At first sight, Hebron appears to be a bustling city of some 166,000 Palestinians, located deep into the West Bank. In Belgium, when watching the news, we often have a view of Israel as being three separate entitities: Israel proper, the West Bank, and Gaza. We know the latter two are controlled by the Palestinian Authorities, and of the strife between Fatah and Hamas.
What we don’t realize, however, is that this is in fact mostly fiction leading its own life, generating by often defunct peace agreements. It does not by much resemble the situation on the ground. Here’s a map, courtesy of Google:
A much more in-depth picture is provided by the UN right here. Unfortunately I can’t reproduce the map itself in this blog, so please open it.
What the UN map shows you is the presence of several so-called “settlements”, places which are populated with Jewish Israeli citizens, and the way these affect the lives of both parties involved.
Hebron is a particularly contentious location, as its local mosque was built on a cave which houses the graves of several patriarchs such as Abraham and Isaac. It’s a holy site to all Jews, Christians and Muslims because of this very reason.
As such, everyone wants to be close. Up until 1929, Jews and Muslims lived together in the city without much issues. This all changed in 1929, when Arabs killed 67 Jews, causing the British to move out all settlers to prevent further violence. In 1968, one year after Israel gained control over the West Bank, which up until that time was managed by Jordan, a group of Jewish settlers moved back into the city.
Today, some 700 Palestinian settlers live in the city, guarded by some 3000 soldiers of the Israeli Defence Forces. These soldiers have a brief to protect the local Jewish population. This makes it a generally unpleasant place to live for both parties. Hebron has been divided into two main areas: H1 and H2. H1 consists of the area under control by the Palestinian Authority, while H2, which entails the town’s main souq and city centre is under security control by the Israel Defense Forces. Unfortunately, both Jewish settlements and Palestinian houses border eachother, and the settler community’s windows give out directly on the souqs below.
While this should not pose a problem, it does. Palestinians and Jews are not living together, but are living next to eachother, with a complete disregard for eachother’s sensitivities.
Reports from stone-throwing by settlers to Palestinians are very common, and the picture to the left shows how the souq itself is often used by a rubbish bin by many of the settlers.
Palestinians, on the other hand, are violently kept away from the settler community. While walking through the little streets next to the settlement, I and three others saw what looked like an inspection at gunpoint of shopping bags of several Palestinians. Nothing violent, profesionally conducted by the IDF soldiers, but the mere fact of walking around through your own city and being subject to gunpoint inspections is in my opinion sufficient to cause significant strife amongst a population.
Israel’s political establishment has generally made silent changes to the environment to make it easier for settlers to live – often at the detriment of the Palestinian population. In 2002, media reported on 70 Arab properties being requisitioned to “widen the road” and guarantee more secure passage.
Hebron H2. Checkpoint inside the city. To get home again from the city centre, this kid will need to pass through metal detectors.
Hebron H2. Street bordering a settlement. No shops or Palestinian vehicular traffic allowed.
Hebron H2. Settlers wishing for better days, or a Jewish future?