By Luca Foschi
The bus I am riding in has come from Jerusalem, the occupied capital. It stops in front of Shuhada Street, where a rain of stones are lobbed towards the check point which has separated Hebron into two sections from 1997: H1, under the rule of the Palestinian Authority of Ramallah, and H2, controlled by Israel.
150,000 Palestinians live in H1. In H2 there are 60,000 Palestinians, a small mass trapped by the Oslo ‘93 agreements within the borders of Israeli martial law. There are also almost 8,000 Israeli settlers in H2, 700 of whom reside in the Old City that hosts the Cave of the Patriarchs and the sepulchre of Abraham, Sara and Isaac. It is the second holiest place for Jews after the Wailing Wall.
The area was occupied by Ariel Sharon’s army during the Six Day War in June 1967. On 22nd November of the same year the UN asked for the immediate withdrawal of the troops. They never left, which has left an uneven scar in the area.
Few cover the short stretch of asphalt littered with debris to reach the prefabricated check point. Inside it is a metal detector you must pass to make it to the other side. It isn’t worth the hassle.
Stones constantly fly to and fro between the Palestinian kids and the Israeli soldiers. On the day I arrived there were a number of Israeli soldiers surrounding a defiant 19-year-old, Ahmed. I looked for reasons why this youth had been apprehended and met Issa Amro, 39, founder of ‘Youth Against the Settlements’, an association which opposes the occupation.
“For the entire morning the soldiers have been harassing the Palestinians, that’s why the stone throwing began and they arrested Ahmed for being involved,” Amro told me.
In July, Wadi, a five-year-old boy, was arrested in the same circumstances. Weeks later images of Wadi being beaten up by soldiers went viral. As you can imagine tensions are high, but sadly this is an almost daily ritual in Hebron.
“I don’t approve of violence but I can understand it” explains Issa Amro. His struggle embraces non-violent resistance to the occupation, but regardless of his stance, he isn’t safe.
“My life is under threat. In two years I have been arrested 28 times. The soldiers have permanently damaged my spine by hitting me with their rifle butts. For the Jews we are inferior beings. The peace process has no hope. With the Oslo agreements we gave away 78 per cent of our land, and still international laws and protocols are systematically violated.”
The Shuhahda street check/flash point is one of 532 Israeli “obstacles” existing in the West Bank, 140 of which are in Hebron. The TIPH (Temporary International Presence in Hebron) is a civilian observer mission stationed in the city of Hebron. The mission was called for by the Israeli and the Palestinian authorities in 1997, to support them in their efforts to improve the situation in Hebron.
I met with Samira Ahssad, public information officer, and Max Oser, head of research to learn more. They told me;
“Shuhada was once a pulsating economic hub, now it’s a ghost street. The 60,000 Palestinian citizens of H2 are forced to take huge detours to reach their homes.”
The houses of Palestinians living next to the enclave of Beit Romano and Avraham Avinu are covered by thick metallic nets. Young Jewish settlers pound them with stones. Adults stroll around with M-21 rifles on the way to the synagogue.
Bench by bench, street by street the settlers are eroding slices of land from the Palestinians. During a short walk one can be searched up to seven times, in certain cases within an interval of 50 meters. 15 check points and around 100 soldiers protect the settlers from “terrorism”.
This neighbourhood war represents the ancient religious and political struggle that reflect the problems of the fragile peace process. A large majority of the Jewish right will not consider changes to the boundaries in favour of the Palestinians. David Wielder, 59, the settlers’ spokesperson and outspoken columnist of the Jerusalem Post, a right wing national daily, says;
“Since the Oslo agreement at least 1,500 Jews have killed by the Palestinian terrorism, the windows of my apartment in Beit Hadassah are riddled with bullets from the Second Intifada. Going back to the ’67 borders would mean suicide for Israel.
“We are not the aggressors, we are daily targets from stones and bullets. The TIPH work for the Palestinians, Issa Amro is a terrorist. We just want to live peacefully within our borders. Land grabbing is a lie.
“All the Arabs and the Palestinians want is the destruction of Israel. There is no possibility for peace.”
Hebron is a microcosm of the Jewish/Palestinian question. The settlers feel outnumbered and encircled and the Palestinians feel brutally oppressed.I don’t see any end to the on-going conflict. I fear the activities from both sides will be the same in 2014 as in 2015, ’16 and beyond.
Just another normal day in Hebron.