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Israel's Defense Minister Orders Building of New Jewish Neighborhood in Hebron


JERUSALEM, Israel - Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday announced his approval of the establishment of a new Jewish neighborhood in the city of Hebron, a move that sparked both praise and outrage.

The land Bennett approved for the neighborhood is located near Hebron's old fruit and vegetable market, which was purchased by Jews living there in the early 19th century. Many Jews fled Hebron after the 1929 massacre, during which 67 Jews were murdered by Arab rioters. The Palestinian market was constructed after Jordan seized control of Hebron and remained active until the 1990s, even after Israel gained control of the city during the Six-Day War.

According to the plan, Israel will destroy the market's existing buildings to make way for a new Jewish neighborhood.

"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."

The empty street-level shops will remain in Palestinian hands while as many as 70 Jewish housing units will be built on the top floors. The Jerusalem Post reports it is unlikely that Palestinian tradesmen will have access to the market area due to security concerns. 

According to Bennett, the neighborhood "will create a territorial continuation from the Cave of the Patriarchs to the Avraham Avinu neighborhood, and double the number of Jewish residents in the city."

The Committee of the Jewish Community of Hebron praised Bennett in a statement saying 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 refers to the 1929 massacre, which the mayor of the city at the time is accused of ordering. 

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked also praised the move.

"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," she said in a statement.

Arab leaders and left-wing Israelis condemned Bennett's decision.

Knesset Member Ofer Cassif, the only Jewish member of the majority Arab Joint List referenced Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish terrorist who single-handedly murdered 29 Palestinians at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron in 1994.

"Baruch Goldstein is looking from hell at Defense Minister Naftali Bennett and swelling with pride," he said, adding that the new construction would trigger more violence.

Palestinian Authority senior negotiator Saeb Erekat also criticized the decision and blamed the US for its recent decision to consider the West Bank settlement communities in biblical Judea and Samaria as consistent with international law.

Hebron is a majority Palestinian city where approximately 1,000 Jews live among 215,000 Palestinians. Although the city is considered a holy place for Muslims, Christians, and Jews because Abraham and his children are buried there, it is a flashpoint for intense violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

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