated by actually smearing human excreta on its stones. Filth and rubbish were always allowed by the Mughrabis to accumulate there, while time and again have Jewish individuals and organized communities paid for the sweeping and cleaning of the area in front of the Wall, and it will be shown to you that it was through Jewish intervention that a sewage drain was not laid close to the Wall …”

In any event, no record was found of any further action by Ali Pasha or the British Government regarding Ali Pasha’s proposal, nor is there any evidence in Chancellor’s files or his diary proving or even hinting he ever learned of the letter’s existence.

The original Ali Pasha letter, containing the only Arab offer ever to sell the Wall to the Jews, remained buried in the Colonial Office files for the next 90 years.

Prince Ali Pasha’s letter, August 29, 1929 (CO 733/163/5, British National Archives, London; photo by the author).

Prince Ali Pasha’s letter, August 29, 1929 (CO 733/163/5, British National Archives, London; photo by the author).

Two of Israel’s leading historians of the Mandate era, Professor Motti Golani of Tel Aviv University and Professor Hillel Cohen of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, examined Ali Pasha’s letter and the related documents at the author’s request last year. Both professors said they were unaware of Ali Pasha’s letter or of any prior publication mentioning it. Golani called it a “major discovery.” Cohen initially noted the absence of any specific reference to “selling” the Wall in the text of Ali Pasha’s letter, but after reading Clerk’s cover letter to the Foreign Office, Cohen acknowledged Ali Pasha’s letter indeed conveyed an implicit offer to sell the Wall.

One lingering question remains: is it possible Ali Pasha and Menasce knew of each other’s initiatives? Two very prominent Egyptians, one Muslim and one Jewish, within three days of each other separately approached the British Embassies in Istanbul and Paris to float the idea of the Jews buying the Western Wall and the surrounding area. Perhaps they had coordinated their efforts and stage-managed them as carefully as possible to avoid detection. Or perhaps neither had any idea of the other’s activity, and their visits to the British Embassies in Paris (Monday) and Istanbul (Thursday) of the same week were purely coincidental. We will leave that mystery for others to solve.

In any event, Prince Mohamed Ali Pasha’s letter stands as a remarkable testament to the bravery and creativity of this urbane and worldly Egyptian prince, who at great personal risk launched an initiative to bring peace to the Muslims and Jews of Mandate Palestine.

Law and the Arab-Israeli Conflict by Steven E. Zipperstein

The prince’s letter, concealed in the files of the Colonial Office for the past 90 years, can now proudly take its rightful place in history.

********

Steven E. Zipperstein is the author of the forthcoming book “Law and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: The Trials of Palestine” (Routledge, March 2020), from which this article is derived. Zipperstein, a former United States federal prosecutor, is a senior fellow at the Center for Middle East Development at UCLA. He also teaches in UCLA’s Global Studies program and School of Public Affairs, and as a visiting professor at the Buchmann Faculty of Law, Tel Aviv University.

(Copyright Steven E. Zipperstein, 2020)

Tens of thousands pray at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem in Selichot (forgiveness) prayers, early on September 27, 2019. (Mendy Hechtman/Flash90)
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Israel: Defense minister green-lights new Jewish neighborhood in Hebron

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Defense minister green-lights new Jewish neighborhood in Hebron

Naftali Bennett praised by right, slammed by left over move to double number of Jews living in flash point West Bank city

People walk near houses belong to Jewish settlers in the West bank city Hebron on November 12, 2018. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

People walk near houses belong to Jewish settlers in the West bank city Hebron on November 12, 2018. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Newly installed Defense Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday announced his approval for planning of a new Jewish neighborhood in the flash point West Bank city of Hebron, in a decision that was quickly praised by the right and bashed by the left.

The Jewish community in Hebron is made up of several enclaves located deep in the heart of the largest Palestinian city. The roughly 1,000 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.

Hebron differs from other Arab West Bank cities in that it is home to a Jewish community that, per the 1997 Hebron Agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, lives in an area under Israeli control — about 20 percent of the city, known as H2. This community has existed for hundreds of years, though with several gaps during the 20th century.

On Sunday, the defense minister’s office said in a statement that Bennett, who serves in a transitional government, had ordered the relevant offices within the Israel Defense Forces to inform the Hebron municipality that planning was starting for the new neighborhood near the city’s old market.

The land of that market has been under Jewish ownership since the early 19th century. Local Jews fled following the 1929 massacre in which some 65 Jews were murdered by Arab mobs. After Israel gained control of the city in 1967, it approved the construction of a Palestinian market that was active until the 1990s.

In this Monday, June 5, 2017 photo, the Mayor of Hebron Tayseer Abu Sneineh greets a shopkeeper at a market in the West Bank city of Hebron. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)

The statement said the neighborhood would double the number of Jewish settlers in the city, and create Jewish “territorial continuity” between the existing Avraham Avinu neighborhood and the Tomb of the Patriarchs holy site.

“The market’s buildings will be demolished and new stores will be built instead,” the statement said. “The rights of Palestinians on the ground floor will be preserved as they are today.”

New Right party leader Naftali Bennett speaks during a press conference at the Expo Tel Aviv on September 5, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Bennett made the decision following a series of discussions with the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories and the Civil Administration — which serves as the military liaison to Palestinians — as well as the Shin Bet and other security officials, the statement added.

The Committee of the Jewish Community of Hebron hailed the announcement, saying in a statement that it “thanks Defense Minister Naftali Bennett from the bottom of the heart for the decision to return Jewish life to the Jewish property in Hebron. Taking the lands of the murdered out of the hands of the murderer, the Hebron mayor, is an act of historic justice for which the Israeli nation has been waiting for 90 years.”

The statement was apparently referring to the then-mayor of Hebron who allegedly ordered the 1929 massacre.

New Right MK Ayelet Shaked, the former justice minister, also commended the decision by Bennett, her party leader, calling it “a historic and important decision.”

“As justice minister I worked for two years to free the land from a legal entanglement in which it was for many years, and the neighborhood had waited about a year for the defense minister’s approval. Bennett’s courageous decision will boost the Jewish community and develop the city.”

However, the decision was slammed by left-wing and Arab lawmakers.

Joint List party leader Ayman Odeh participates along with residents of the northern Arab Israeli town of Akbara in a demonstration against a hate crime carried out in their village the previous day,. November 1, 2019. (David Cohen/FLASH90)

The leading Arab lawmaker in Israel called the decision a “dangerous step that deepens the occupation regime over millions of Palestinians.”

“The war against peace continues,” Joint List leader Ayman Odeh added in his statement, condemning the “dangerous and messianic vision of the right.”

MK Ofer Cassif, the only Jewish member of the Joint List, made a reference to Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish terrorist who murdered 29 Palestinians at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron in 1994 and was subsequently shot and killed.

“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 rabbi Meir Kahane.

MK Tamar Zandberg of the Democratic Camp called the move a “win” for the ideology of the racist far-right former lawmaker Kahane.

“Someone who establishes Jewish neighborhoods in the heart of the capital of Israel’s apartheid, instead of dismantling them, is a messianist who intentionally harms the State of Israel,” she said.

Palestinian Authority senior negotiator Saeb Erekat blamed the move on the recent US announcement that it no longer views settlements as “inconsistent with international law.”

Dr. Saeb Erakat الدكتور صائب عريقات@ErakatSaeb

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 annexation: Concrete measures,including sanctions against settlements are an Int.responsibility

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Saudi’s: Pressure on Netanyahu to Expand Hebron Settlement

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Pressure on Netanyahu to Expand Hebron Settlement

Wednesday, 4 September, 2019 – 11:45
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks on as he arrives to review an honor guard with his Ethiopian counterpart Abiy Ahmed during their meeting in Jerusalem September 1, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
Tel Aviv – Ramallah- Nazir Magally and Asharq Al-Awsat
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing pressure by settlers to announce an expansion of the Jewish settlement in Hebron, political sources have revealed.

The Palestinian Authority warned of an expected visit by Netanyahu to Hebron, describing this visit as a “colonial” move.

The sources said that Netanyahu is likely to yield to pressure despite the international criticism and strong Palestinian condemnation he would be subjected to.

Netanyahu’s planned visit is “racial and colonial,” the Palestinian Foreign Ministry said, noting that it comes at a time he is seeking to secure more votes from the right-wing.

It pointed out that the visit comes also in line with “Israeli plans to Judaize the old city of Hebron, including the Ibrahimi Mosque.”

The Ministry further deplored policies on settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian territories, along with the crimes of destroying houses, mosques and institutions.

It also warned of the risks and consequences of the Israeli PM’s visit, especially after the occupation authorities took discriminatory measures against the residents of Tel Rumeida, the Old City and its vicinity in preparation for the visit.

The Ministry called on the international community and international organizations to “assume legal and moral responsibility towards the suffering of the Palestinian people in Hebron.”

Hebron was a prosperous commercial city, until a settler doctor carried out a massacre in 1994 when he entered the Ibrahimi Mosque during fajr prayers and shot the worshipers, killing 29 Palestinians, while the Israeli army killed 20 others.

Yitzhak Rabin’s government was offered the chance to evict settlers from Hebron, but he failed to do so and he protected them militarily with a fence, which was later used to tighten the noose on the city mainly under Netanyahu’s rule.

Hebron shooter Azaria to be freed in May

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Hebron shooter Azaria to be freed in May after sentence reduction

IDF’s parole board orders former soldier released after he completes two-thirds of his 14-month prison term

Former IDF soldier Elor Azaria, who was convicted of manslaughter for shooting dead an incapacitated Palestinian assailant in the West Bank city of Hebron, appears before a parole board in the army's Tel Aviv headquarters on March 14, 2018. (Flash90)

Former IDF soldier Elor Azaria, who was convicted of manslaughter for shooting dead an incapacitated Palestinian assailant in the West Bank city of Hebron, appears before a parole board in the army’s Tel Aviv headquarters on March 14, 2018. (Flash90)

The army’s prison parole board on Monday ordered Elor Azaria, a former IDF soldier convicted of manslaughter, released from prison in May, when he will have served two-thirds of his sentence.

Azaria is to be released on May 10, after completing 10 months of his 14-month sentence for killing an incapacitated Palestinian attacker in the West Bank city of Hebron in 2016, the Israel Defense Forces said.

The development came after last week Azaria appeared before the military parole board to ask for early release from prison, having served half of his sentence — the minimum amount of time before such a request can be made in the army criminal system. In civilian proceedings, convicts have to serve two-thirds of their sentence before seeking parole.

During the hearing, military prosecutors said they would agree to the early release.

Azaria, the so-called “Hebron shooter,” was found guilty last year of killing Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, who several minutes earlier had attacked two IDF soldiers with a knife. In February 2017, Azaria was sentenced to an 18-month prison term, which IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot later shortened by four months. Azaria began serving his prison term on August 9.

During last Wednesday’s proceedings, which took place in the army’s Tel Aviv headquarters, Azaria’s attorney Yoram Sheftel argued that his client had behaved well in prison.

Military prosecutors, meanwhile, said the soldier’s punishment had already been limited by the judges in his initial sentence and then shortened by Eisenkot, so a further reduction was not warranted at this time. Still, they said they would not oppose a parole request in two months’ time, after Azaria had served two-thirds of his sentence.

An IDF soldier loading his weapon before he appears to shoot an unarmed, prone Palestinian assailant in the head following a stabbing attack in Hebron on March 24, 2016. (Screen capture: B’Tselem)

Azaria has never expressed regret for his actions, something the military prosecutors also noted in their arguments. Then-Sgt. Azaria shot and killed Sharif on March 24, 2016, some 11 minutes after Sharif had been shot and disarmed when he and another Palestinian man attacked two IDF soldiers.

Azaria maintained that he opened fire because he believed Sharif had a bomb hidden under his clothes. A military court, however, dismissed that claim, citing the soldier’s nonchalance in the moments before he killed Sharif, and his statements to fellow soldiers that the assailant deserved to die for attacking his comrades.

The Hebron shooter case revealed deep divisions in Israeli society over the army’s activities in the West Bank, with some — mostly on the right — arguing that he had behaved heroically in killing the Palestinian assailant, while others said he had broken the law and deserved a harsher sentence than he received.

The former soldier — he was released from the military part of the way through his trial — garnered support from leading politicians, who expressed hope that they could sway President Reuven Rivlin to grant Azaria clemency.

In November 2017, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Welfare Minister Haim Katz, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and approximately 50 other lawmakers signed a petition saying that Azaria should be released.

“The Azaria affair is tearing Israeli society apart, creating polarization and division, and your decision can put an end to all this and calm the discourse,” the petition read. “It is impossible to ignore the feelings of the general public, that Elor Azaria is a scapegoat who has become a symbol and paid an especially high price.”

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Israeli boy, 12, injured in rock attack at Hebron spring

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Israeli boy, 12, injured in rock attack at Hebron spring

Video appears to show Palestinian assailant throw stone into well where children were sitting, knocking boy unconscious

An Israeli boy was knocked unconscious after being hit in the head by a stone while at a spring in the West Bank city of Hebron, in what the army said was an attack by a Palestinian assailant Saturday.

The incident occurred at the Abraham’s Well spring in the Jewish enclave of the city.

According to a spokesman for the Jewish community of Hebron, a man dropped a large stone on a group of children sitting at the spring, hitting one on the head.

The 12-year-old fell into the pool and had to be rescued by friends who immediately alerted the authorities, community representative Noam Arnon said.

Medics arrived at the scene and took the boy to Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem where he received 10 stitches for the head wound.

A spokeswoman for the hospital said the boy regained consciousness and designated his injuries as minor.

The head of a 12-year-old boy after receiving 10 stitches to close a wound caused by a large rock that was dropped on him by a Palestinian in Hebron on October 21, 2017. (Courtesy: Jewish settlement in Hebron spokesperson)

Responding to an inquiry into the attack, the IDF spokesman said that an “unidentified Palestinian” was responsible for throwing the rock and that security forces were “searching the area for suspects.”

A video of what appears to be Saturday’s incident currently being disseminated on social media shows an assailant throwing the rock into the spring from above before running away.

Arnon said the video was obtained from army security cameras. The IDF said it did not release the footage, but did not deny the possibility that it was the source. Among those to share it was the former English-language spokesperson for the IDF.

The flashpoint city of Hebron, where a Palestinian majority lives in close proximity to a small minority of settlers who are heavily guarded by Israeli troops, has been the scene of numerous stabbings and attempted stabbings since a wave of attacks carried out by Palestinians began in October 2015.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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Why the United States Is Saying Goodbye To UNESCO

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME.COM)

 

Why the United States Is Saying Goodbye to UNESCO

12:07 PM ET

The Trump Administration says the U.S. is withdrawing from the United Nations’ cultural body UNESCO, citing “anti-Israel bias” as one of its reasons.

“This decision was not taken lightly,” Heather Nauert, State Department spokesperson, said in a statement on Thursday. “[it] reflects U.S. concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO.” The withdrawal will take place on Dec. 31, 2018. The State Department said on Thursday that the U.S. will instead establish an observer mission at UNESCO, which is known for designating world heritage sites.

Director General of UNESCO Irina Bokova expressed her “profound regret” with the decision. “This is a loss to UNESCO. This is a loss to the United Nations family. This is a loss for multilateralism,” she said in a statement.

The news comes as the body picks its new director-general, with former French culture minister Audrey Azoulay and Qatari diplomat Hamad bin Abdulaziz Al-Kawari as the main frontrunners. Here’s what to know:

What is UNESCO?

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization was created in 1945 with a mission to celebrate cultural diversity and foster intellectual cooperation and the free flow of ideas among the world’s nations. Among its first projects was to rebuild libraries, schools and museums destroyed during World War Two.

The agency is best known for its World Heritage program, which protects traditions and cultural sites across the globe, including India’s Taj Mahal and the United States’ Yellowstone National Park. It also works to improve education in poor countries, defend media freedom and promote scientific advances.

Why has Trump pulled out now?

The biggest strain is the body’s approach to Israel. This year, UNESCO declared Hebron in the West Bank as a Palestinian world heritage site — a move Israel says negates Judaism’s links to the town.

Israel had earlier recalled its ambassador to UNESCO in 2016, in response to the agency accepting resolutions that condemned Israel’s policies in religious sites in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and cited the Temple Mount as only a “Muslim holy site of worship,” Reuters reports.

Trump’s administration has been preparing to leave the body for months, Foreign Policy reports, and it might have been motivated by budget cuts. The President has repeatedly criticized what he considers to be the disproportionate contributions to international bodies like the U.N.

Has the U.S. done this before?

Yes. The organization ran afoul of the administration of Ronald Reagan, which withdrew the U.S. from the body in 1984 citing corruption and a pro-Soviet union, anti-U.S. bias. The administration also viewed UNESCO as a platform for Third World criticism of Israel and the U.S, the New York Times reports.

Under President George W. Bush, the U.S. rejoined the agency in 2003, citing its reformed bureaucracy, finances and efforts to expunge the worst of its biases.

That changed again in 2011 after UNESCO granted full membership to Palestine. This reinforced the notion of UNESCO’s long-running anti-Israel bias and under former U.S. President Barack Obama, UNESCO lost a chunk of American funding. But the State Department continued to maintain an office at UNESCO’s Paris headquarters so as to weigh in on policy.

Palestinian Security Forces And IDF Work Together To Stop Bomb Attack Near Hebron

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘ISRAEL HAYOM’)

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IDF, Palestinian security forces foil terrorist attack near Hebron

Palestinian security forces reportedly provide IDF with intelligence on a large roadside bomb meant to target Israeli patrols in the area • Palestinians arrest Qalqilya resident, say he is affiliated with an international terrorist cell.

Lilach Shoval, News Agencies and Israel Hayom Staff
Palestinian police patrol the West Bank town of al-Eizariya
Photo credit: AP

The Hypocrisy Of The PA And Many Of The Palestinian Officials Is Humerus/Sickening

(This article is courtesy of the Times Of Israel)

On day of violence, Abbas aide says IDF killing of attackers is ‘execution’

Amid spate of four attacks by Palestinians, Nabil Abu Rudeineh urges world to defend Palestinian people from Israeli ‘crimes’

September 16, 2016, 8:26 pm 15

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting with a delegation of the Federation of Jews from Arab countries in Ramallah, in the West Bank, on March 28, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting with a delegation of the Federation of Jews from Arab countries in Ramallah, in the West Bank, on March 28, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

A spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday called the killing by Israeli security forces of two attackers in separate incidents in Jerusalem and the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba earlier in the day “a crime and an execution.”

Nabil Abu Rudeineh called on the international community to defend the Palestinian people.

Israel has previously come under criticism for the way in which it responds to attacks on its civilians and soldiers. In March, senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat submitted a request to the United Nations asking it to formally investigate what he called Israeli extrajudicial “executions” of Palestinian attackers. The request came days after an IDF soldier was filmed shooting and killing a wounded assailant in Hebron.

Israel has in turn repeatedly accused Abbas of failing to condemn the wave of Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians and security forces that erupted late last year, and says his PA hierarchy presides over incitement to terror and violence against Israel.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh (L), spokesman of Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, welcomes Israeli opposition head Isaac Herzog (C) at the Palestinian Authority headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, August 18, 2015. (AFP Photo/Abbas Momani)

Nabil Abu Rudeineh (L), spokesman of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, welcomes Israeli opposition head Isaac Herzog (C) at the Palestinian Authority headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, August 18, 2015. (AFP/Abbas Momani)

Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in July that a condemnation of terror attacks by Abbas would help to reduce incitement and therefore the level of violence against Israelis.

In the first of four attacks Friday, a Jordanian man was shot and killed by Border Police officers when he tried to carry out a stabbing attack near the Damascus Gate, in Jerusalem’s Old City.

The man, Fadi Aljaba, arrived at the Damascus Gate from inside the Old City and approached a group of officers with a knife drawn. The 28-year-old assailant was carrying a Jordanian passport, but police were still investigating if he also held a Palestinian ID card.

Less than an hour later, one Palestinian was killed and another was seriously wounded when they rammed their car into a bus stop outside the Kiryat Arba settlement in the West Bank, the army said.

Soldiers at the scene where a soldier was stabbed in Hebron on September 16, 2016 (YouTube screenshot)

Soldiers at the scene where a soldier was stabbed in Hebron on September 16, 2016 (YouTube screenshot)

The driver and passenger were shot as they plowed their vehicle into the bus stop at the Elias Junction near the settlement, the IDF said.

In one of the other two attacks Friday, an IDF soldier sustained light wounds when he was stabbed in the face in an attack at a checkpoint in the West Bank city of Hebron on Friday. The assailant was shot and killed by forces at the Gilbert checkpoint near the Tel Rumeida neighborhood of the city, the army said.

Also Friday afternoon, a bus driver was lightly wounded when unidentified perpetrators threw rocks and glass bottles full of paint at his vehicle on the highway between Jerusalem and the Ma’ale Adumim settlement.

— Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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FROM THE TIMES OF ISRAEL

Hamas, Fatah: The Palestinian People Are Facing Another Civil War With Hamas

 

In Hebron, Fatah faces a civil war at the polls

While Hamas has a low profile, and just as low stakes, in upcoming local elections, its Palestinian rival is trying to keep other moderates from splitting the secular vote, and preparing for the worst if it doesn‘t succeed

August 28, 2016

Flags of Fatah, Hamas and other Palestinian movements atop the West Bank security barrier during a protest in November 2015. (illustrative photo: Muammar Awad/FLASH90)

Flags of Fatah, Hamas and other Palestinian movements atop the West Bank security barrier during a protest in November 2015. (illustrative photo: Muammar Awad/FLASH90)

Wednesday noon, downtown Hebron. Registration for the various slates for the local elections will be closing in roughly 36 hours, and it is hard to sense anything special in the air. Those who see themselves as candidates are meeting with their advisers and their friends in anticipation of the official announcement of their candidacy, but no election posters have yet gone up in the West Bank city.

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The well-known restaurants here — Al-Khalil, Abu Mazen, the Pasha’s Palace — are full of customers, and one would be hard-pressed to say that the residents are all that excited about the municipal elections planned for October 8.

The talk of the day, of all things, is an incident that took place here just about two weeks ago, when an argument between two kids devolved into a deadly armed battle between two clans in the city.

Yet although the public in Hebron seems somewhat indifferent to the elections, for the Fatah party, tensions are as high as the stakes.

These are the first elections in more than a decade in which voting is taking place at the same time in both Gaza and the West Bank, and Hamas and Fatah are going head-to-head against one another.

Whatever the result may be, it will affect not only the status of these organizations but also of their leaders, and could even seep into the relationship between the Palestinians and Israel.

While these elections are local, and won’t directly change anything politically or security-related between Israel and the Palestinian, a sweeping win by the hardline Islamist movement Hamas is still liable to ramp up the amount of suspicion and lack of trust between the two peoples.

As in the other cities in the West Bank, the trouble in Hebron is that because there are so many secular slates of candidates, there is a reasonable chance that the more moderate camp of Fatah and groups of their ilk will split the secular vote, paving the way for victory by Hamas candidates.

For Hamas’s leaders in Gaza and abroad, the vote marks an extraordinary opportunity to take stock of where public opinion stands.

But fear of arrests by Israel or the Palestinian Authority have kept Hamas from openly running their members for office in the municipalities, forcing the movement to content itself with semi-independent figures who are known as Hamas supporters.

The flip side is that should Hamas lose at the polls, the movement will be able to claim that the lists it ran were not really part of the group, exposing it to less potential damage in the vote than Fatah.

Like the parliamentary elections of 2006, these elections are more liable to show the degree of weakness of Fatah and the secular camp than the strength of Hamas.

Where enemies become friends, and friends enemies

One need only travel to nearby Yatta to see what the risks of Fatah and the other moderates tearing themselves to bits looks like in action.

A 20-minute drive from Hebron, Yatta is a town that has metastasized into something resembling a city of 120,000 people.

Although the elections are a month and a half away, the fighting has already begun. Attacks, violence, threats and the like have been reported, mainly between groups considered to be associated or affiliated with Fatah.

Hamas has refrained from running a list under its own name in Yatta. As in other locales, its leaders are in no hurry to present their candidates for fear of Israeli or Palestinian security. But they are promoting figures who are identified with them on independent or semi-independent lists.

One of those candidate slates is the Joint List, headed by outgoing mayor Musa al-Muhamra, who resigned from his position just last week to run in the election.

If his last name is familiar to readers, its because the two terrorists who opened fire inside a restaurant at the Sarona entertainment center in Tel Aviv are from the same clan, and the ruins of their demolished home can be seen fairly close to his own.

Palestinians check the damage in the house of Mohammad Mahamra after it was demolished by the army in Yatta, south of Hebron, August 4, 2016. Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Palestinians check the damage in the house of Mohammad Muhamra after it was demolished by the army in Yatta, south of Hebron, August 4, 2016. Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

“My list contains representatives from the Arab Liberation Front, the Popular Front,” Muhamra says. “Several political movements are represented there. My list contains [representatives from] Hamas as independent representatives.”

In the past, Muhamra was a member of the People’s Party movement, which is considered left-wing, but quit over its support of the Oslo Accords in 1993. His lefty past makes him an odd bedfellow for Hamas, and shows the length to which the movement is willing to go in order to see its candidates defeat Fatah.

The threat to Fatah is real enough that COGAT commander Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, who heads the Israeli Defense Ministry body which administers the West Bank, and top Shin Bet officials even warned high-ranking PA officials that holding the elections could be a dangerous gamble.

But PA President Mahmoud Abbas has insisted on holding the elections on schedule in order to demonstrate the existence of even a shred of democracy in the territories.

When I asked Muhamra about Israel’s connection with the local elections, he could hardly stem the flow of words.

“Unfortunately, there is more than one sign that [Israel] is interfering with the Palestinian elections, using people who are connected with the Israeli Civil Administration and also through direct interference by the State of Israel and its mechanisms to influence the elections.”

When asked if that means people are being “pushed” as candidates by Israel, he says “exactly.”

File: COGAT commander Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, left, at the Bitunya Crossing near Ramallah. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash 90)

File: COGAT commander Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, left, at the Bitunya Crossing near Ramallah. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash 90)

“It is pushing people, and it is playing a role in heating up the security situation and in the change that took place in the security situation on the Palestinian street as a result of this unfair and wrong interference,” he says.

Asked to explain how they are interfering, though, he answers in generalities, accusing Israel of using Palestinians who used liaise with the Civil Administration as agents to do its bidding.

“It interferes in everything that happens on the Palestinian street that has to do with elections and acts to keep Palestinian citizens from voting freely in the local elections,” he says. “Everybody knows that. It’s known on the street and in the Palestinian Authority that Israel is interfering directly in the elections. It has a certain specific attitude toward the various candidates.”

While Muhamra uses the term “Mordechai’s friends” again and again to refer to the colleagues of the COGAT commander , he never mentions the name of Ismail Abu Hamid, the other candidate, who is at the center of a political furor in Yatta.

Abu Hamid was mayor of Yatta until 1995. When the Palestinian Authority came into being, he left his position but is now considering running for mayor again.

Abu Hamid, who has Israeli citizenship, is the owner of a large fuel station at the entrance to the town. “I have a home in Beit Safafa,” he says, referring to a neighborhood in East Jerusalem, as well as businesses in the territories and in Israel.

A Hamas member he is not and posters denouncing him as a collaborator with Israel were put up all over town.

Mourners carry the body of Palestinian Amjad Hatem Al-Jundi during his funeral on October 10, 2015 in the village of Yatta, south the West Bank town of Hebron. (AFP/HAZEM BADER)

Mourners carry the body of Palestinian Amjad Hatem Al-Jundi during his funeral on October 10, 2015 in the village of Yatta, south the West Bank town of Hebron. (AFP/HAZEM BADER)

When we meet him, he is surrounded by people, and says his decision will come in the next few hours. (Indeed, the next day he filed as a candidate). Some are trying to help him decide, while others appear to be guarding him for fear that someone might try to harm him.

Abu Hamid says that his people had found the ones who were putting up the posters. “They fired a shot at me, but my cousins managed to get the gun away from them and hand it over to the Preventive Security Service,” he says.

What he leaves out is the fact that the people putting up the posters were member of Fatah who did not want to see Abu Hamid run in the elections and split the moderate vote.

“They put up posters against me saying that I was an agent, a member of Hamas, a member of the Civil Administration, that Israel had sent me. It is known who is responsible for these posters, but the PA is not taking any action. It’s not doing a thing. I demand that the PA act on the issue and prosecute all those responsible,” he says.

He says time and again that no Israeli ever spoke to him about the topic, and attacks everyone who criticized him for his connection with Israel.

“There is security coordination, after all,” he says, referring to cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority on security matters in the West Bank. “There is coordination with the PA. So they’re attacking me for my own connection with Israel?”

Threat level: Moderate

It’s not only in Yatta that Fatah faces a threat from a candidate likely to nab votes from its clutches.

One of the most popular radio stations in Hebron is al-Huriya (Liberty), headed by journalist Ayman al-Qawasmeh. Just 43 years old, Qawasmeh is considered a key figure in the city and the district. One can see photographs of Yasser Arafat in his office, as well as the Palestine soccer cup that the Al-Ahli soccer club from Hebron won only several weeks ago in a game against the team from Khan Yunis.

Qawasmeh, who reopened the station in April after IDF troops shuttered it for for incitement to violence in November, has put his name up for mayor, leading a list of candidates entitled The Martyr Fahd al-Qawasmeh, named for the mayor of Hebron in the 1970s who was assassinated in Amman in 1984.

Qawasmeh says the decision to run was not made by him.

This image posted by Palestinian social media users overnight Saturday purports to show IDF soldiers outside the offices of a Hebron radio station in November, 2015. (screen capture: Facebook)

This image posted by Palestinian social media users overnight Saturday purports to show IDF soldiers outside the offices of a Hebron radio station in November, 2015. (screen capture: Facebook)

“The heads of 19 of the city’s families met in the Harat a-Sheikh [a neighborhood] and chose me,” he tells me.

When I ask him whether the list will represent only his clan, he assures me that it contains representatives of many other families.

“We took into account the city’s geographical division into many neighborhoods and the division into clans, and we chose people of extraordinary quality,” says Qawasmeh,.

Known in the past as being closer to Fatah, Qawasmeh now says he is trying to distance himself from the movement, and demurs when asked even if he defines himself as Hamas or Fatah.

“We define our movement as representing the people on the street, who actually represent the majority. Forty percent of the people belong to the movements, while 60% have no connection with, and are not members of, any group. Those people are our constituency,” he says.

Our representatives are members of the new generation, he adds. We have brought in new faces. Our list contains more than one woman, he says proudly.

He admits that he was pressured not to run, but repeats “The decision to run for mayor was made for me.”

As we speak, it is still not clear who from Hamas or Fatah will run against him come October. But from a look at the candidates on his list, which includes friends gathered in his office, it’s clear, as in the case of Abu Hamid, he’ll steal more votes from Fatah.

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