Israeli curfew crushes the life out of old Hebron : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Israeli curfew crushes the life out of old Hebron By Judy Dempsey

Published: December 1 2000 18:40GMT | Last Updated: December 1 2000 20:03GMT

It is like a town abandoned by war. The streets are empty. The market is closed. The shops are under lock and key. The ground is covered with black tar - remains of burnt-out tyres. Bullets have disfigured houses, smashed windows, ripped through steel shutters. There is a terrible, frightening silence.

This is the old city of Hebron, until recently a bustling quarter which could boast one of the best souks (markets) in the West Bank. But it is not war that has driven the Palestinian indigenes away. It is a curfew that has kept them invisible.

Throughout the nine weeks since the Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation started, Israel has imposed a 24-hour curfew on the 16,000 Palestinians living in the old quarter. The other residents - 450 religiously zealous Jewish settlers - face no restrictions. Heavily guarded by Israeli soldiers, they are free to come and go.

The curfew has confined Palestinians to their homes. They cannot walk, drive, or buy food. The souk, shops and public services are closed. So are the schools. The Israeli army says the curfew is lifted for several hours a day, usually in the morning. There was little evidence of that this week.

"This is not a collective punishment on the Palestinians," said an Israeli army official. "It is a way of controlling them. We are not trying to be inhuman. It is the only way to keep the ground quiet."

But everyday there is shooting. Palestinians in other parts of the city, enraged by the curfew, the discrimination and the settlers' privileges, vent their anger on the stree ts. Some of their fighters shoot at neighbouring settlements. The demonstrators throw stones at the Israeli soldiers. The army shoots back. More deaths and funerals lead to more frustration. Still, the curfew continues.

It has made life impossible for Jaber Saher, 38. "I try to sneak out through the vegetable plots to buy food, meet friends," he said. Some of Mr Saher's six children stood in the cold wind, without socks or shoes. "The schools are closed. The shops are closed. How can I cope?" said Mr Saher, a driver.

Tarik, 13, insisted on speaking. "Please listen," he said. "My dad has had no work for two months. They won't let him work. We had some food stored away - dried beans, lentils. There's not much left. We are locked in here."

Fathers and children were desperate to talk to a foreigner. No Palestinians from the rest of Hebron, or for that matter from anywhere outside the city, are allowed to enter this enclave. It is cut off from the rest of the world by Israeli soldiers wrapped in bullet-proof vests and holed up in concrete bunkers.

The enclave was carved out by the US and Benjamin Netanyahu, former Israeli prime minister, in the January 1997 Hebron Accord. Israel handed over 80 per cent of the city, known as H1, to Palestinian control. The remainder, H2, consisting of 450 Jewish settlers and 16,000 Palestinians, stayed under Israeli authority.

The accord sharpened the fault lines in this historic, holy city where it is claimed Abraham is buried.

In 1929, Arabs killed 60 Jews in a pogrom. In 1994 Baruch Goldstein, an American-born Jew, shot dead 29 Palestinians while they were praying at the al-Ahrahami mosque during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Some Israeli politicians believed it was time to take out the settlers and avoid another massacre by either side. The government refused. The partial withdrawal in 1997 only exacerbated the friction.

Palestinians designated to live in H2 have had their lives made miserable by the heavy presence of Israeli troops and settlers. The troops are there to protect settlers who, until the curfew, constantly taunted the Palestinians, overturning their market stalls and preventing them from driving or even walking on some of the streets.

"I know what the Jews want us to do," said Murad Quijk, 26. The shoemaker defied the curfew this week and went to his workshop. The door was barely ajar. A single bulb hung over his worn bench. "They want us out of here. They want to take over the old city. But I will stay."

The Jews live the other side of the enclave, near the souk. Nomi Horowitz, 35, and mother of seven, was preparing for an exam. Her spacious apartment was warm. She had put sandbags outside her windows. "The army should have done that for us," she said.

When asked how she felt about a curfew imposed only on Palestinians, she said they were to blame for it. "I have no fear. The Palestinians have gotten off lightly. They know what they should do. I hope Hebron will be a Jewish city." She pointed to the sky. God, she said, was on her side.

-- Martin Thompson (, December 02, 2000

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