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Prisoners in our own homes: A look at life in occupied Hebron

Twenty-one years have passed since Baruch Goldstein entered Hebron’s Cave of the Patriarchs and massacred dozens of Muslim worshippers. Since then, Palestinians in the city have been placed under a harsh regime of separation and movement restriction. Some of us can’t even leave our own homes.

By Zleikha Muhtaseb

Shuhada Street in the Old City of Hebron, empty of all Palestinian vehicle and pedestrian traffic, November 13, 2013. Shuhada Street was the main commercial center of the city when it was first closed in 1994 to Palestinian traffic after the Ibrahimi Mosque Massacre, and later to pedestrians as the army shut down the entire commercial area. (Photo: Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

Shuhada Street in the Old City of Hebron, empty of all Palestinian vehicle and pedestrian traffic, November 13, 2013. Shuhada Street was the main commercial center of the city when it was first closed in 1994 to Palestinian traffic after the Ibrahimi Mosque Massacre, and later to pedestrians as the army shut down the entire commercial area. (Photo: Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

Imagine that you are in your home, sitting on your comfortable couch, making a cup of tea or perhaps looking at the view through your window. You are safe and calm — here no one can hurt you. Now imagine that the front door of your home has been locked by a foreign army that forbids you from walking on the main street where your house is located. Imagine that in order to leave your house you are forced to break through another part of your house so as to create an alternative exit. Imagine that your balcony is closed off by a fence that you built in order to protect yourself from rocks thrown at your house by your neighbors. Imagine that at any given moment, soldiers can burst into your home and act as they want.

This is more than just a thought experiment — this is what my life looks like, living on Shuhada Street in Hebron. As a result of an order given by the Israeli military, my front door, which faces the street, has been locked. The neighbors who throw rocks at my fenced-off balcony are settlers, Israeli citizens who slowly took over buildings and homes in the area over the past decades. The soldiers who can enter my home at will are Israeli soldiers who patrol the street at all hours of the day and night. But if I ask them for help when rocks are thrown at my home, they will never respond.

Visitors who have never been here might have a hard time imagining what Shuhada Street looked like years ago, when it was full of life and shops — the commercial center of the city. Today only soldiers and settlers are allowed to walk down the streets, while the shops are closed and their doors locked. Almost 80 percent of the stores in this part of the city were shut down in the last 20 years, many times due to military orders in the name of “security.”

According to some estimates, nearly half the residents of the area have left. And who can blame them? Who wouldn’t consider leaving their home after it becomes a jail, after their source of income disappears, where fear and violence reign on every corner, when even the simplest act of normalcy — a visit to a cemetery or calling an ambulance — becomes a complicated operation due to restrictions on movement?

This week we mark 21 years since the Cave of the Patriarchs Massacre, in which a resident of the nearby settlement Kiryat Arba murdered 29 Muslim worshippers, and wounded over 100 more. I will not forget that day or how people lost their lives. But this day changed Hebron not only because of the pain, anger and fear that we felt. By the 1990s, the presence of settlers and soldiers in Hebron was nothing new, but in the wake of the massacre, Israel added insult to injury and began restricting Palestinian movement in the city, specifically in areas near settlements. Those same restrictions were only increased in 2000 with the beginning of the Second Intifada. Along with the never-ending presence of the soldiers and the violence of the settlers, they turn life here into a constant struggle.

Apartheid in our city

The spread of the settlements in Hebron slowly affects more and more of the city’s residents. In 2014, settlers took over the Rajbi building, the first Jewish settlement in the city since the 1980s. Every new settlement makes the lives of the locals a living hell.

Israeli settlers at the Hebron Jewish settlement's Purim parade on the city's Shuhada Street. Itamar Ben Gvir (L), is dressed as a hunger-striking Palestinian prisoner. February 24, 2013 (Activestills.org)

Israeli settlers march during at the Hebron Jewish settlement’s Purim parade on Shuhada Street, February 24, 2013. Itamar Ben Gvir (L), is dressed as a hunger-striking Palestinian prisoner. (photo: Activestills.org)

Israel says its policies in Hebron are based on “security.” However the truth must be said out loud: these are not “security-based” policies, but rather policies of apartheid. There is no better term for a policy that grants privileges and legal immunity to the Jewish minority with Israeli citizenship, living in the heart of a Palestinian city. There is no better term for a policy based on the logic of physical separation, which uses the presence of several hundred settlers living in Hebron as an excuse to shut down entire streets to Palestinians.

When people ask me, “how can you continue living like a prisoner in your home?” my answer is simple: I live here because it is my home, my street and my city. The settlers want us to leave, but we will remain and fight for our right to live freely in our home.

This week, activists in Hebron, along with supporters in Israel and across the world, will call on Israel to open Shuhada Street. This call is part of a larger movement that demands the evacuation the settlements from our city, as well as an end to military control, restrictions and apartheid. Only then will we be able to rehabilitate our city and our communities, which have been and continue to be destroyed by the regime. We hope for a future in which we can live peacefully in our homes and walk safely on our streets. We hope that anyone who believes in justice, equality and peace joins our call.

Zleikha Muhtaseb is a resident of Shuhada Street in Hebron, a kindergarten teacher and an activist in the Youth Against Settlements organization. This article was first published on +972′s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew here.

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    1. Pedro X

      By agreement between the PA and Israel, Hebron is divided into two areas. The Palestinians have control of 80% of Hebron to do as they please. Israel administers the remaining 20% in which all Jewish communities in Hebron are located. If the IDF did not patrol Israel’s area of Hebron, there would be another pogrom like the 1929 massacre which destroyed the vibrant Jewish community there.

      President Rivlin was recently in Hebron to open a museum tracing 3,800 years of Jewish history in Hebron. Rivlin is quoted as saying:

      “It is difficult to imagine the possibility of dialogue in Hebron. The memory of slaughter and blood; screams of the wounded and orphans, are part of a constant reminder that arise in the collective memory of the city. However, we can and should try. Such actions do not hurt or hinder our right to Hebron” and

      “This morning, I visited my family’s roots. There are those who fly to Krakow, or Casablanca, but for me, I have no need, not for a plane nor a passport, in order to visit my roots,” and

      “I have come here today from the resting place of my late mother, Rachel Rivlin, on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, to the city of our forefathers, Hebron, where my mother’s family lived and worked.” and

      “Even those who differ in their views regarding the renewed Jewish settlement in Hebron cannot, and should not, deny the deep cultural and historic connection of the people of Israel to the city,”

      Reply to Comment
      • Felix Reichert

        ” If the IDF did not patrol Israel’s area of Hebron, there would be another pogrom like the 1929 massacre which destroyed the vibrant Jewish community there.”

        Or, maybe, just maybe, like the much more recent and relevant massacre in 1994?

        Reply to Comment
        • Whiplash

          In the last week the IDF arrested a Hamas cell of 11 members who have been involved in terrorism and were planning suicide attacks against Israelis in Hebron and other areas. Money, weapons and explosives were seized along with the Hamas members.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Bruce Gould

      I like to point out that the locals weren’t always nice when the Europeans colonized North America and took over the land and water resources. At this point someone says: but the Jews aren’t colonizers, their home is Israel, it’s where they belong! Alas, I don’t know enough theology, philosophy or quantum mechanics to discuss which piece of real estate God gave the Jews, but that’s not the point: whether or not the Jews are colonizers is beside the point:they are BEHAVING like colonizers, as this article shows.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Brian

      By Amira Hass

      “The sickest imagination of present-day anti-Semites cannot compete with the handiwork of Israel and its emissaries the settlers in Hebron for the past 20 years.

      The demand for the Jewish return is broken down here into all its raw components: the expulsion of the Palestinians, the destruction of their homes and their cultural legacy, destruction of the economy, extreme ethnic-spatial separation and deranged prohibitions regarding movement and housing, attacks in the name of the Torah, harassment and denial of the other. If gentile foes were to say that that’s how Jews behave, the institutes for the study of anti-Semitism would sound the alarm.

      Today, February 25, is the 21st anniversary of the massacre perpetrated by Dr. Baruch Goldstein against worshipers in the Ibrahimi Mosque (the Cave of the Patriarchs). The prime minister and defense minister at the time, Yitzhak Rabin, could have dismantled the nuclear bombs stored by his colleagues from Mapai (the forerunner of Labor) in the late 1960s – Yigal Alon and Moshe Dayan – when they allowed groups of messianic Jews to settle there and encouraged them by providing military protection and weapons. The evacuation of the settlers from Hebron would have been received with great understanding in 1994.

      But Rabin decided to continue with the traditional policy, which was natural for Mapai, of pampering the settlers, and instructed the army to punish the Palestinians for the massacre committed against them by a Jewish doctor – an immigrant from the United States – with a prolonged curfew, restrictions on movement, the closing of shops and marketplaces, and criminal forgivingness for the violence of the settlers. Since then Israel has continued with its policy of punishing those who are being attacked….”

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        It might be worth pointing out that Amira Hass has spent a lot of time living among the Palestinians – maybe that counts for something? It’s worth checking out her editorials.

        Reply to Comment
        • Brian

          Yes, there’s nothing like authenticity. She’s not living in Tel Aviv or the suburbs. Even jello can’t call her a “tourist.” (He might call her another “t” word but that’s SOP on the right these election days, nothing to be surprised about.)

          Reply to Comment
      • C.C. DeVille

        For someon who claims to admire and respect Amira Haas, you certainly sh!t all over her intrllectual property rights.

        One characteristic of a narcissist is that they feel that rules and laws apply,to everyone except themselves.

        Reply to Comment
    4. Florian McDonnell

      According to Israeli professor Zeev Sternhell, who occasionally writes for Haaretz, the settlements are a cancer eating away at Israeli society. If Israel doesn’t manage to at least permanently evacuate some of the settlements, according to him, this will show that the story of Zionism is finished. This is what Israel is heading for: for a failure of Zionism, due to the settlers.

      Reply to Comment