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4 Oct, 2015

Israel Annexes Hebron Church Compound to Settlement Bloc

HEBRON, October 1, 2015 (WAFA) – Israeli authorities decided to annex a church compound, which settlers claim they have previously purchased, to the Gush Etzion settlement bloc in the southern West Bank.

Israeli ‘Defense’ Minister Moshe Yaalon has reportedly decided to annex the 38-dunum compound, known as Beit al-Baraka, which is located to the north of al-‘Arrub refugee camp, to Gush Etzion settlement bloc in the southern West Bank.

Israeli media reported that Yaalon has decided to expand the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, south of Jerusalem, to include Beit al-Baraka, which Israeli settlers hope to turn into a new settlement outpost.

The church compound has been a flashpoint for demonstrations and clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinians protesting settlers’ attempts to take over the church compound.

These demonstrations were frequently attended by political and religious leaders, including Greek Orthodox Archbishop Atallah Hanna. And Presbyterian church pastor Father George Awad.

The demonstrations were always met with violent suppression by the Israeli army, who used tear gas canisters and rubber-coated steel bullets against demonstrators. The army prevented church clerics, particularly Archbishop Atallah Hanna, from taking part in these demonstrations, summoning him to the Russian compound detention and interrogation center, known as al-Maskubiyya, in Jerusalem.

According to an investigative report published by Israeli newspaper Haaretz in May, Irving Moskowitz, an American millionaire, allegedly purchased the site through a Swedish company in 2012 with the intention of turning it into a settlement outpost.

Haaretz’s report alleged that a Swedish company established in 2007 had been used to cover up the sale and transfer of Beit al-Baraka in 2012 to a settler organization funded by Moskowitz.

Haaretz reported Keith Coleman, a pastor who headed the church that previously owned the compound, as saying that he thought the church compound had been sold to a Swedish company called Scandinavian Seamen Holy Land Enterprises in March 2008 that would revive its use as a church.

Haaretz discovered however that, “the Swedish group was established in Stockholm in 2007, and seems to have been used as a cover for transferring the ownership of the compound to the settlers. The group does not seem to have any offices.”

The Swedish company registered the purchase with the Israeli Civil Administration in 2012. The company was then dissolved, with ownership handed over to an American nonprofit organization, American Friends of the Everest Foundation, funded by Irving Moskowitz and working towards the eventual ‘Judaization’ of occupied East Jerusalem.

Settlers are planning to take over the church compound, a step that, if taken, would see Israeli settlements stretch along the way from the Gush Etzion settlement block south of Jerusalem to the cluster of settlements around Hebron.

Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority’s land surveyor and cartographer ‘Abdulhadi Hantash slammed the annexation of the church compound as ‘an illegal step’ as a case has been already filed in Israeli courts against settlers’ takeover of the compound.

He also warned that the annexation of the church compound would have “disastrous” consequences on northern Hebron area as it would implicitly involve the seizure of hundreds of Palestinian land belonging to Beit Ummar for the expansion of the apartheid wall.

He also warned that the annexation of the church compound and subsequent settlement expansion would feed into Israeli plans to disconnect Jerusalem-Hebron road and divide the West Bank into small cantons in order to eliminate the remaining possibility for establishing a viable and territorially contiguous Palestinian state.