This report is the first in a new Palestine Monitor series on life in the Old City of Hebron. The Palestine Monitor will publish one report a week on Hebron leading up to the 'Open Shuhada Street’ protest on Feb. 25 organized by the nonviolent resistance group Youth Against Settlements. The demonstration marks the anniversary of Baruch Goldstein’s 1994 massacre of 29 Palestinians inside the Tomb of the Patriarchs mosque.
Hebron (known as Khalil in Arabic), home to 300,000 Palestinians, is a city split in two. In 1997, the city was divided into the H1 area, under Palestinian control, and H2, under Israeli control. Hebron’s old city, the place where H1 meets H2, is ground zero for Israeli Apartheid.
As a result of Israel’s separation policy , 1,014 Palestinian homes have been vacated and 1,829 Palestinian businesses in the old city have been closed by Israeli forces, according to the Israeli human-rights group B’Tselem.
This is in addition to a forced separation of Palestinian and Israeli residents of Hebron, with Palestinians being prevented from entering many parts of the city. A B’Tselem map of the areas closed to Palestinians shows how extreme the apartheid system has become.
Many ex-soldiers who served in the occupation forces in Hebron themselves admit to brutal treatment of Palestinians in the city. But the violence carried out by settlers living in Hebron is often even more extreme.
Settler Violence and Intimidation
Hebron is the only city in the West Bank with a settlement directly inside of the Old City. The old city is inhabited by about 30,000 Palestinians and around 750 settlers. Many residents of Hebron recount horrific stories of violence suffered at the hands of settlers.
Edan Alsharabat was born on Shuhada Street, one of the principal areas affected by the separation policy. He is blind in one eye from a settler stone-throwing attack.
As a result of this attack and the ongoing threat of settler violence, Alsharabat is unable to work, and is forced to rely on money from family and friends to support himself and his children.
“I can’t work at all,” he said. “First I have to be at home to protect the children, and second because I have a problem with my eye.”
Alsharabat has four children, two boys and two girls. He said the settlers living nearby constantly intimidate them.
“The children feel scared because of the settlers and the occupation. They can’t go out late,” he said.
Sundus Allazeh, now 19, was 10 years old when she came to Hebron from the nearby village of Halhul. Since moving to Hebron, she has suffered from and witnessed countless attacks by settlers and occupation forces.
I can’t work at all,” he said. “First I have to be at home to protect the children, and second because I have a problem with my eye.”
“I live next to an aggressive settler family. I suffered a lot. Not only me but all the children my age,” she said. “They threw stones at me, kicked me… they don’t care, they just want to attack.”
Several months ago, a settler attacked Allazeh’s 13-year-old brother. She said the settler tried to run him over with a car, then got out of the car and beat him. Allazeh witnessed the attack, and the Israeli soldiers arrested her and her brother, despite the fact that they were victims of an unprovoked assault.
They were held in the police station for five hours, and were finally released after a soldier who witnessed the attack came into the police station and spoke with the soldiers holding Allazeh and her brother.
“I think he told the truth,” she said. “If he had said we attacked the settler, we would have gone to prison.”
Homes Turned Into Jails
Palestinian families in many houses along Shuhada Street have been forced to build protective structures to defend against settler attacks. Most windows of inhabited houses along the street have been covered with metal grating to prevent stones being thrown through them.
Abdelrahaman Salayma’s family had to take more extreme measures to protect the home they share with the Alsharabat family. Over an open-air courtyard in the center of their building, they erected a metal grate to keep out the rocks that frequently crashed down into the living area. The thick grate, covered with a plastic tarp, blocks out the view of the sky.
Photo by Andrew Bale
“The settlers started to throw not stones, but huge rocks. The whole room was filled with rocks,” Salayma said.
Above the sitting room, the roof of Salayma’s home opens onto a steep street built on a hill. A wall adjacent to the roof is covered in Hebrew graffiti reading “Death to Arabs.” The family put barbed wire along the intersection of the roof and the road to bar settlers’ access to the roof, which they used to launch rocks into the sitting room.
“We converted the house into a jail, a jail without protection,” Salayma said. “In the jail there is more security than here.”
Besides the settler violence, Salayma’s family has been assaulted repeatedly by Israeli forces, and in December, his cousin Mohammad was murdered by an Israeli soldier on his 17th birthday.
In October, the Hebron-based nonviolent resistance group Youth Against Settlements captured on video the violent arrest, without charges, of Salayma and his mother.
Youth Against Settlements founder Issa Amro said arbitrary arrests, like the one carried out against the Salayma family, are part of an Israeli policy of intimidating Palestinians into leaving the city.
“You have a checkpoint outside the house but they come in at two in the morning. When they arrested (Salayma’s) mother, was this for security? This is more than occupation. What is happening in Hebron is genocide,” he said.
Amro said Palestinians in Hebron’s city center are under constant threat of violence from the settlers and the soldiers.
“As civilians, we don’t know what to do. There is nothing to do. We are not safe inside our house. We can’t protect our kids,” he said. “When I go to jail I feel more secure. I am protected in jail. Here, it’s a jail without protection…without basic human rights.”
Resisting the Separation Policy
Youth Against Settlements and similar groups in Hebron are resisting the occupation and the separation policy with whatever tools they have. Each year, Youth Against Settlements organizes an “Open Shuhada Street” protest, which draws residents of Hebron and Palestinians from all over the West Bank to protest the separation policy. Amro said last year the demonstration attracted between 8,000 to 10,000 participants.
Photo by Andrew Bale
We take volunteers and place ourselves between the people and the soldiers and settlers
“We are calling to reopen Shuhada Street and all the closed shops,” he said. “We are asking solidarity groups around the world to organize nonviolent campaigns and put pressure on their decision makers.”
Other methods in Youth Against Settlements’ campaign include film screenings, tours and radio broadcasts to raise awareness about the situation in Hebron. Amro said many members of Youth Against Settlements speak and read Hebrew, and monitor settler websites and soldiers’ radio channels to know when an attack is coming.
“We take volunteers and place ourselves between the people and the soldiers and settlers,” he said.
Israel must be officially boycotted by international countries if they talk about justice, if they talk about apartheid
Amro’s work with Youth Against Settlements has earned him death threats from settler groups, and he has been the target of a sustained campaign of violence and intimidation.
“I have life threats from the settlers. On their website, they put my face in a red circle,” he said. “I was attacked many times by the settlers. I had three stitches once. They want to stop us, stop the work we are doing, despite the fact that we are completely nonviolent.”
Youth Against Settlements is committed to nonviolence even in the face of attacks from settlers and soldiers. Amro said nonviolence ensures that anyone can participate in the resistance movement.
“Not many people can carry a gun, but in popular resistance, you have all people, all skills,” he said. “Carrying a machine gun is not helpful to anyone. It’s a killing machine. You kill them and you kill yourself.”
The group trains activists to film, edit and upload video of human-rights violations, which Amro said often prevents soldiers and settlers from carrying out the most grievous attacks against residents of Hebron, and provides evidence that may help to keep Palestinians out of jail. He also supports the worldwide Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel.
“Israel must be officially boycotted by international countries if they talk about justice, if they talk about apartheid,” he said.
Others in Hebron practice resistance by simply surviving and refusing to leave their homes. Israel offered Alsharabat’s father a sum of $1 million and a chance to move to the US if his family abandoned their home on Shuhada Street, but they refused to be bribed or intimidated into leaving.
“In 1982, the Israeli government paid for them to leave this house, a lot of money, but they refused and they stayed,” Amro said. “After that, they also gave him a chance to think if he should go out, but he still refused.”
Alazzeh said the families of Hebron are determined to stay in their homes and keep the land that rightfully belongs to them and will not be intimidated into leaving.
“It’s really hard to live under occupation and next to settlements. But we say it’s our land, we have to be patient,” she said.
The knowledge that by simply staying in their homes, by refusing to leave, they are successfully resisting the settlers and the occupation offers comfort and brings joy to many in Hebron’s old city.
“I’m really happy to be in this area. I’m really happy to stay in my house,” Alazzeh said.