Skip to main content

In Hebron, a case study in Israeli apartheid

'They like parading their power': In Hebron, a case study in Israeli apartheid
6 min read
13 September, 2023
In-depth: Under a regime of overt segregation, Hebron is a microcosm of Israel's occupation. For Palestinians, violence is a daily reality, and so are everyday acts of resistance.

When Palestinian shopkeepers from Hebron (Al-Khalil) in the occupied West Bank opened their stores on the morning of 27 July 2023, they did so thinking it would have been a “business as usual” kind of day.

Instead, the violent events that took place later that afternoon disrupted their activities.

As Israeli forces besieged the city centre, an equally familiar understanding of “business as usual” materialised in the minds of local Palestinians: that of being forced to live under the permanent and systematic violence of Israel's occupation.

But 27 July was not just any day. It was a Jewish holiday, which meant that Israeli military and settler violence was more extreme than usual.

Hebron is the most important city in the West Bank when it comes to commerce and trade. Palestinians from all over the territory come here, especially for shopping, knowing they will find refined items in the city’s richly equipped mall and street markets.

However, Hebron is also the most complicated city to explain to those unfamiliar with the system of territorial division through which the occupied Palestinian territory is governed.

The occupied West Bank is split into three areas that differ in the extent and nature of Israeli control: Area A is under complete control of the Palestinian Authority (PA), Area B is under shared administration between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israeli forces, and Area C is entirely administered by Israeli forces.

Area C accounts for roughly 60% of the territory of the occupied West Bank, and is the location of rapidly expanding illegal Israeli settlements. Despite administrative divisions, in reality, the lives of all Palestinians are under Israeli control, with military forces routinely raiding refugee camps without authority and razing Palestinian homes and schools to the ground.

Hebron does not fit neatly into Areas A, B, or C. Rather, the city has been placed under a unique regime of segregation; split between the Palestinian H1 zone and the H2 area occupied by Israeli settlers.

Live Story

The city’s internal division resulted from the 1997 Hebron Protocol, which accommodated the 500 or so notoriously radical Israeli settlers who lived in the historical and religious centre.

In 1994, Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish extremist, infamously entered the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron during prayer time in the month of Ramadan and, armed with a rifle, killed 29 Palestinians and wounded hundreds more.

On the same day, during the victims’ funerals, the Israeli army attacked the mourning Palestinians, killing more. Following the massacre, Israel intensified restrictions on Palestinians in Hebron. 

The result is that most of what is now H2 corresponds to what used to be the city's social, commercial, cultural, religious, and historical centre. Today, entry to H2 is regulated by military checkpoints, and Palestinians do not have the right to free movement. Many say they choose not to enter the area due to the rise of settler attacks.

The few Palestinians that remain in Hebron's historic centre have resorted to installing metal grills to protect their houses from waste thrown by Israeli settlers. [Carolina Pedrazzi/TNA]

In the two and a half decades since the Hebron Protocol, over 1,800 shops have closed and nearly all the Palestinians who lived in the historic centre have moved elsewhere.

Zuleikha is an English teacher living in one of the few historical buildings that haven’t been occupied by settlers. However, the famous Shuhada Street from which she once used to enter her home is now part of H2, meaning her door has been bolted down.

To access her house, she had to transform her neighbour's balcony into a back entry to her flat. On the side of her apartment which leads onto H2, she has placed a protective fishnet on her balcony to block out the banana peels and rocks that the settlers throw at her.

“The banana peel is symbolic: they make sounds at me and my mother as if we were zoo animals. They don’t think of us as humans,” she told The New Arab. 

Likewise, Palestinian shop owners in the historic centre of Hebron have had to build metal grills covering their stores to protect themselves from the stones and trash that settlers throw from the occupied apartments above.

Nevertheless, such protection isn’t enough to block out the liquids that settlers pour, such as wastewater, acid, and eggs.

“Settler violence has become a nightmare for YAS activists and all Al-Khalil residents. And it’s protected by the Israeli army and law. Every detail of people’s lives here is affected,” said Muhannad Qafesha, a member of the Hebron-based group Youth Against Settlements founded by human rights lawyer Issa Amro over fifteen years ago.

“So many Palestinians live with the trauma suffered from these repetitive attacks,” he told The New Arab.

Live Story

Since walking near H2 might lead to an arbitrary arrest by a soldier, or being hit on the head by a rock, most Palestinians now avoid the historic centre, while most commercial activities take place in the modern part of the city within the H1 area.

That Thursday summer day, a large portion of H1 was besieged by different ranks of the Israeli military, with army vehicles patrolling the streets.

To secure the area for Jewish settlers walking in procession from H2 to a holy site in H1, less than 500 metres away, soldiers were holding Palestinians at gunpoint, throwing sound grenades at close range and aggressively intimidating and harassing shopkeepers to close their stores in order to shut the entire city down.

Soldiers forced Palestinians to flee the area by using unjustifiably extreme means, including throwing sound grenades at their feet. When a sound grenade strikes someone directly, it can cause gruesome injuries or even death.

A Palestinian boy looks on as Israeli soldiers harass Palestinian shop owners while securing the city in preparation for a Jewish holiday, on 27 July 2023. [Carolina Pedrazzi/TNA]

For the many shopkeepers who didn’t give in to the Israeli military's threats and simply kept sitting in front of their stores, the feeling was not one of fear, but rather, of exhaustion and numbness to extreme violence.

“We know how these situations go, we know some kids will get hurt for throwing a rock, and that the only reason why they use all this violence is because they like parading their power on us,” one shopkeeper told The New Arab.

For these Palestinians, the choice not to close their shops is a symbolic one just as much as it is financial. As they stood there, staring their occupier in the eye, they resisted Israel’s attempt to humiliate them and strip them of dignity and agency.

A day in the life of a Palestinian in Hebron is not always like this. But such days happen often enough for Palestinians to call these days - featuring bullets, grenades, injuries and sieges - as “a’adi”: ordinary.

Carolina Pedrazzi is a freelance writer and political analyst specialising in migration and the MENA region, with a specific interest in Palestine. She studies at Sciences Po and AUB Lebanon.

Follow her on Instagram: @carolinapedrazzi