A new B’Tselem report released today, Playing the Security Card: Israeli Policy in Hebron as a Means to Effect Forcible Transfer of Local Palestinians, demonstrates how Israel has been using security excuses to implement a policy that has made life unbearable for the Palestinian residents of Hebron’s city center (the Old City), in an effort to drive them from their homes. This policy relies on the extreme regime of separation Israel has been implementing in the city for the past 25 years – ever since the massacre of Palestinians carried out by Baruch Goldstein – so as to enable a small number of settlers to live in the heart of a crowded Palestinian city. This policy violates the prohibition against forcible transfer, which constitutes a war crime.
Population figures illustrate how this policy has achieved its goal. Natural population growth in Hebron has been offset by the forced departure of thousands of Palestinians from Area H2, where Israel retained full control. In 1997, when the Hebron Agreement was signed, about 115,000 Palestinians were living in Area H1 of Hebron. It is now home to 166,000 residents, an increase of roughly 45%. In Area H2, on the other hand, the number of residents has dropped from 35,000 when the agreement was signed to about 34,000 today. The historic city center, which had been a bustling commercial hub for the entire southern West Bank, has declined and dwindled, becoming a ghost town where only people who cannot afford to move elsewhere in Hebron still remain.
The separation regime is based on a system of travel restrictions that create a distinct corridor within the city that is partly or fully off limits to Palestinian vehicles and pedestrians. To enforce this regime, the military has installed, in quite a small area, no fewer than 22 checkpoints and 64 physical obstructions of various types which serve to keep Palestinians off their own city’s streets. Routine daily activities such as shopping, visiting relatives or getting to school and work involve crossing at least one checkpoint and undergoing humiliating and arbitrary security checks. The other option is to take bypass routes which make the journey much longer, and are often ill-suited to older adults or people with disabilities. Life in the city comes with routine violence at the hands of security forces, including night raids of homes, searches on the streets and acts of violence. Palestinians also suffer daily violence at the hands of settlers, with the full support of the authorities. The regime instated by Israel in the West Bank as a whole has many elements that are reminiscent of the systemic aspects of South Africa’s Apartheid regime, known as grand apartheid, including restricting access to land, limiting movement and denying political rights. In Hebron, Israel’s draconian regime also takes a form reminiscent of petty apartheid, with policed segregation of public spaces according to ethnicity – Jewish or Palestinian – exercised through separate streets and physical obstructions.
The settlement enterprise in Hebron could never have begun, nor later thrived, without massive support by all the official branches of the Israeli state, from 1968 to the present day. All the relevant decision makers – politicians affiliated with the right and left, Supreme Court justices, senior military commanders and defense establishment officials, the personnel of both the Military Advocate General Corps and the State Attorney’s Office – have effectively accepted the existence of an Israeli settlement in the heart of a Palestinian city, tolerated the severity and frequency of the violent incidents it produces, and justified the ongoing oppression of Palestinian residents dispossessed of their homes, property and workplaces. This overwhelming support continues despite clear evidence of the heinous effect Israel’s policy in the city is having.