The settlers say they only have 3% of Hebron. They say they’re not allowed to go to H1 or most of H2. Given that they are restricted from the vast majority of the city, why shouldn’t Palestinians be restricted from the tiny portion of H2 that the settlers claim?
Hebron is a city deep inside the Palestinian territories. Israeli settlements in any of these territories are illegal according to the Fourth Geneva Convention. The issue is not that the settlers have only 3% of the city, but rather that they are controlling part of an occupied city.
H1, an area which consists of about 80% of Hebron, is controlled by the Palestinian Authority. H2, the remaining 20%, is controlled by Israel. Israeli settlers, who make up less than 1% of the population of Hebron, control 20% of the city, which is not only incredibly disproportionate but also illegal.
In order to allow the settlers to live in a small part of H2, the Israeli army exerts control over a much larger proportion of the city in order to secure a buffer zone for the settlement. While the settlers themselves do not travel around most of H2, the Israeli military does patrol the entirety of H2, thereby placing restrictions on Palestinian movement throughout this part of Hebron. If Israeli settlers were allowed to walk in all of H2, the Israeli military would likely control an even larger percentage of the city in order to keep them safe.
Although H2 is a relatively small portion of the city, it is Hebron’s true city centre where the industrial and commercial zones, as well as the most important landmarks, are located. H2 is an important passageway between the northern and southern parts of the city. Therefore, restricting movement in H2 significantly affects the freedom of movement of all residents of Hebron.
The Israeli military says that Palestinians are allowed to walk anywhere other than Shuhada Street. Is it really such an inconvenience to have one street closed to pedestrians?
It is not for the Israeli military to decide whether it is convenient or inconvenient for the Palestinians, yet this attitude of entitlement and legitimacy is the by-product of prolonged foreign occupation of a local population. The Palestinian residents of Hebron are not considered or consulted regarding whether or not the closure of their streets is in their security interest. Rather, the Israeli army makes decisions on their behalf and thus dictates the way Palestinians are allowed to live in their city. Shuhada Street is Hebron’s main street; traveling on it and crossing over it are essential to vibrant life and commerce in the area.
Wasn’t Shuhada Street closed as a response to terrorism?
No. Shuhada Street was initially closed to Palestinian shops and vehicular traffic in 1994 after the Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein killed 29 and injured 150 Palestinians when he opened fire in the Ibrahimi Mosque (Tomb of the Patriarchs) during prayers. The army cited fear of Palestinian revenge attacks as its rationale for closing the street. This main artery of the street and the former sight of the market place was reopened to traffic (but not commerce) in 1997 in accordance with the Hebron Protocol. In 2000, Shuhada Street was closed completely to traffic and partially to pedestrians. The street was effectively “sterilized” in 2002 by closing it off to all forms of all Palestinian movement.
How does the closure of Shuhada Street work legally?
It doesn’t. In 2004, Palestinians appealed to the Israeli Supreme Court about restrictions on their movement in H2. In November 2005, the State replied that Shuhada Street is open to all regular traffic, only closed to shops and vehicles, admitting that there were legal problems during the preceding years with the closure of areas all over Hebron without warrants. (Since 2005, the State has produced warrants to impose various restrictions of movement on 21 areas around the city.) In reality, areas marked on State and military maps as open to various forms of traffic and commerce are actually closed. A 2005 ‘Children of Abraham’ video demonstrated that soldiers regularly prevent Palestinians from walking in areas that are indicated as open to traffic, and that some areas without any indications of closure on the maps are actually sealed with barbed wire and concrete blocks. A letter of complaint received a reply from the military in December 2006 stating that the street had been closed by mistake. The next Friday, the street was opened and on that Sunday, Palestinians were allowed to cross but only after being detained for two hours in both directions while international volunteers escorting them were arrested for disturbing the peace. The street was closed de facto by military orders and it was later revealed, via soldiers’ testimonies, that soldiers received orders to prevent people from wanting to be there. In 2007, the Supreme Court discussed the case again but the night before the decision was made the military unsealed the welding on the doors to homes on Shuhada Street and gave the families special permission to come out of their houses. They declared that by oral warrant from a General in the central command, the street is generally closed to Palestinian movement because all business and homes are closed anyways, therefore, there is nothing to see there.
Isn’t the policy of separation necessary to protect Jews from terrorism?
There is a real fear of terrorism which is supported by hundreds of successful and attempted Palestinian attacks on Israeli settlers, soldiers and police officers in Hebron. The separation policy responds to this fear by insisting that it is a necessary measure for protecting the Israeli settlers as long as they are inhabiting the center of the Palestinian city of Hebron. However, this security policy of separation reflects the political reality in the city, and not vice versa. As long as there is a policy that allows for Israeli settlement in Hebron, infringement of Palestinians’ civil and human rights necessarily follows. Our focus is on bringing Palestinian life back to Hebron and we believe that there is no way to ensure a dignified life for Palestinians if the foreign presence in the city remains in control.
Who gets to pray in the Tomb of the Patriarchs and when?
The Tomb of Patriarchs is divided into a Muslim and a Jewish section. On most days, each group is allowed to pray in its designated area, although access to the tomb is difficult for Palestinians, as they must pass several checkpoints before reaching the Ibrahimi Mosque. For ten days a year, each group has access to the entire site while the other group is not allowed to enter.
If the settlement isn’t there, will Jews (and other non-Muslims) be able to access the Cave of the Patriarchs?
For 700 years, non-Muslims were denied access to the Tomb of the Patriarchs. They were only permitted to pray as high as the 7th step of a staircase on the Southern wall of the building. There is a justified fear that if Israel were not in control of the religious site non-Muslims would again be denied access. We believe in freedom of access to holy places all over Israel and Palestine for adherents of all religions. In any future agreement, we would call for the Palestinian Authority to allow open access to the Tomb of the Patriarchs as we would call for Israel to offer open access to holy sites within its borders.
Would Jews be allowed to live in Hebron if it were under Palestinian control?
It would be ideal if under some future agreement neither Israel nor the Palestinian Authority would restrict residence in cities or neighborhoods based on ethnicity or religion. The decision about the make-up Palestinian cities in the Palestinian territories would be made by the Palestinian Authority.
Are the Israeli settlers of Hebron representative of the whole movement?
The Israeli settlers in Hebron are the extreme in the movement in terms of their disregard for Israeli law. The policies that protect and allow the expansion of their settlements are the same as those throughout the entire occupied Palestinian territories.
Why are there both Israeli police and Israeli soldiers in Hebron?
In the occupied Palestinian territories, there are two systems of law in operation. Israeli martial law is imposed on the Palestinians in the territories because they are under military occupation. The Israeli settlers in the occupied territories are under the jurisdiction of the much more advanced Israeli civil legal system, which applies also to Israeli citizens living in Israel. The Israeli soldiers in Hebron enforce martial law on the Palestinian population and the Israeli police in Hebron are mandated to enforce Israeli law on Israeli citizens in the city. Neither of the two separate legal systems, which are enforced by a single government over two different populations that live in the same physical space, have the interests of Palestinian security or legal stability in mind.
The Israeli Supreme Court is the highest court of appeal for Palestinians, but regards itself as an Israeli court being used by Palestinians rather than the high court for all the residents of Israel and Palestine. Two illustrative examples:
- Stone throwers: An Israeli child throwing stones in Hebron is considered a criminal offense and falls under the Israeli legal system. Children under 12, however, are channelled through social services rather than through the court system. A Palestinian child throwing stones in Hebron is considered a security offense. The police investigates and then the case is tried in military court. Palestinian children are generally held in custody until sentencing, considered a danger to society. Children regardless of age can end up in jail.
- Protesters: Israeli and Palestinian protesters detained at the same demonstration undergo two very different legal proceedings. After arrest, Israelis must be brought before a judge within 24 hours in order to extend the detention. Palestinians arrested for the same offense can be held for eight days before seeing a judge.
How many soldiers and police officers are there?
There is a single battalion of 500 soldiers stationed in Hebron. There are about 140 border police, who control the Tomb of Patriarchs, and 30-50 police officers in the city.
For 600 Israeli settlers and 200 Jewish students in the city, why are there so many soldiers in Hebron?
Enforcing security regulations in a dense, urban area in the midst of a hostile population requires significant force. Because of the lawless nature of the inhabitants of the Israeli settlements in the city, these soldiers and police officers are sometimes engaged in protecting Palestinians and Palestinian property from settler violence as well.
Who provides municipal services in H2? For Palestinians? For Israelis?
Officially, all the municipal services in H2 are provided by the Palestinian Authority.
Roads are maintained by the municipality or the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee; in closed areas, special coordination is allowed for Palestinians to enter to do maintenance. All residents’ electricity is provided by Israel; for Palestinian residents, the electricity comes from Israel via the Palestinian Authority. Israeli settlers get water piped in through the settlement of Kiryat Arba while the Palestinian residents of H2 receive their water through the Palestinian Authority, which purchases it from Israel. Garbage collection is the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority, but during the most violent periods of the second intifada Israeli settlers collected their own garbage.
Why focus on Hebron?
By building a focused campaign around a single issue in a particular locality, we hope to define achievable goals that will set a legal and political precedent for change in other areas of the occupied Palestinian territories as well. In Hebron, we are able to build a broad coalition of organizations and individuals who adhere to a range of political ideologies in order to work together for equality in the city. Hebron has great significance for the Israeli settlement movement and any changes on the ground in Hebron will have broad ramifications throughout the territories.
What are activists doing on the ground?
Israeli, Palestinian and international organizations are actively involved in improving the situation of Palestinian human rights in the city. These organizations are increasingly working in coordination with one another.
- B’Tselem documents human rights abuses in the city, primarily through its Camera Distribution Project, in which Palestinian families in H2 use video cameras to record attacks on them and their property. The project is cultivating a network of families who have more resources to protect their rights, as well as materials that can be used to prosecute rights violations in the legal system.
- The Hebron Rehabilitation Committee engages in legal work, the preservation and restoration of infrastructure, and community development.
- Breaking the Silence conducts educational tours of Hebron, raising awareness in Israeli society and internationally about human rights violations in the city.
- Children of Abraham engages in joint Israeli-Palestinian agricultural work and protests, and coordinates solidarity visits to support the Palestinian families of H2.
- The Tel Rumeida Popular Committee is developing a community and media center in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood of H2. It has begun to broadcast HEB2 TV as an opportunity for Palestinian residents to document and express the realities of their daily lives.
- Yesh Din and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel engage in legal work in Hebron, including bringing cases to the Israeli Supreme Court to challenge military and political policies and prosecute Israeli violators of Palestinian civil and human rights.
- The Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel offers persistent international presence as a deterrence to human rights violations in Hebron.