February 19, 2003

Hebron, City of Terror

Israeli "security analysts" describe the Palestinian city of Hebron as a "city of terror". This is true: Israel’s state terrorism is nowhere as brutal. If you wish to see ethnic cleansing at work, Hebron is a good instance.

Hebron Maps

Take a look at Map 1 Hebron District.

Very roughly, the district is a circle with a radius of about 10km (6 miles) around the city of Hebron. Within this small area, the Oslo Accords allocated to the Palestinian Authority dozens of disconnected semi-autonomous enclaves ("Area B", civil Palestinian control and Israeli security control). Hebron city itself, with its 130.000 Palestinian inhabitants, is typically surrounded to the north, east and south by contiguous "Area C", which means full Israeli control, with settlements, by-pass roads and checkpoints strangulating the city.

In 1997, Netanyahu’s Israel – the same Israel that argued, when Jerusalem was at stake, that no city should be divided – divided the city of Hebron in two zones. 90.000 of the city’s inhabitants came under Palestinian jurisdiction (H1), whereas 40.000 Palestinian Hebronites remained under direct Israeli occupation (H2), for the sake of about 450 Israeli settlers living among them.

Map 2 shows the division of the city.

It is taken from the official website of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Pro-Israeli propagandists repeatedly claim that Israel is missing from Palestinian maps – a "proof" that the Palestinians do not recognise Israel’s right to exist. Take a look at the Israeli Map 2. Hebron is connected to Israeli towns and settlements only: Kiryat Gat, Beer Sheva, Kiryat Arba etc. Not a single Palestinian town is mentioned.

Hebron was not divided by chance. It is the centre that remained under direct Israeli control, bringing the heart of the Palestinian city – the main street, the market, the traffic – to a complete halt. Map 3 of the city centre shows it quite clearly.

Again, the map is from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; typically, almost all the sites depicted are Jewish. From looking at the map, no one would guess that 99,7% of the city’s population is Palestinian.

Hebron Terrorists

The Jewish settlers of Hebron are fanatic extremists even by Israeli standards. They regularly ransack Palestinian shops, cut electricity lines and water pipes, wreck cars, and attack schoolchildren.

The funeral of Netanel Ozeri, a Hebron settler shot dead by Palestinians a month ago, gave a good demonstration of the settlers’ profile. 34 year old Ozeri was killed in his home in an illegal outpost. Member of the outlawed racist Kach movement, Ozeri had just returned home after serving a four months jail sentence for attacking a policemen during a disturbance last July. Ozeri’s father-in-law is a former member of the Jewish underground who was sentenced to life in prison in 1985 for killing Palestinians in Hebron (and later pardoned). Supreme Court had ordered several times to evacuate Ozeri and his illegal outpost, following scores of complaints from the dispossessed and harassed Palestinian owners of the land. But the Israeli Army and Police, always so efficient in demolishing "illegal" Palestinian houses, did not enforce the Court decision in Ozeri’s case.

Ozeri’s 15-hour-long funeral procession was marked by a series of struggles among his family and followers over where the body would be buried. Ozeri’s "pious" followers hoisted his body on a stretcher wrapped in a blue and white prayer shawl, and pulled back the covering so his face was visible, in clear violation of Jewish religious law – a spectacle deplored by the chief rabbi as "a disgrace".

Before and after the procession, Ozeri’s comrades were busy carrying out his legacy in Hebron itself. The Independent described how "Jewish settlers rampaged through the West Bank city of Hebron yesterday, smashing the windows of Palestinian homes and setting cars ablaze" (20.1.03). Even the pro-Israeli New York Times mildly mentioned "attacks on Palestinian homes by settlers. The attackers broke windows with iron bars, and at one point a young mother with a baby strapped to her chest pounded a Palestinian house with a big rock. There were wild scuffles as the army and the police tried to intervene, and the crowd taunted the police, shouting insults." (21.1.03)

Settlers’ Terrorism, State Terrorism

Do not be impressed by police and army "trying to intervene", as the NY Times carefully puts it. The 450 Hebron settlers are supported by about 4.000 Israeli army troops, who are there for the settlers, not for the Palestinians. Since mid-November, following a clash with Islamic Jihad activists in which 12 Israeli combatants were killed, the Army has been holding the city under continuous curfew, lifted for only a few hours in more than two months(!) to allow for shopping. When the Palestinians do venture out on these rare occasions, they are often harassed by settlers, who stage violent processions whenever they have a pretext. As one Palestinian told US activist group Christian Peacemaker Team, "They lift the curfew so they will have people to beat".

Plans are now underway for the construction of a "safe passage", a "settlers’ promenade" that would link the settlement of Kiryat Arba on Hebron’s eastern flank to the Old City like a wedge thrust into the heart the city, confiscating 64 parcels of private Palestinian property and razing at least 15 houses in its wake. As Ha’aretz journalist Ada Ushpiz recently reported, "The tourist ‘promenade’ project has never been officially confirmed by the Army, but every caprice of the settlers soon becomes a military necessity. The destruction of 15 Palestinian houses for protecting the settlers is apparently a low price" (27.12.02).

To be demolished are some of the oldest Palestinian houses in the Old City. Bimkom, a new NGO of architects and affiliated professionals, warns of this fatal blow to the one of the world’s most ancient cities. Unlike the Taliban’s destruction of the Buddha sculptures in Afghanistan, very few people in the West seem to be concerned about the destruction of this internationally acknowledged cultural heritage. The Supreme Court has meanwhile ordered the army to reconsider its plans; but past experience shows that in the long term, almost all Court decisions regarding the occupied territories are either supportive of the army or ignored by it.

The Jewish settlers of Hebron are thus a criminal gang actively nurtured by the State – an extremely dangerous process not only for the Palestinians, but for Israel itself. To be precise, it is the ruling Israeli junta that continuously nurtures these organised and heavily armed criminal elements. An overwhelming majority of Israelis supports evicting the provocative stronghold. Following the 1994 massacre, in which a Jewish settler murdered 39 Palestinians during prayer in Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs, there was a majority even in Cabinet for evacuating the Hebron settlement. But Prime Minister (and former General) Rabin refused to discuss the issue in Cabinet. Similarly, during coalition talks last week, another member of the junta – Prime Minister (and former General) Sharon – summarily rejected a request by Labour leader Amram Mitzna to evacuate the Hebron settlers.

War Crimes

Associated Press (20.12.02) and the Israeli daily Yedioth Achronot have recently quoted Palestinians in Hebron describing how"Israeli border police have forced detainees to choose whether to have a nose, arm or leg broken." Rujdi al-Jamal told AP that he chose his hand, and the policemen broke it with a rifle butt. A Palestinian student arrested on a different occasion told Yediot Achronot: "I chose the nose because nothing hurts as much as a broken arm or broken leg."

While such individual cases can all too easily be dismissed as rumours or "exceptions", senior Israeli officers operating in Hebron have now repeatedly incriminated the Israeli army of an overall criminal policy of applying pressure on civilian population, in a clear violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. When the army invaded Hebron in the first week of February, with infantry and armoured forces on an unprecedented scale, one of the officers leading this invasion, a Lieutenant-Colonel identified only by his first name Eran, told the evening news of both Israeli television channels: "It is our intention to apply strong pressure on the population in order to make it expel the terrorists from its midst" (Ha’aretz, 6.2.03). The very next day, another senior Israeli officer told Channel 1 that "the economic pressure is not incidental, but part of a long process" of applying pressure on the population.

"Pressure" means: "blocking the streets of Hebron to traffic by piling mounds of earth or huge concrete cubes at distances of about a hundred metres from each other, effectively cutting the city into a series of isolated enclaves; the wholesale closing of local radio and television stations, exactly at the time when the curfew-imprisoned population needs them most; the invasion by soldiers of civilian offices of the Palestinian Authority, which fulfill purely civilian functions vital for the population, the destruction of computers and furniture, expulsion of the staff and welding shut the doors; the bulldozing of Hebron’s vegetable market, destruction of at least a hundred stalls, and spoiling of much food-stuff in an already very impoverished city; and the demolition of twenty-two homes on one day, mostly on land which Israeli settlers have long coveted for extension of their armed enclaves" (letter of Gush Shalom to the Judge-Advocate General of the Israeli army, 4.2.03).

Ethnic Cleansing At Work

So far, the junta’s policy has proven quite effective. Driven away by economic strangulation and fear of settlers’ violence, the population of 12.000 Palestinians who inhabited Hebron’s Old City has dwindled to 5.000 souls since the division of the city in 1997. As for H1 in its entirety, Israeli Channel 1 estimated last week that 20.000 out of its 40.000 Palestinians left their homes. The camera showed rows of Palestinian houses with windows left broken in spite of the cold winter, a clear evidence for a successful policy of ethnic cleansing. Deserted houses are then taken over by settlers, who get the chance to harass the next row of Palestinian neighbours. Depicting Hebron as a purely Jewish city, the maps of Israel’s Foreign Office are thus not just a distortion of reality: they express both a desire and an actual policy of ethnic cleansing, which is carried out with horrendous efficacy in this terrorised Palestinian city. PS: I am well aware of standard Israeli propaganda, so anti-Palestinian readers need not bother to remind me of the 67 Jews massacred in Hebron back in 1929. May they rest in peace. Their children and grandchildren (none of whom is among the present Hebron settlers) have repeatedly condemned the atrocities carried out by the settlers, who claim to be heirs to the massacred, but in fact desecrate their very memory by their crimes.

– Ran HaCohen

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Ran HaCohen was born in the Netherlands in 1964 and grew up in Israel. He has a B.A. in Computer Science, an M.A. in Comparative Literature and is currently working on his PhD thesis. He teaches in the Tel-Aviv University's Department of Comparative Literature. He also works as a literary translator (from German, English and Dutch), and as a literary critic for the Israeli daily Yedioth Achronoth. Mr. HaCohen's work has been published widely in Israel. "Letter from Israel" appears occasionally at Antiwar.com.

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