Hebron is the only West Bank town (other than East Jerusalem, now part of a united Jerusalem) which has a large number of Jewish settlers in the centre of the old town (as opposed to living in settlements out in the countryside on hilltops). Furthermore the settlers who have come to Hebron, mostly from the States and France, hold extreme views. This has caused a deeply conflictual situation. (The British Foreign Office recommends that one not go to Hebron.) The settlers arrived in the late ’70s after Likud, in 1977, came to power for the first time. Likud holds that all the occupied territories are simply ‘Israel’ and that Jews have the right to settle where they will. The settlers say they are 800, of whom 250 are religious students (that is to say they take a ‘theology’ course which consists in large part in hatred of the Palestinians); the Palestinians think this number exaggerated. The settlers are under Israeli Civil Law. Israel says that Hebron is ‘disputed’, rather than ‘occupied’, territory, such that the Geneva Conventions do not apply.

Palestinians distinguish sharply between the Arabic-speaking Jews who had always lived among them and Zionist settlers. When in 1929 there were riots, sparked off by the provocative action of Zionists who, on a Jewish feast day, raised their flag at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, there were Moslems in Hebron who protected their Jewish neighbours. Our guide remembered his grandfather telling of his having done this. However when Likud gave the green light to settlers to move in, the Palestinians said ‘no’. A National Guidance Committee co-ordinated civil non-violent resistance. The first Jews arrived as ‘tourists’ staying in a hotel and never left. This group were subsequently given space next to the military headquarters; then they moved to a military camp outside the city and this in turn became a settlement. Under Oslo, Hebron was divided into H1 (Palestinian) and H2 (Israeli) areas. There was to be a final agreement in May 1999. The Palestinians consider themselves taken hostage by the settlers. The mayor of Hebron and others are given no legal rights.

The settlers belong to an extreme radical movement, banned in 1994 in both American and Israeli law, called KACH. The leader of KACH, Baruch Marzel, was due to come to Hebron the day we were there and there was a large protest demonstration (which meant we could not visit the Tomb of the Patriarchs). (The Tomb of the Patriarchs is where Adam and Eve, Abraham, Isaac and Joseph and their respective wives are buried ...; there are separate entrances and sections for Jews and Moslems.) Marzel is reputed to have a sticker which says ‘I’ve killed an Arab already. How about you?’. All adult settlers carry a gun: ‘to practice our rights’ they say. Businesses have been closed in the centre of the city by direct military order (we saw shops, the bolts on the doors of which had been soldered shut). OCHA reckons that in the old city there are 101 Israeli checkpoints. There is a Temporary International Presence in Hebron, TIPH. Its members carry only cameras and pens (no weapons), working as observers, monitoring movement and checkpoints and reporting on both sides of the conflict.

In moving-in, the settlers commonly employ a strategy. The first settlers will set up trailer houses in an area to form an outpost. They can move in overnight. They will put up a fence, build a road and arrange water. They are for the most part able to get any help they want from the government. The 400-500 extremist settlers reckoned to be in the centre of the old city are protected by 1,200 – 1,500 Israeli soldiers (that is to say 3 soldiers for each settler). (We spoke with some of these soldiers, evidently North American immigrants, who said they’d been in Gaza and now they were stationed there.) There has been a lot of thefts from properties. Kids break the locks, steal the contents and then bring in the table with the Torah. A Christian Peacemakers Team (whom we met) work in the centre of the city: extraordinarily courageous work. They try to prevent Palestinian children from being stoned and harassed on the way to school. The settlers don’t want to be arrested so they get their children to do the dirty work.

The situation as we saw it in the town was dire. Under international law, an occupying power is responsible for the protection of everyone. However, if Palestinians are attacked by a settler, the army will often do nothing. So the settlers are uncontrolled (although the army have been known to prevent teenage settlers from entering Palestinian areas). In the house of the Palestinians whom we visited we watched a horrific video showing Palestinian children being set upon by settler children. The settlers can be very violent, attacking and hitting Palestinians and screaming things like ‘kill the Arabs, gas the Arabs’. Or ‘if you want peace go to Jordan/Egypt’. Further, the video showed a mob of settlers tearing down railings surrounding Palestinian houses, in other cases smashing up the contents. The Palestinian police have no access to the Israeli part of the city. The Israeli government lends direct support to the settlers, or simply closes its eyes.

Palestinians are being pushed out of the centre of the city. For example they have to go from roof to roof until they reach a house where there is access to the road.  This doesn’t work for old people, small children, the moving of supplies, or emergency medical situations. A Palestinian will be detained for 3 hours at a checkpoint and told ‘don’t ever come back to this area’ and have their number taken. Thus there is a gradual process of expulsion. Since the Palestinian police have no access to the Israeli part of the city (H2), drug crime can proliferate there. There are 35K Palestinians in H2. They don’t feel safe on account of the drug dealers, whom the Israeli authorities choose to ignore. The drug dealing may go on directly below the soldiers, so they have to know; but of course the drug culture is useful, even promoted, in that it disrupts the Palestinian community.

There are 170,000 Palestinians in the whole Hebron area. The journey from Hebron to the rest of Palestine used to be easy; now there is a settlement cutting them off. The roads are closed and one cannot get a bus. Previously they had a well with good water. Now it is part of a settlement.

A net over a Palestinian street collects objects hurled down by settlers living above

A former shop in what was a main shopping street, bolted and soldered closed.

Square. Palestinians below,

look-out point and cameras above.

Glass factory, Hebron

Reuters reporter. The soldier on duty swore at him, calling him the ‘son of a bitch’ etc.

Settler ‘seminary’ built above this square, together with flag and army look-out post

Bricks hurled down by the settlers collected in a Palestinian shop below.

Life goes on in the Palestinian market close by.

In January 2010 it was reported that, under the pretext of providing security for settlers, Israeli soldiers have been climbing onto the roofs of Palestinian homes in central Hebron and spreading an unknown bad-smelling chemical.

Specialist Literature:

  1. -B’tselem on Hebron.

  2. -Christian Peacemaker Teams Hebron gallery.

  3. -OCHA: Unprotected: Israeli settler violence against Palestinian civilians and their property.


From openshuhadastreet.org and B’tselem here