Hebron: Apartheid

Nowhere is Israeli apartheid more apparent than in Hebron. It is the most unsettling city I’ve ever visited. The tension is almost unbearable. The city was occupied in 1967, with the rest of the West Bank, after Israel annexed the territory from Jordan. (Signs along the road state that the city was “liberated” in ’67.)

The city is home to the most militant settler population in the West Bank. These settlers—mostly American Jews—moved into the center of Hebron, creating the only settlement located within an already existing city. (Most settlements are newly built subdivisions.)

Since the arrival of these settlers, the Palestinians have lived under siege. Their main market is covered with fences and tarps—the Israeli solution to the problem of settlers throwing garbage and waste down from above. Palestinian children are escorted to school by international peacekeepers because the settlers constantly harass them. There have been documented cases of settlers throwing stones at the kids as they go to and from classes.

We entered the city under watchful eyes of Israeli soldiers. There are hundreds of soldiers guarding about 500 settlers. The soldiers were on rooftops, at checkpoints, patrolling the city in jeeps.

The city is completely segregated. ID checks, roads for Palestinians, roads for Jews, curfews… barbed wire, concrete blocks, walls, and watchtowers everywhere.

One of the walls looked like it was airlifted in from Berlin. It’s that bad—like stepping back into de Klerk’s South Africa. The native majority—Palestinians number about 150,000—is besieged by an occupying minority.

Last night, the city was put under curfew so the military could hold drills. Flashbang grenades and tear gas went off throughout the evening. We found a used canister during our excursion…

Parts of the city resemble a ghost town. Along the former main street, all the shops are closed. Signs on the door state that they were closed for “security reasons.”

During our few hours in the city, we passed through at least four checkpoints and passed by several barriers guarded by Israeli soldiers. The Palestinian residents are constantly harassed. They are subject to random searches and arbitrary curfews. To make matters worse, elderly Palestinians are searched by irreverent young soldiers. Some of these soldiers are from places like America and France, young Jews who have made Aliyah (homecoming) and are now serving in their new country.

We went into the main mosque after passing through three checkpoints and metal detectors. As a foreigner, I have never felt as intimidated…

We had to take off our shoes at the entrance to the mosque. When we were inside, an older Israeli soldier with two people came in with their boots on. The mosque’s keepers were quickly laying carpet in front of them so they didn’t step directly on the floor of the mosque with their boots. All construction has to be approved by the Israelis, and what seemed like minor work being done on an interior column was suddenly halted because of some arbitrary decision by the Israeli inspectors. (The people we were with translated the conversation—apparently the mosque didn’t have the proper approval.)

In 1994 at 4 am, an American doctor entered this mosque with an M-16, massacring close to thirty Muslims and wounding scores of others as they gathered for their morning prayers.

The city is completely under siege, and you can’t help but feel for the plight of the Palestinians. If one of them defends himself from the settlers, or if they lash out verbally or otherwise because of pent up frustration, the whole city is shut down (except for the Jewish side), and it all of a sudden becomes an even more dangerous place to be.

The Israeli military presence is there to intimidate. The end goal is the removal—voluntary or otherwise—of the Palestinians. It’s a sick, demographic game. The fewer Palestinians there are in the area, the more difficult it will be to establish a viable Palestinian state. And if the Palestinians get fed up and leave on their own, all the better.

You can feel their frustration, and the situation is going to get much worse before it gets better. When it does turn violent, the Palestinians will have stones and outdated machine guns. The Israelis will have state of the art military equipment. And then the Israelis will be able to say again, “See what they’re doing to us?” More security closures, more curfews…

It’s like throwing a rock at a hornet nest and wondering why they sting…

Hebron was shocking, but you have to see it. Google or Youtube it and you’ll get a better sense of what I mean. And all this in Abraham’s city.

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Checkpoint.

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Soldiers.

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Police barrier.

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Checkpoint… what else?

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Palestinian children in Hebron.

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Berlin Wall? No… Hebron Wall.

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Passing through checkpoint.

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