JERUSALEM (Sep. 15)
Construction work started this week on Kiryat Arba, a residential quarter for Jews in the West Bank town of Hebron. The project, which has aroused controversy in Israel, is the first of its kind in any of the Arab towns in territory occupied by Israel during the June, 1967 war. It was undertaken by the government under pressure from Orthodox elements supported by the hard-line Gahal faction which advocates Israel’s permanent retention of all of the occupied territories. Factions opposed have argued that the project would compromise Israel’s bargaining position in future negotiations with the Arabs.
Hebron, the site of the Patriarchs’ tomb which Orthodox Jews consider sacred, has had no permanent Jewish population since 1936. Since 1967 it has been under the jurisdiction of the Israeli Military Government for the Judaea region. Two years ago a group of Orthodox families squatted in the town and defied military government orders to leave. Subsequently they were moved inside the military government compound but they have been agitating for permanent housing. The disclosure that work on the project has begun was made yesterday by Dr. Zerach Warhaftig, Minister of Religious Affairs who dedicated a ritual bath for Orthodox women. The bath cost IL 50,000. Dr. Warhaftig said the occasion was an opportunity to send Premier Golda Meir “living greetings” from Jewish settlers in Hebron on the eve of her departure for the United States. Mrs. Meir has supported the Hebron project but claimed that she was not foreclosing the return of the area to the Arabs under terms of some future peace treaty. Mrs. Meir has said that once a genuine peace was established there was no reason why Jews could not live in Hebron even if it is outside of Israel.