Since the Israeli occupation of the West Bank in 1967, Jewish communities have been forcibly re-established in and around Hebron. The settlements in Hebron were initially established by individuals but their development and expansion over the years were carried out with government support and approval.
The first Israeli settlement in Hebron (and in the West Bank) was established in Qiryat Arba in 1968, being officially approved by the Knesset in 1970. Within a few years there were hundreds of housing units for Israelis. The Beit Hadassah area of the Old City was taken over by squatting settlers in 1979. The Israeli government later expanded the settlement and built a yeshiva, signifying the Knesset’s approval for the settlement project in the heart of Hebron. There are now four settlement points in the city centre, Avraham Avinu, Beit Romano, Beit Hadassah and Tel Rumeida, in which an estimated 500 settlers live. In the outer settlement of Qiryat Arba live another 7000 settlers.
All of Hebron was still under Israeli military control until 1997 when the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and Israel signed the Hebron Protocol, dividing Hebron into areas H1 and H2. H1 comprises 18 square kilometers and 115,000 Palestinian residents, and is controlled by the Palestinian Authority. H2 is still under direct control of the Israeli army. It covers 4.3 square kilometers and about 35,000 Palestinians, and contains the historic centre of Hebron and its eastern suburbs. As a direct result of the settlers and the illegal Israeli occupation, Palestinian residents of H2 are denied some of their most basic human rights on a daily basis and the historic centre of the city has become what is often referred to as a ‘Ghost Town’.
Human Rights Violations
The Israeli-occupied Old Town of Hebron is now under a regime apartheid. This discriminatory policy, resulting from the settlers’ presence in the city, is responsible for some of the worst human rights violations committed by Israel. According to a B’Tselem report in 2003 “Settler violence and the lack of law enforcement on settlers, the ongoing curfew and severe restrictions on movement in the area that once was the commercial center of Hebron, and violence against Palestinians by members of the security forces have caused Palestinian families to pack up and leave the area.” The policy of separation is thus a policy of expulsion – approximately 13,000 Palestinians have resultantly fled from their homes in the old city.
Settler violence & lack of law enforcement
Violence towards Palestinians and abuse from the settler community is routine and can be extremely aggressive. B’Tselem’s Ghost Town report finds the aim of this violence to be making the lives of Palestinians so intolerable that they leave the area. Stone throwing, spitting, throwing of refuse, broken bottles and dirty water, destruction of shops, verbal insults, breaking into homes, cutting and burning of trees and physical assault are all common occurrences. The former head of the International Observer Force in Hebron (TIPH) said that “the settlers go out almost every night and harm whoever lives near them, break windows and cause damage”. Despite the frequency and severity of the attacks, they are extremely rarely punished, despite the large military and police presence in H2. This is partially due the fact that many of the attacks are strategically carried out by children under 12, and as such are under the age of criminal responsibility. Rather than enforcing the law, soldiers continually grant absolute immunity to these minors. Further even when attacks are carried out by settlers above the age of 12 the army and police refrain from protecting Palestinians and seldom charge the perpetrators. Yeshdin human rights organisation has found that 90% of completed police investigations of settler harm to Palestinians in the West Bank were closed without any indictment.