The City of Hebron

By Robin

After many months here I feel I want to write something about the city of Hebron. It’s where I’ve been spending a lot of my time in the past two months, and it is in many respects a uniquely awful example of the Israeli Occupation.

Hebron and Jerusalem are the only cities in which there are Israeli settlers living within the heart of Palestinian communities. (Other West Bank settlements are mostly perched on hilltops, fenced off from reality, heavily guarded by the Israeli military, willingly blind to the fate of the people whose land they have stolen, other than when they choose to venture out to attack these people or their property). Hebron had the first settlements after the 1967 occupation of the West Bank, and the settlers there have built up a reputation as amongst the most zealous and violent of their kind.

Our apartment there is in a neighbourhood called Tel Rumeida. Within this area is one of the four settlements inside Hebron. All four, the areas around them, and the whole of the Old City are under full Israeli civil and military control (these areas are collectively referred to as H2). In H2, over 1800 Palestinian shops have been forced to close in the past 15 years. One of the main thoroughfares, Shuhada Street, is closed to all Palestinians, their homes and shops having been sealed shut, making it a weird ghost town, except on Saturdays when the settlers and soldiers come out in force. In most of H2, Palestinians cannot drive vehicles. Tel Rumeida is on a particularly steep hill, and one frequently sees elderly, disabled or pregnant people having to inch up the hill, as settlers speed past in their cars. This ban on vehicles extends, at least most of the time, to Palestinian ambulances, which has led to numerous deaths as people have bled to death for want of medical aid.

One of the hardest things about being in Hebron is hearing the endless terrible stories from people who live there about what has been done, and is being done to them. I heard a story from one man whose wife has twice miscarried when several months pregnant after being attacked by settlers, and whose daughter has had her arm broken on three separate occasions when settlers have attacked her, her teachers and her classmates as they have been leaving school (that school now does ‘intensive learning’, which basically means they take no breaks and move very fast through all topics. The head teacher acknowledges that it is a bad way of learning, but it is the only way they can be out of school and safely home before the settlers get out of their schools).

My friends were shown CCTV footage of two teenage settlers – perhaps 14 years old – tearing open the wire over the windows of a Palestinian home very near where we live, and pointing a gun through into the living room in which the family were gathered. Guns are everywhere in H2. As well as the huge number of soldiers, all settlers are allowed to carry arms wherever they go – the other day, a settler on his morning jog ran past me with a machine gun on his back.

Soldiers and settlers are essentially one and the same. At best, soldiers might stop settlers from attacking the Palestinians, though they would never arrest them. Frequently, they have been known to stand by and watch, and sometimes to join in. The courts are no better. A settler recently got out of his car and started randomly shooting at a group of Palestinians, injuring two. The last I heard, he was under house arrest for this attack.

Every Saturday, we participate in a demonstration in Hebron. Unlike most other demonstrations, soldiers haven’t yet used weapons against us here, but the settlers make up for this by throwing stones, glass bottles, eggs and water down onto us (the settlement in the Old City is literally above the market – houses built on the roofs of houses. There is wire mesh which catches some of the larger objects, but a lot can unfortunately still get through).

Harassment from soldiers can be extremely nasty. I heard a story about two men whose father died in Tel Rumeida. They were not allowed to bring a coffin in, and obviously could not bring in any sort of vehicle to carry the body, so they had to carry it down to the checkpoint wrapped in sheets. There, the soldiers forced them to lay the body down in the dirt while they checked their IDs (in Muslim culture, that is an even worse thing to tell someone to do than it might be in a Christian or secular one). The soldiers then made them carry the body through the metal detector, which went off. The soldiers then frisked the dead body, and decided it was the man’s watch that was the problem, so smashed it with the butt of one of their gun’s, shattering the dead man’s wrist in the process.

I could go on for pages relating these stories. Such things are a daily occurrence. What is incredible, and hugely important, is that the families who live there don’t run and hide. For those that could afford to, moving a few hundred metres would make all aspects of their lives immeasurably easier, but that would mean letting the settlers win. As I have found so often in my time here, the persistent courage and determination of the Palestinian people is the greatest source of strength and inspiration.