2 August 2009
Hebron is a divided city. Around 500 hundred Israeli settlers illegally occupy buildings in the city centre and to accommodate them the lives of over 180,000 Palestinians have been thrown into disorder.Palestinians’ movement through their own city is severely restricted: thousands of Israeli soldiers man checkpoints along a line of segregation that cuts through the city; in order to pass Palestinians must present their ID cards and can be detained arbitrarily. Some roads and sidewalks are segregated – Palestinians have to walk on small divided sections. Local residents are forbidden from driving on many streets and what was until recently a bustling main market street is now forbidden to them. Step-by-step, house-by-house the settlers plan to take over all of Hebron and expel the local Arab population.
Settlers in Hebron are part of the most extreme Israeli right-wing movement. The leader of the Jewish National Front, Baruch Marzel, lives with his family and many supporters in the heart of the city. Still the residents, traders and shopkeepers at the core of the ancient Old City resist the encroaching settlers. It is not easy. Each Saturday afternoon one of several military barriers separating the Old City from the illegal settlements swings open – no one knows which barrier will be opened from one week to the next – and an Israeli Army patrol sweeps in. Many shops close, streets are blocked off, residents cannot access their homes and normal life comes to a halt. The soldiers are there to escort groups of Israeli settlers who come to see buildings that they claim should only be occupied by Jews.
On Saturday 1 August settlers climbed over a roof onto the home of the Palestinian Al-E’wewi family in full view of Israeli soldiers and pushed a large metal water-tanker to the ground several floors below. During the hot summer in this dry region water is scarce and the Al-E’wewi’s are so poor they will struggle to replace the tank which has been vandalised by settlers many times before.
Settler boys took up positions on roof-tops which are designated as closed military zones under Israeli law and intimidated passers-by while Israeli soldiers looked on and happily chatted to them. Later in the afternoon settlers attempted to assert their dominance over the local population. Young setter men decided to break away from the main group moving through the Old City. As they swaggered down the narrow streets of the Old City Israeli soldiers began to call them back. The settlers’ views are so extreme that despite all the restrictions the Israeli Army imposes on local people, soldiers are viewed by settlers as being too soft. Angry at not being able to run riot a settler attacked an Israeli soldier, punching and kicking him.
However, rather than arresting the violent settler the soldiers told him to calm down and let him continue away from the main group. Settler leaders shouted at the soldiers that they should not interfere with the young man. Quickly a group of young seller men rallied round their friend and made their way through the streets. They attacked a Palestinian’s car, breaking-off a wing mirror. As they passed local shops they cursed and screamed at shopkeepers who had dared to stay open.
International Solidarity Movement and Christian Peacemaker Team volunteers worked together to witness document and record the actions of soldiers and settlers and saw their behaviour first hand.The Israeli soldiers had lost control and decided to escort the settlers from the Old City. Angry at being unable to assert themselves in their usual manner the settlers decided to lash out.
An innocent Palestinian man, Nizam Azazmeh (32), who was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, was attacked by ten settlers. Using a blade, they slashed his forehead, arms and stabbed him in his chest. Israeli soldiers standing nearby refused to intervene to help the victim and he saved himself only by grabbing a police shield and defending himself.
Mr. Azazmeh filed a complaint to the Israeli police but, despite having security cameras covering the area of the attack, the police have yet to arrest any settlers.The man survived and has submitted a complaint to the Israeli police.In the meantime the residents of Hebron hold their breath, waiting for the next time settlers lash out.