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Israel War Crimes: Palestine, Hebron: Life under siege in a divided city - Guardian

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  • Zafar Khan
    Life under siege in a divided city Palestinian families driven from homes by settlers in cleansing of Hebron in the West Bank Chris McGreal in Tel Rumeida,
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 10, 2005
      Life under siege in a divided city

      Palestinian families driven from homes by settlers in
      'cleansing' of Hebron in the West Bank

      Chris McGreal in Tel Rumeida, Hebron
      Friday December 9, 2005
      The Guardian


      Visitors to the Abu Aishe family in the heart of the
      biblical and bitterly-disputed city of Hebron either
      require an army escort to the front of the steel mesh
      cage protecting the three-storey home or risk assault
      by a barrage of stones, rotting food and shouts of
      "Death to Arabs" from the neighbours.

      Three generations of the Abu Aishe family are the last
      Arabs living in their street, defiantly staying on in
      the face of what international monitors have described
      as the "cleansing" of parts of Hebron by messianic
      Jews, with the complicity of the Israeli army, that
      has driven thousands of people from their homes and
      businesses. Over recent years, parts of Hebron were
      all but emptied of Palestinians as their shops were
      sealed and the streets closed off.

      "The neighbours all left," said Reem Abu Aishe, a
      mother of six children, who lives in the midst of the
      small but growing settler enclave of Tel Rumeida which
      some Jews claim as the original city of Abraham and
      therefore the world's oldest Jewish settlement.

      "They couldn't stand the threats and the constant
      harassment. Their children were attacked, their
      windows were smashed. Sometimes the Jews even fired
      bullets into their houses. So they left and the Jews
      took their houses," she said. "The settlers don't want
      any Arabs in the area. They think it is their
      neighbourhood. We don't dare leave the house empty.
      Someone always has to stay. There is a big risk that
      any time the settlers see we have left the house they
      will break into it. One time they came in the back


      Palestinian and Israeli communities live closer in
      Hebron - sometimes in the same street - than anywhere
      in the occupied territories outside Jerusalem. About
      500 Jews live in the heart of the city among 130,000
      Palestinians. A short walk away is the settlement of
      Kiryat Arba, home to another 6,000 Israelis and the
      crucible of support for the Kach organisation, which
      is banned in Israel as a terrorist group.

      The relationship has always been uneasy. The settlers
      arrived after the 1967 Israeli occupation of the city,
      proclaiming the revival of a Jewish presence driven
      out by the Arab massacre of 66 Jews in 1929. For the
      Palestinians, there is the more recent memory of the
      slaughter of 29 Muslims at prayer in Hebron by an
      ultra-nationalist Jewish doctor, Baruch Goldstein in

      The city was divided in 1997 when the Palestinians
      took over administration of 80% of Hebron while the
      Israeli military retained authority in the central
      market and old city. But the Israeli area was still
      home to four times as many Palestinians as Jews,
      regarded as interlopers by many settlers who set about
      pushing the Palestinians from their businesses and
      homes, often with the assistance of the military and
      approval of Israeli officials.

      In recent years, more than half of the 2,500
      Palestinians who lived in Hebron's old city have been
      driven out and many hundreds more have been forced out
      on the edge of the settlements. Palestinians are now
      barred from the main commercial road, Shuhada street,
      where shops are boarded up. Elsewhere they are
      permitted only to walk and not drive. The UN has
      counted 101 military roadblocks and checkpoints
      controlling the movement of Palestinians in central

      The army says the measures are the result of a
      "complex reality" created by the Palestinian intifada
      and more than 30 suicide bombers from Hebron, and a
      climate of anger fuelled by killings such as a
      Palestinian sniper shooting a Jewish baby and a mob of
      settlers murdering a 14-year-old Arab girl.

      The settlers call the Palestinians leaving "a gift
      from heaven". But last year Jan Kristensen, a former
      lieutenant colonel in the Norwegian army who headed
      the European monitoring team in Hebron, said it had
      more to do with a strategy by the army and settlers to
      drive Palestinians out of the old city.

      "More and more people are leaving the area and it is
      effectively being emptied. The settlers' activities,
      which are aimed at causing the Palestinians to leave,
      and the army's activities, which impose severe
      restrictions, create an irreversible reality," he told
      Haaretz newspaper. "The settlers go out almost every
      night and attack those who live near them. They break
      windows, cause damage and effectively force the
      Palestinians to leave the area. In a sense, cleansing
      is being carried out."

      In Tel Rumeida, the Abu Aishes's immediate neighbours
      all left in fear. A carpet of broken glass from
      bottles thrown at the Abu Aishe home leads up to the
      door. On the other side of the street live settler
      families. When a new block opened earlier this year,
      the army locked the Abu Aishe family, including the
      71-year-old grandfather, into one room for the entire
      day on the grounds they were a "terrorist risk".

      "My grandfather refuses to leave," said Raja, the
      16-year-old daughter. "He said he would rather die in
      the house that has been his life than leave."

      But staying is not easy. Raja runs a gauntlet of abuse
      and violence on her way to Qurtuba girls school."They
      throw stones, water and old food at us. Sometimes the
      soldiers try and protect us but they are not always

      Raja said she and her brothers had all been injured,
      including four-year-old Walid, whose arm was

      Qurtuba school has become a rallying point for the
      settlers who sometimes block the entrance and have
      ripped off doors. A woman standing outside tells
      mothers bringing their children to the school: "Go to
      Auschwitz and take all the Arabs with you." Someone
      hung a sign outside: "Gas the Arabs."


      David Wilder, a spokesman for the Jewish settlers in
      central Hebron, denied Palestinians were being
      pressured to leave. "We have not in the past, and I
      don't think we will be able to in the near future,
      been able to force anybody to leave. Any Arabs who
      leave do so of their own free will. We haven't pushed
      anybody out. Neither has the army as far as I know.
      People leave because they want to leave. For whatever
      reason," he said.

      In recent weeks, the Israeli military has moved in new
      gates between the Jewish and Palestinian
      neighbourhoods, the army says, to improve the lives of
      Arabs. The Palestinians are suspicious, believing it
      is marking out an area for the further expansion of
      Jewish settlements. The UN describes the gates as
      "completing the encirclement of the Old Suq area ...
      Once the centre of Hebron's commercial and cultural
      life, the Old Suq is now virtually deserted."

      Imad Hamdan, head of the Hebron Rehabilitation
      Committee, which wants to limit the expansion of
      Jewish settlements, said: "They are working to get us
      out. It is a long-term goal. They are patient but that
      is their goal."

      Mr Wilder does not deny it, and he warns that if Ariel
      Sharon tries to remove more West Bank settlements it
      could provide the pretext for the Jews of Hebron to
      achieve their goal. "All of those people who seem to
      be in favour of these unilateral expulsions, they
      should have reason to be worried because expulsion is
      a two-way street and if it's permissible to expel Jews
      in the name of peace then it's also permissible to
      expel others in the name of peace."

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