Friday, January 22, 2021

Nearly ten years after store closures, Hebron still suffering

By John Space - January 26, 2013
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [demolition] [Displacement] [Jordan Valley] [Area C] [Al Maleh]

This report is the second in a new Palestine Monitor series on life in the Old City of Hebron (known in Arabic as Khalil). 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


In the graffiti stenciled around Hebron's old city, two interrelated messages are frequently found on the walls: "Open Shuhada Street" and "Free Ghost Town."

Shuhada Street was the city's main market area, closed completely to Palestinians by the Israeli military since the Second Intifada, and the eviction of residents and forcible closure of shops has earned the city its "Ghost Town" nickname.

Before-and-after pictures of the closed areas show a place that was once a vibrant hub of economic activity, now empty and abandoned, the rusted metal overhangs casting shadows on metal doors welded shut. Propaganda posters in Israeli-controlled areas of the old city claim the stores were closed to increase security following Palestinian attacks on settlers during the Second Intifada, but the truth is many stores were shut down even before the Intifada began.

Hebron resident Rami Tawil said his computer-repair shop on Shuhada Street was closed by military order on Jan. 15, 1991. He reopened the store exactly one year later on Hebron's Bab Zawiya street, just outside the Israeli-controlled area of the city.

"The occupation closed my shop," he said. "The soldier came and closed it and wouldn't allow anyone to enter." He said he went back to the shop several times attempting to reopen it, but was prevented from doing so by the Israeli military.

"I returned back to the shop and tried to open again, but the soldiers said I couldn't open it, that it belonged to Israel," he said. "The Israelis told me they need this shop."

Tawil's store had belonged to his father before him, who opened it in 1968 following the Israeli occupation of the West Bank in 1967. He said the Israeli government gave him no compensation for closing the shop, and he was forced to sell property and go into debt in order to open his new shop.

"We sold my land and I sold my car and gold belonging to my wife. And after that we owed more money for the shop," he said. "Three years (after reopening the shop) the situation was ok, but at the beginning it was very difficult.

(Photo by Andrew Beale)

According to the Israeli human-rights organization B'Tselem, 1,829 businesses have been closed in Hebron's old city, 62.4% of them closed during the Second Intifada. This, of course, has had a profound effect on all aspects of life in Hebron, from the economy to social life in the city. It has also affected Palestinians' ability to access religious sites, as it is necessary to pass through three checkpoints to get from the Palestinian-controlled area of the city to the Ibrahimi mosque, the most important religious site in Hebron.

Rasmi Kabaja, a retired teacher in Hebron, had children in many of his classes whose parents' stores had been closed by Israeli forces. He said families still live in fear that this could happen to them, as Israel has shown it has no qualms with gradually taking over more of the city from the Palestinians. 

I returned back to the shop and tried to open again, but the soldiers said I couldn't open it, that it belonged to Israel


"The city is moving from the East to the West [due to Israeli expansionism], Kabaja said. "Up to this time, maybe five or six soldiers will come and close the shop."

The occupation and the Israeli aggression that comes with it caused obvious psychological damage to many of the children in his classes, he said.

"In every class I taught, a minimum three or four children had very bad psychological trauma," he said. "This is very bad. Children are very worried… the worst degree of psychological effect is on those who come out from prisons. When Israel arrests a boy, he will not come back [to grow up to be] a normal man."

(Photo by Andrew Beale)

Kabaja said that before the occupation began in 1967, Hebron was a center of trade and tourism in Palestine, but the Israeli invasion and subsequent aggression drove much of the business from the city."Before 1967, it was the best city. It was holy, it was industrial, it had trade," he said. "About five or six years after the occupation, Israel started to put bases all around. Now it is surrounded by settlers."

Mohammad Mohtaseb was nine years old when Shuhada Street was permanently closed to Palestinians during the Second Intifada. Now he runs the Hebron branch of Explore West Bank, a tourism group dedicated to teaching internationals about Palestinian culture and the effects of the occupation. "I remember when cars were allowed to drive here. There were hundreds of internationals per day (in Hebron)," he said.

Mohtaseb has clear memories of the change the city underwent after the closure of Shuhada Street and the effect the occupation has had on Hebron.

"Our neighbor’s shop would have so many customers…he would tell his son when there's too many customers to shut the door," Mohtaseb said. 

"All the West Bank came here… then, after the Second Intifada, there was a big difference. A very big difference."


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