Israeli military isolates Palestinian neighborhoods in downtown Hebron, making daily life an ordeal

Published: 
1 Dec 2016

Pharmacy Checkpoint on al-Sahleh Street. In the summer of 2016, the military added an electronic security-check booth and an observation booth and has since prohibited Palestinians aged 16-30 passage to the Tomb of the Patriarchs (al-Haram al-Ibrahimi) and the a-Salaimeh Neighborhood, unless they are registered as living in the neighborhood. Photo by Iliana Mahamid, B’Tselem, 5 October 2016.
Pharmacy Checkpoint on al-Sahleh Street. In the summer of 2016, the military added an electronic security-check booth and an observation booth and has since prohibited Palestinians aged 16-30 passage to the Tomb of the Patriarchs (al-Haram al-Ibrahimi) and the a-Salaimeh Neighborhood, unless they are registered as living in the neighborhood. Photo by Eliana Mahamid, B’Tselem, 5 October 2016.

For over twenty years, Israel has been enacting a policy of separation based on discrimination, implemented primarily through the many permanent checkpoints the military placed in Hebron’s city center and around the Tomb of the Patriarchs (al-Haram al-Ibrahimi), an area no larger than 80 hectares. These checkpoints make daily life there a never-ending ordeal for Hebron’s Palestinian residents, both those who live in that area and those who live elsewhere in the city. Since October 2015, the military has enhanced infrastructure and beefed up security checks at existing checkpoints, and also re-staffed a deactivated checkpoint. In addition, the military has made certain neighborhoods off-limits to Palestinians aged 16-30, unless they are registered as living there.

The military checkpoints, which restrict the movement of Palestinians, were put in place subsequent to the establishment of Israeli settlements inside Hebron, a move that created a unique reality in which Palestinians and Israelis share the same urban space. The 1997 Hebron Agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority divided the city into two areas in terms of security control. The Old City and its vicinity, where most Israeli settlements were built, remained under full Israeli military control. Before the agreement was signed, the area was home to about 35,000 Palestinians and several hundred settlers. Though the two populations live side by side, sharing the same living space, Israel’s policy in the city has been one of achieving separation by discrimination, and it applies two entirely distinct sets of legal and administrative norms and rules. The main components of Israel’s “separation policy” are strict, sweeping restrictions on Palestinian movement and systemic lack of law enforcement against violent settlers when they assault Palestinians. In addition, Palestinian residents of the city suffer direct harm from the security forces themselves. These conditions have resulted in the gradual abandonment of the Old City by Palestinians.

The enhanced Bab a-Zawiya Checkpoint. Photo by Rima Issa, B’Tselem, 5 October 2016. Residents of the Tel Rumeidah neighborhood wait for the military to let them go home through Tel Rumeidah (Gilbert) Checkpoint, where only residents of the neighborhood are permitted passage. Photo by Amani Abu 'Eashah, neighborhood resident, November 2016.
The enhanced Bab a-Zawiya Checkpoint. Photo by Rima Essa, B’Tselem, 5 October 2016.

The Palestinian neighborhood of Tel Rumeidah, home to about 1,200 residents, has been particularly hard hit. Since the latest wave of violence began, the military has not allowed Palestinians who are not residents of the neighborhood to enter it. The entry ban is enforced through two checkpoints located on the main roads leading to the neighborhood: Bab a-Zawiya Checkpoint and Tel Rumeidah Checkpoint (also known as Gilbert Checkpoint). Bab a-Zawiya Checkpoint separates Tel Rumeidah from Area H1, the part of the city where security control was officially transferred to the Palestinian Authority. In March, the military expanded the checkpoint by adding turnstiles and a security booth with electronic equipment. These changes have greatly increased security check times and caused further delays to those crossing. Palestinians who are do not live in Tel Rumeidah and are caught in the neighborhood having gained entry by other routes, are immediately removed and threatened with arrest and interrogation. The entry ban applies even to relatives of neighborhood residents, including former residents who had moved out after marrying, and are now not permitted to enter to visit their parents. Because of the impossible conditions imposed on the residents, eight families left the neighborhood as early as October 2015.

Residents of the Tel Rumeidah neighborhood wait for the military to let them go home through Tel Rumeidah (Gilbert) Checkpoint, where only residents of the neighborhood are permitted passage. Photo by Amani Abu 'Eashah, neighborhood resident, November 2016.
Residents of the Tel Rumeidah neighborhood wait for the military to let them go home through Tel Rumeidah (Gilbert) Checkpoint, where only residents of the neighborhood are permitted passage. Photo by Amani Abu 'Eashah, neighborhood resident, November 2016.

As stated, the military now maintains 18 checkpoints around the Old City and the Tomb of the Patriarchs, after reinstating Mahkameh Checkpoint, which had been previously put out of service. Prior to October 2015, only some of these checkpoints were staffed, but at present they are all permanently staffed. In some checkpoints, the military has recently added equipment such as turnstiles and electronic security-check booths which prolong the crossing process. In addition, in July 2016, the military beefed up security checks at the checkpoints. It also began denying Palestinians aged 16-30 who are not residents of certain neighborhoods passage at three checkpoints: Pharmacy Checkpoint, Checkpoint 160 and the checkpoint at the main entrance to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, thereby denying them entry into these neighborhoods.

This added a dimension of severe collective punishment to Israel’s separation by discrimination policy in central Hebron, making it almost impossible for Palestinians to lead normal lives in the area. This conduct advances the ongoing silent transfer of Palestinians from the city center, particularly those near Israeli settlements.

In testimonies given to B’Tselem field-researcher Manal al-Ja’bari over the last six months, residents of central Hebron and Tel Rumeidah described the impact the checkpoints have on their lives.

Checkpoint 160. Separates the Tomb of the Patriarchs (al-Haram al-Ibrahimi) from the neighborhood to its south. Staffed around the clock. In September 2016, the checkpoint was expanded, with turnstiles and a security-check booth added. Palestinians aged 16-30 who are not residents of the area are denied passage. Photo by Iliana Mahamid, B’Tselem, 5 October 2016.
Checkpoint 160. Separates the Tomb of the Patriarchs (al-Haram al-Ibrahimi) from the neighborhood to its south. Staffed around the clock. In September 2016, the checkpoint was expanded, with turnstiles and a security-check booth added. Palestinians aged 16-30 who are not residents of the area are denied passage. Photo by Eliana Mahamid, B’Tselem, 5 October 2016.

Anwar a-Salaimeh, 25, a married mother of two, lives in the neighborhood of a-Salaimeh which is near the Tomb of the Patriarchs. In her testimony, given on 20 July 2016, she describes the difficulties she experiences because of the checkpoint near her house:

I live in a-Salaimeh neighborhood with my husband, Imad, 29, his mother, 70, and our two young sons, aged 4 and 2. I’m eight months pregnant with triplets. Ever since Sarah al-Hajuj was killed, the military has been imposing severe collective punishments on residents in our neighborhood and the Tomb of the Patriarchs. The worst part for us is that relatives who are under 30 are not allowed to come visit us. Even on the holiday, no one from my family or my husband’s family visited us. My mother-in-law cried that day because none of her grandchildren and relatives visited her. My sisters are all under thirty, and three of my brothers, who are also under thirty can’t visit me.

We’re considering leaving the area, and my husband is always looking for another house, so we can escape from here with our kids and go somewhere safer. On 10 July 2016, there was an incident that made us want to leave a lot more. I finished my appointment with the gynecologist and was heading home. When I got to Checkpoint 160 and went into the electronic security booth, three male officers and one female officer started interrogating me using a loudspeaker. They accused me of being a terrorist, and I was really scared. They asked for my name and my husband’s name. I told them I was married and that I lived in the a-Salaimeh neighborhood with my husband and our young sons and that I was eight-months pregnant. They shouted aggressively over the loudspeaker, and showed me a photo through the glass window, telling me it was a picture of me and that I was wanted. I felt dizzy and short of breath. As this was happening, my phone rang, so I took it out of my bag. It was my husband. I told him I was being held in the security booth at the checkpoint. Through the glass, I saw the officers leave the room, wearing helmets and bullet-proof vests, aiming their guns at me. I thought I was finished, that they were going to kill me.

I calmed down only after I saw my husband, who arrived quickly. I heard him arguing with them. Some of the officers tried to get him away from the booth I was in. He told them he’d file a complaint against them. The officers claimed they didn’t know I was pregnant, and told him: “Take your wife and get out of here”. I arrived home exhausted and frightened. I want to move somewhere else, because our area isn’t safe for us and our children, and because I miss visits from relatives.

Bakery Checkpoint. Located at the main entrance to a-Salaimeh neighborhood, leads to Tomb of the Patriarchs. Photo by Rima Issa, B’Tselem, 5 October 2016. Officers at the checkpoint have not allowed Palestinians passage through the broad, paved part of the street since the beginning of 2015. See video footage.
Bakery Checkpoint. Located at the main entrance to a-Salaimeh neighborhood, leads to Tomb of the Patriarchs. Photo by Rima Essa, B’Tselem, 5 October 2016. Officers at the checkpoint have not allowed Palestinians passage through the broad, paved part of the street since the beginning of 2015. See video footage

Ruba Jaber, 18, lives with her parents and eight siblings in the neighborhood of a-Salaimeh. She described life in the neighborhood in a testimony she gave on 3 November 2016:

My family and I have been suffering from the behavior of the Border Police in the checkpoints around the Tomb of the Patriarchs for about a year now. Ever since they added security booths to these checkpoints, things have gotten even worse. When I go into the booth, the officers are behind glass and they talk to me from there. It’s scary to go in there. Almost every day the officers harass me when I cross, especially at Checkpoint 160. Sometimes they detain me on purpose for a few minutes, and start asking me where I live and for my phone number. It scares me, and sometimes I take a detour through al-Ja’bri neighborhood, which is farther from my house, only so I don’t have to go in the security booth and to spare myself the harassment. My family and I don’t feel safe in our neighborhood. We constantly suffer from the abuse of the officers, and every time we go out to work or come back home involves searches and long delays.

Her brother, Rabi’ Jaber, 21, spoke about the impact the restrictions have had on his work, and violence against him at the checkpoint in his testimony dated 3 November 2016:

I sell baked goods from a cart I take from place to place. Over the past year, the officers at the checkpoints have stepped up the measures they use to make things difficult for us. Among other things, they won’t let me take my cart into my neighborhood, and I’m forced to leave it outside the checkpoint. This is on top of almost daily harassment. Sometimes they hold me for hours, on the pretext that they’re checking my ID.

On 25 October 2016, in the afternoon, when I was done working, I got to the Tomb of the Patriarchs checkpoint. As usual, I put my things on the security desk near the electronic gate. As I was doing this, a Border Police officer who was behind the gate asked me for my name and my age. Suddenly, he got angry, opened the gate, and yelled at me “Come here!”. I guess he got mad because I’d called out to him several times when I was waiting at the gate. As soon as I got through the turnstile, the officer shoved me real hard and I got hit in the waist by the turnstile. I asked the officer why he had done that and yelled at him, and he hit me with his rifle on the chest and kicked my leg. An older man who was there called the commanding officer, but he didn’t do anything and just told me to get out of there.

Fidaa Naser, 29, from Dura, a reporter with Palestinian Television described how the restrictions on movement in downtown Hebron affect her work in a testimony she gave on 18 June 2016:

I work as a reporter for the Palestine Today television channel. I cover events in the Hebron and Bethlehem areas. Yesterday, 17 June 2016, I went through the Tomb of the Patriarchs Checkpoint with my cameraman, Jamil Salhab, 25, to do a story on the restrictions on movement in the area. When we got to the square in front of the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a Border Police officer came running after us. He spoke to us in Arabic and asked how old we were. We said we were 29 and 25. The officer told us to leave immediately, and went over to reprimand the officers at the checkpoints who’d let us through. I tried to explain that we were a TV crew and had press passes. The officer said the restriction applied to anyone between the ages of 15 and 30. This conduct hurts my work as a journalist and prevents me from reporting on incidents in the Old City and Tel Rumeidah. I consider this a violation of freedom of the press.

Sa’ed a-Din a-Zaro, 52, who lives with his wife and nine children near the Tomb of the Patriarchs, described in a testimony he gave on 11 July 2016, how the restrictions have prevented residents from following the custom of visiting relatives during the ‘Id al-Fitr holiday:

The military checkpoints and the electronic gates that surround us have made life in the Old City unbearable. Our financial circumstances prevent us from moving somewhere else. Over the holiday, things got worse, because the military closed off the area and forbade people between the ages of 15 and 30 from entering.

On the first day of the holiday, I was planning to visit my daughter who lives in the a-Salaimeh neighborhood. She got married recently and this was her first holiday with her husband away from her family home. I was going with a few other relatives, and we decided to go through Checkpoint 160. We waited for a long time at the checkpoint, and by the time we all got through it had been a whole hour. The officers agreed to let in only those over 30, and let us in one by one. I saw a lot of people who weren’t allowed to go visit their relatives over the holiday.

The next day, the second day of the holiday, in the afternoon, my wife’s sister phoned. She was at the checkpoint near our house with her kids. They’d come to visit us for the holiday, but the officer wouldn’t let them in. My wife went to the checkpoint to at least shake her sister’s hand through the grates. After waiting at the checkpoint for two hours, they both gave up and left the checkpoint.

Checkpoint overseeing main entrance to Tomb of the Patriarchs (al-Haram al-Ibrahimi). Infrastructure work at the site began in the summer of 2016 and still underway in late November 2016. Photo by Iliana Mahamid, B’Tselem, 5 October 2016.
Checkpoint overseeing main entrance to Tomb of the Patriarchs (al-Haram al-Ibrahimi). Infrastructure work at the site began in the summer of 2016 and still underway in late November 2016. Photo by Eliana Mahamid, B’Tselem, 5 October 2016.