Israel's Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman has ordered that an apartment block be constructed on top of the central market in Hebron in the occupied West Bank.
The apartments will be built in the Avraham Avinu neighbourhood of occupied Hebron, which is illegally settled by Israelis. Despite the fact that those Palestinian vendors who rely on the market for their income currently hold protected tenancy agreements – which allow them to rent and use the market stalls – Israel has worked to dismantle these legal protections.
This Israeli initiative has been ongoing for several years, but recently Lieberman intervened and requested that the legal advisor to the defence establishment, Attorney Itai Ophir, formulate a legal opinion that would allow the building procedures to advance, according to Arutz Sheva.
Lieberman said of the breakthrough that "we have continued the momentum of Jewish development in Hebron in a way that has not been seen in 20 years," adding: "We will continue to strengthen the Hebron community with deeds".
The move comes less than a month after Israel approved a budget of 22 million shekels ($6 million) to build a new illegal settlement in central Hebron. The settlement – which will be comprised of 31 units including a kindergarten and other public facilities – will be located between Beit Roman and Al-Shuhada Street, which has been closed to Palestinians since 1994 when extremist Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein opened fire at Muslim worshippers inside the Ibrahimi Mosque, killing 29 and injuring 150 others.
In October it emerged that Israel's illegal settlements receive 144 million shekels ($39 million) in government funding for regional councils. The report, undertaken by the Knesset's Research and Information Centre, disclosed that the Israeli government gives 25 per cent of its regional council budget to councils in the occupied West Bank, despite the fact that they only account for five per cent of all Israeli regional councils.
Since it occupied the West Bank in the Six Day War of 1967, Israel has pursued a continuous policy of illegal settlement. Israeli human rights organisation B'Tselem estimates that as of the end of 2015 there were 127 Israeli government-sanctioned settlements in the West Bank and a further 100 outposts, which do not have government recognition. Although Israel differentiates between settlements and outposts, both are illegal under Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva convention which prevents the transfer of civilian populations into occupied territory.
These figures do not account for the further 800 illegal settlers living in the H2 area of Hebron, who are heavily protected by Israeli occupation forces. According a February report by the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Activities (OCHAoPt), there are "over 100 physical obstacles, including 20 staffed checkpoints, [which] segregate the settlement area and its surroundings from the rest of the city, impacting on the freedom of movement of the entire Palestinian population of H2".