News from Peace Now's (Israel) Settlement Watch:
Today, (January 21st, 2016), settlers took over two houses in Hebron near the Cave of the Patriarchs. The settlers broke into the houses claiming to have purchased them from the Palestinian owners. It was reported that the owners deny having sold their houses and plan to take legal measures to force the settlers out and maintain ownership on their property.
Even if the houses were truly bought by the settlers, it is still in the hands of the Israeli government to decide whether to allow them to settle in the houses. The authority to establish a settlement in the West Bank rests exclusively in the hands of the Government of Israel, irrespective of any ownership claim. Every purchase of property in the West Bank by Israelis must be approved by the Minister of Defense, and such an approval have yet to be granted.
The houses stood empty since the early 2000's when as a result of restrictions on Palestinians' freedom of movement and confining laws and curfews, hundreds of families left their homes and business in the area around the settlement in Hebron, hoping to return when the situation returns to normal. However, until today the restrictions on Palestinian movement in the area are still imposed by the IDF.
It is important to note that in many cases in the past, the settlers' claims of ownership were proven false. This was the case in "Beit Hamachpela" house (2012) and the Nazzar house (2006) and the Bakri House (2001), all in Hebron. Past experience show that if the government does not act immediately to evict the settlers, it becomes much harder, politically and operatively, to force the settlers out. In the Bakri case, the government did not act immediately to evict the settlers from the house, and although their documents were proven to be forged, the settlers are still living in the house, and the owners continue their long and exhausting legal struggle in order to force the government to enforce the law and evict the settlers.