This post is by guest contributor Shira Levine.
Below is a reflection I wrote after traveling last Friday to area H2 of Hebron, the twenty percent of the city that is under direct Israeli control. I toured with Breaking the Silence, an organization of Israelis who served as soldiers in Hebron and are aiming to educate the public on the reality of the situation.
The most frightening part of the area of Hebron that is under Israeli control is the totality of the tragedy – the complete emptiness which serves as evidence that you can erase a presence with enough guns and padlocks. But there are still Palestinians there. On the few streets that Palestinians are allowed to walk on, they walk with trepidation – brief encounters with a soldier who asks you on the street to open your jacket and show that you’re not wearing a bomb belt must happen countless time a day for the few residents who stayed in this part of the city. The soldier gestures and it’s clear to the pedestrian what he wants. And in the space between the houses that have not been abandoned, or where residents have not been driven out, you see a young women step out to empty trash. She’s wearing a bed sheet as a headscarf. It’s surprising to see her here. It’s surprising that anyone is left. Palestinians in Hebron seem to live with a low profile, clinging to their houses. Many of the houses are empty. And all are surrounded by trash. Much of it is the trash thrown by Jewish settlers onto the houses of Palestinians, with the clear intention of driving out their neighbors. Every Palestinian window is covered with chicken wire to prevent rocks being thrown in from the settlers. Since windows have still been bashed in, some Palestinians have enclosed their homes with metal shutters. How dark is it inside those houses?
The darkness. The day was sunny, but the barrenness cast a deep shadow. Row upon row upon row of locked up shop fronts. Like in abandoned American inner-cities. Only these shops weren’t left voluntarily – different streets have different levels of what our guide described as sterilization. After the Baruch Goldstein massacre in 1994 of Palestinian worshippers, there was a legitimate fear of Palestinian retaliation. As a result, Palestinians were closed in their homes and allowed out only every few days for provisions. Beginning with the meat market, areas of the city began to be emptied and shut. Shop owners there continued paying the rent that, under the complex property laws in Hebron, maintained their right to the land. They were paying rent for stores that were locked up on roads that they still aren’t allowed to walk on. A few settlers have started building in the empty storefronts.
There are no cars, no stores, and even walking is forbidden on the sterilized roads in what used to be a bustling Palestinian city. The former soldiers who give the tours tell horrible confessional stories of the violence and harm that the army did in its efforts to make Hebron a place where 800 Jewish settlers can live.
800 people who don’t want to live with their neighbors. People who send their children to attack Palestinian students returning from school. Videos, filmed by residents with hand held camcorders from the Israeli human rights group Betselem, show pure hatred in fifteen year old settler girls who push down adult Palestinian women teachers. The settlers’ goal is clear. The Palestinians should leave.
The encroaching emptiness has succeeded. Is it possible to stand in the ruins and imagine a restored market place? Is it possible to imagine that children could bring back milk without walking through empty streets and army check points? When you’re there, it feels like the end. 15 years ago, if we’d stood in the market and you’d told me that the army and the settlers together would clear out this section of the city of its Palestinian residents, I couldn’t have believed you. I couldn’t have imagined how strikingly different the place would become. It’s hard to imagine that it still can.