Hebron: 20 years of apartheid and oppression

Hebron: 20 years of apartheid and oppression
Comment: The 1997 agreement bringing much of Hebron under Palestinian control was expected be a stepping-stone to sovereignty, but 20 years later, discrimination is worse than ever, writes Daoud Kuttab.
6 min read
17 Jan, 2017
Palestinian Zahira Dandees, 85, argues with Israeli soldiers as they seal off her front door[AFP]
On 17th January 1997, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made a decision that he has not repeated since.

He signed an agreement with the PLO that included Israeli army withdrawal from occupied areas. The agreement, entitled the Protocol Concerning the Redeployment in Hebron divided one of Palestine's largest cities into two zones:

H1 representing 80 percent of the city was allowed to be under Palestinian administrative and security control, while H2 - representing the remaining mostly the Jewish settlement enclave in the heart of the city and surrounding areas - is under Israeli security control.

The Palestinian government is permitted to provide services to the 50,000 Palestinians living in H2, but no Palestinian police or security are allowed in this area. While Israeli security is also not allowed to H1 areas, this part of the agreement has not been respected by the Israelis.

Army incursions into H1 areas take place regularly and without any prior coordination with the Palestinian security.
Khaled Fahed Qawasmeh is a former minister of local affairs and the son of the popular mayor of the city, who was deported by Israel in 1980. Qawasmeh says that the 1997 arrangements were largely respected for couple of years but with the second intifada in 2000, the Israelis made unilateral changes.

"We have been suffering since 2000 with some major changes to this agreement that have prevented our people from access to the old city market and Shuhada street," he said.
Army incursions into H1 areas take place regularly and without any prior coordination with the Palestinian security
Qawasmeh explains that the de facto arrangements that have ensued since 2000 have created an unacceptable situation to the local residents, merchants and to the entire population of the city who are now unable to access markets and services that they have been used to for decades.

"Residents are living in terror and [fear of] harassment of the settlers... merchants lost business because customers are unable to reach them and the entire city population is suffering from this strange situation in the heart of their city."

Shuhada street, once the heart of the West Bank town of Hebron,
deserted after Palestinians were forced out by the Israeli army [AFP]

One of the major problems with the new Hebron arrangement is the unbalanced relationship between the Israeli army and the Jewish settlers in that area. Settler leaders often dictate to the Israeli army what to do, thus creating a situation in which harassment and intimidation are the rule rather than the exception.

The Israeli settlers' strategy is simple. They are hoping that continued harassment will cause the Palestinians to leave the area; shop keepers without business to move out, and those facing hard times to sell their properties to the Israelis.

A number of Israeli human rights groups have defended Palestinians, and one group - Btselem provided Palestinian activists with cameras in order to record and expose the settler actions. One of those cameras was able to capture the extrajudicial assassination by an Israeli soldier of an injured Palestinian that has resulted in an Israeli soldier convicted of manslaughter.
Perhaps one of the most obvious and tangible problems that any visitor to the area can see, is the challenge facing students wishing to get to school, but having to pass homes and areas occupied by settlers.
The Israeli settlers' strategy is simple. They are hoping that continued harassment will cause the Palestinians to leave the area
Regular harassment of the students has caused one international peace group to provide regular escorts to help children go to school and come back. Christian Peace Team has for years provided volunteers mostly from the US and Europe, to escort children, physically shielding them from settler harassment.
The Hebron agreement calls for Shuhada Street within H2 area to be open for all Palestinians, but Israel has used the 2000 second intifada protests to keep this important business street closed.

An international campaign to open this street has made this a high profile Israeli violation, but to no effect.

Open Shuhada Street has become a calling cry for activists from South Africa using various media formats including a Facebook page to drum up solidarity for Palestinians in Hebron.
Palestinians hold a demonstration demanding opening of Shuhada
street which has been blocked since 1994 [AFP]
The daily problems that take place in the old city of Hebron, have continued unabated, despite the presence of an international force that was deployed in Hebron following the Ibrahimi Mosque massacre.

In 1994, a settler dressed in Israeli army uniform opened fire on Palestinian worshipers in the historic Hebron mosque that is the burial place of religious forefathers of monotheistic faiths, killing 29 Palestinian worshipers.

Following this unprovoked act, an international observer mission (TIPH) was established in 1994, to help monitor the situation in Hebron.
On 18 March 1994, the United Nations Security Council issued resolution 904 which strongly condemns the massacre in Hebron and calls for measures to be taken to guarantee the safety and protection of the Palestinian civilians.

After negotiations, representatives of the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel signed an agreement asking Denmark, Norway and Italy to provide observers for a temporary international presence in the city of Hebron.

This temporary presence was halted for a while but reintroduced as part of the Hebron arrangements. According to its official website, TIPH in its present form is the result of the Hebron Protocol which calls on Denmark, Norway, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey "to provide observers for the mission in Hebron, with Norway as the coordinator".
The heart of this major Palestinian city must be allowed to thrive again
One unexpected problem concerns local crime, says the Hebron leader. "The H2 area has become a refuge for local criminals and those wanted by the Palestinian police," Qawasmeh said. People who have debts or who are accused of crimes are living in these areas, causing problems to local communities as well as succeeding in avoiding criminal follow up by the Palestinian courts.

Israeli security, which often recruits them to spy on their own people, turns a blind eye to the regular requests by the Palestinian police. "Even if the Palestinian police is persistent in demanding that Israel help deliver these criminals, the Israelis carry out a superficial attempts to capture them and basically tips them off, allowing them to avoid arrest."
Palestinian leaders who negotiated the Hebron agreement in 1997 were expecting it to be a temporary arrangement pending final status agreements that were to usher in a sovereign and contiguous Palestinian state before the end of 1999.

But instead this temporary arrangement has morphed into a two decade long unsustainable mess.

The violence that has continued in Hebron stems in large part from the continued uncontrolled presence of the belligerent Jewish settlers who believe that they have a God-given mandate to live in the centre of the Palestinian city, without any respect for the rights of the indigenous Palestinians.

Palestinians in Hebron say that this 20-year "temporary" agreement has brought pain and suffering to tens of thousands of Palestinians. They argue that the heart of this major Palestinian city must be allowed to thrive again - with business and people, as it did for centuries, without fear or harassment. 
Daoud Kuttab is an award-winning Palestinian journalist and former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University.

Follow him on @daoudkuttab

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.