Hebron turned into 'ghost town'
Curfews imposed on Palestinians do not apply to Jewish settlers
Human rights groups say Israeli curbs on Palestinians in the West Bank
town of Hebron have forced thousands of them to leave homes and close
B'Tselem and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel said Israel
had in effect expropriated central Hebron to protect some 650 Jewish
Israel had breached the Geneva Convention prohibiting forced transfer,
which was a war crime, the groups said.
The Israeli military says curbs are to maintain order and protect life.
"The policy of separation founded on ethnic criteria has caused a
massive exodus of Palestinians from Hebron's city centre," the joint
human rights report said.
"Israeli activities have been carried out on the basis of a
preferential policy toward settlers that has turned the centre of
Hebron into a ghost town."
The groups said about 1,000 Palestinian homes, more than 40% of homes
in the centre of Hebron, had been vacated because of Israeli closures
in the centre of the city.
Two-thirds of these were vacated during the course of the second
Palestinian intifada, or uprising, which began in 2000.
Troops look after settlers' interests not Palestinians', the report says
More than 75% of shops were shut down, the joint B'Tselem/ACRI survey
said, 62% of them since 2000 and a quarter of them as a result of
"They created conditions that made the Palestinians move," B'Tselem
spokeswoman Sarit Michaeli said. "The army can't now say that they
didn't know this was going to happen."
An Israeli military statement said the report had failed to reflect
the complexities of Hebron, and that the restrictions were imposed to
protect both Israeli and Palestinian residents.
"In this complicated reality the military commander is required, and
is in fact obliged, to take such actions on purely security grounds,"
a military statement said.
The report said the army generally did not intervene when Palestinian
residents were subjected to attacks by militant settlers, which also
caused people to leave.
"Dozens of settlers attacked my house at once, and they burned things
inside the house," former resident Mufid Sharabati is quoted saying.
"We called the Israeli police and the army, but nobody helped us."
Settler spokesman David Wilder denounced the report as lies and
distortions, and said Palestinians left because of curfews imposed
because of attacks on settlers.
"We have never tried to throw anybody out, and we have not tried to
keep anyone here," he said.
Hebron is the only place in the Israeli-occupied West Bank where a
small community of Jewish settlers lives in the heart of a Palestinian
Under an agreement with the Palestinian Authority, Israel evacuated
80% of Hebron in 1997, remaining in an area around the Old City where
650 Jewish settlers live among about 30,000 Palestinians.
All Israeli settlements built on land captured in the 1967 war are
illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.
Two Palestinian boys are shot dead by Israeli troops in the northern
Gaza Strip, Palestinian sources say.
Two Palestinian boys have been shot dead by Israeli troops in the
northern Gaza Strip, Palestinian sources say.
The children were estimated to be between eight and 13 years old. They
have not yet been identified.
An Israeli army spokesman said the army had shot at several
Palestinians near the Gaza-Israel border fence.
He said they were crawling towards the fence near Beit Lahiya, "did
not heed repeated calls to stop and planted a suspicious device close
to the fence".
A separate spokeswoman said: "We identified hitting three. One was
lightly injured and was taken to hospital inside Israel."
The other two were evacuated by Palestinian ambulance workers, but died.
Medical staff at a Gaza hospital said they had been hit in the chest.
They said the children had reportedly been scouring the area near the
border fence for scrap metal, Reuters reported.
Israel Stokes Up Hamas-Fatah Strife
In Gaza, Considers Ground Invasion
By Jean Shaoul
21 May, 2007
World Socialist Web
On May 17, Israel gave the go-ahead for 500 Fatah
fighters to cross into the Gaza Strip from Egypt, so
as to lend support to the forces loyal to Palestinian
Authority President Mahmoud Abbas who are fighting
Hamas forces loyal to Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.
The 500 are reported to have been trained under a
US-sponsored programme. Many Fatah security personnel
have received training in Arab and European Union
countries, often by American and Russian personnel.
The previous day, an Israeli military helicopter had
fired at a target in Rafah, in the southern Gaza
Strip, killing four members of Hamas's Executive Force
and injuring 18. Israeli troops opened fire at Gaza's
only cargo terminal at the Karni crossing, where a
shoot out occurred between Hamas and Fatah, killing
Also on May 17, Israeli Defence Minister Amir Peretz,
of the Labour Party ordered the Israeli Defence Forces
(IDF) to launch air strikes against Hamas and
suspected militants. In one strike, Israeli forces hit
the headquarters of Hamas's Executive Force, its armed
security group that has operated in Gaza since Hamas
took power in January 2006. The Israeli military
carried out targeted assassinations, blowing up cars
it claimed were carrying suspected militants. Hamas
said that three of its members were killed. Two
further missiles hit a pick-up truck killing a family,
including 13- and 18-year-old brothers.
Artillery forces massed on the border and some tanks
crossed into Gaza. A ground force entered the northern
part of Gaza, but Israel's military stopped short of
an all-out invasion. This was followed on May 18 with
several more air strikes. In all, at least 20 people
have been killed and dozens injured by the Israeli
Israel claims that its actions were aimed at
destroying the ability of Hamas to launch crude
missiles, known as Qassem rockets, against Israel's
southern towns. In the past week, Hamas has fired more
than 80 rockets, injuring at least seven people,
damaging several houses, and forcing several hundred
to flee their homes. Sederot, a border town of
impoverished Israelis of North African and Middle
Eastern descent, which has a high unemployment rate,
has born the brunt of the missiles.
A senior Israeli military officer said that the goal
of the current operation in Gaza was to "make Hamas
pay" for its rocket attacks against Israel. But he
then made clear that this was not the main issue for
Israel by adding that the IDF operations could
continue even if Hamas stopped firing rockets.
Israel is not "conducting a dialogue" with Hamas, he
said, and the IDF operations were not necessarily
dependent on the continuation of rocket attacks.
"We're not just attacking real estate. We want to make
Hamas pay for the terror," he said. The officer said
the IDF would present its plans for continuing the
operation to the cabinet.
The military has tried to pretend that its actions are
unrelated to the ongoing factional fighting between
Hamas and Fatah, but the sheer scale of the attack and
the Palestinian casualties gives the lie to this.
On May 20, Israel's security cabinet approved plans to
step up operations against Hamas and Islamic Jihad in
Gaza. It authorised operations to dismantle "terrorist
infrastructure," but stopped short of authorising a
full-scale ground invasion.
The violence that flared up a week ago has resulted in
by far the worst casualties in the warfare that has
simmered on and off between Hamas and Fatah for two
decades. Peretz says his sources tell him the
infighting has left 73 dead so far, mostly Fatah
members. Dozens more have been wounded, including
civilians caught in the crossfire.
Raging street battles broke out as tensions mounted,
threatening to bring an end to the Hamas-Fatah
coalition government sworn in on March 17. Israel
never recognised the government and has continued its
efforts to isolate and starve Gaza and hasten its
political descent into civil war.
Palestinian Interior Minister Hani Kawassmeh
repeatedly found that his plans to coordinate Fatah
and Hamas' militias were countermanded by his security
chief, Rashid Abu Shbak, who is on the payroll of
Mahmoud Dahlan, a Fatah warlord in Gaza. Shbak ordered
Fatah forces out onto the streets of Gaza without
either Hamas's agreement or Kawassmeh's instructions,
precipitating the violence of the past week. For
Kawassmeh, this was the last straw and he resigned his
post in the government.
Later, Hamas forces attacked Shback's home, killing at
least five of his bodyguards. Shback and his family
were not at their heavily guarded residence at the
A colour photograph in the Financial Times of Shback's
home shows something more like the Alhambra Palace in
Grenada than the average slum in Gaza City or the
refugee camps. It adds fuel to the widespread belief
that the real reason for the Palestinian Authority's
burgeoning security forces, the largest per capita in
the world, is not to protect the Palestinian people
from Israeli attacks, but to police a US- and
Israeli-dictated settlement, while protecting the
Palestinian millionaires and billionaires from the
Last Wednesday, when casualties had mounted to 41 in
just four days, there were mass demonstrations in
Ramallah in the West Bank and Gaza City calling for an
end to the fighting. But in Gaza City, at least eight
were wounded when shooting broke out, scattering the
crowds of people. According to the UN Office of
Humanitarian Affairs, more than 150 Palestinians have
been killed and 650 wounded in the factional fighting
since the beginning of the year.
There is no agreement within Israel's ruling elite as
to what approach to take to the near-civil war raging
in Gaza and whether to authorise a full-scale ground
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has so far rejected an
invasion. He clearly fears a second military debacle
after Lebanon, particularly in light of reports from
the security services that Hamas has doubled its
military forces to 10,000, and allegations that it has
smuggled large numbers of anti-tank missiles and
weapons-grade explosives into Gaza. In any event, it
would be difficult to move directly and immediately to
such an option, after Israel's 2006 debacle in
His stance at this point appears to have the support
of Washington, which fears that an Israeli invasion
could destabilise the Middle East. The US is focused
on continuing to support Abbas as its local puppet. To
this end, Israel has allowed money to be transferred
to Abbas's forces and for Fatah to receive training in
But this policy has backfired. The more that Abbas is
seen to have US and Israeli backing, the more the
Palestinian people become alienated from Abbas and
Fatah, already widely despised because of their
corruption and inefficiency. Reports that the US has
been supplying Abbas's forces with guns and millions
of dollars to take on Hamas's supporters have added
fuel to the fire.
One veteran Fatah member admitted that it lacked the
support of the Palestinian public. "Most Palestinians
still don't trust us," he said. "Most Palestinians
still hold us responsible for the financial corruption
in the Palestinian Authority. And what's worse is that
many Palestinians don't like the fact that we are
being supported by the US and Israel."
Israeli leaders supporting the pro-Abbas policy have
argued that Fatah did well against Hamas's forces,
which were better armed, better trained and
numerically stronger, in the clash last Tuesday at the
Whatever the hesitations and internal differences
among Israeli policymakers, the general drift is
towards an open military conflict. Many of Israel's
military and intelligence chiefs and the most hawkish
political elements led by Likud leader Benyamin
Netanyahu have insisted that Abbas is incapable of
policing the Palestinian Authority.
Speaking at a Likud faction meeting at the Menachem
Begin Heritage Centre marking the 30th anniversary of
the party's 1977 rise to power, Netanyahu said that
the government "could evacuate whomever necessary,
enact a closure on the Gaza Strip, stop providing
services like electricity and water, or decide on a
limited invasion of four or five kilometres to
distance the range of the Qassems."
For his part, Deputy Prime Minister Avigdor Lieberman
of the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu has called for more
intense ground activity in the Gaza Strip. He even
threatened to withdraw his eleven Knesset members from
the government and bring it down, stating, "The
present coalition has reached the moment of truth.
Either we dismantle Hamas, or we dismantle the
The Gaza Division commander, Brigadier General Moshe
Tamir, has long urged that infantry and tank brigades
be deployed on the ground in the Gaza Strip. He has
been pushing a hard-line approach at cabinet meetings
on Gaza, urging Olmert and Peretz to give the green
light for an invasion.
He and others in the army's high command want to crush
Hamas "before Gaza turns into another southern
Lebanon," said a source. Their plan is to divide Gaza
into three parts, seal its borders, and crush Hamas by
flooding its towns and villages with troops in an
operation intended to last no more than a week. Israel
would rely on speed, superior technology, better
training and intelligence, numerical superiority and,
not least, sheer brutality to smash Hamas.
The aimfor which they seek US backingis not so much
to install another government as to create such
devastation and privation that the Palestinians will
finally submit to being penned into impoverished
ghettoes, or leave altogether. With the Palestinian
territories virtually sealed off from the outside
world, unable to get the agricultural produce upon
which the Palestinian economy depends, poverty is the
rule and shortages are widespread.
When Saudi Arabia brokered an agreement between Fatah
and Hamas in Mecca last February leading to the
establishment of the unity coalition, promises were
secured from several Arab states to bankroll the
Palestinian Authority, but as yet only the United Arab
Emirates have come up with any cash.
The US and the European Union have maintained their
own boycott of the Palestinian Authority. And while
foreign aid has doubled to $900 million, Israel has
refused to release the $800 million in taxes it has
collected on behalf of the PA, and the total is rising
by $55 million a month. Without funding, neither the
PA nor the coalition government can survive much
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