Abdul Hadi Hantash, a member of the Land Defense Committee inHebron, reports that Israeli settlements in theHebrondistrict expanded by 20% during 2011 and are expected to expand an additional 30% this year.
Hantash claims that “the number of settlement units will be doubled”. He further adds that 65% of the district’s area, which exceeded 1103.5 square kilometers, has been confiscated since 1967 for settlements, military camps and bypass roads.
The city of Hebronis located in the southern West Bank, 30 km south ofJerusalem. It is the largest city in the West Bank and home to an estimated 175,000 Palestinians, with some 500 Jewish settlers concentrated in and aroundHebron’sOldCity.Hebronis a busy hub ofWest Banktrade, responsible for roughly a third of the area’s gross domestic product, largely due to the sale of marble from quarries, but also from its agriculture, pottery workshops and glassblowing factories.
Israeli settlement activities in theHebrondistrict began in 1968 when Rabbi Moshe Levinger rented rooms for a Passover seder in the Al-Naher Al-Khaled Hotel onHebron’s main street. Levinger and his followers later refused to leave the hotel and, in a deal with the Israeli government, they moved to a former Jordanian army base northeast of Hebron. Here with the state’s active cooperation, they established the settlement of Kiryat Arba. According to Hantash, “for this purpose the Israeli government confiscated more then 3,000 dunams in the area”.
The Israeli government later “proceeded with the Judaisation of the city ofHebron”, Hantash says. There are five settlement enclaves in the heart of the city, in Tel Rumeida, Beit Hadassah, Beit Romano, Avraham Avinu and the fifth is located next to the Haram Al-Ibrahimi”.
Hisham Sharabati, from the Hebron Defence Committee, says that “the settlers inHebronclaim their number has exceeded one thousand. However, more objective sources talk about between 600 and 650 settlers, of whom between 150 and 200 are students in a religious Jewish school who live inHebronon a temporary bases for their studies”.
Hantash adds that “in the district of Hebron there are 27 Israeli colonies,which were built in a ring form, so as to besiege the Palestinian population”.
Settlers in the district of Hebron are notorious for their violent treatment of the local residents. “I am not saying that the other settlers deserve a good behavior certificate, but the settlers in the city ofHebronand in the district of Hebron are the most aggressive of all the settlers”, says Hantash. He adds that they are characterised by religious fanaticism and their political extremism.
Religious fanaticism and political extremism are part and parcel of Israeli policies towardHebron. “Israeli authorities issued military orders to demolish ancient buildings to breakthrough roads for the sole use of the settlers, and to erase historical landmarks of the city, especially those related to the city’s Islamic and Arab past,” says Hantash.
In addition, Israeli authorities protect the settler’s presence in the heart of the city by closing roads to the Palestinian population.
Hashem al Azza, a resident ofHebron’s Tel Rumeida area and neighbour to that area’s settlement, says that in the past four years he is not permitted to use the road that leads to his house. “Even when my wife was in labor, I had to carry her on my shoulders down the wall in the backyard and to the main road”.
The Al Azza family lives in an area of Hebro ununder full Israeli control. Since 17 January 1997, following the “Hebron Agreement”, signed betweenIsraeland the Palestinian Authority, the city has been divided into two sectors: H1 and H2. According to the agreements, H1 is under control of the Palestinian Authority and H2 reminded under Israeli control. At the time of the agreements, H2 was inhabited by around 30,000 Palestinians and some 500 Israeli settlers. However, the Palestinian population in the H2 was reduced over the years due to Israeli restrictions and settlers’ violence.
One of the roads closed to Palestinians is Shuhada Street, which was renamedKing David Streetby the settlers. “Shuhada Streetis the most important street in the old city ofHebron”, says Walid Abdel Halawa of the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee. “The street was closed in the year 2000 using the security needs of the settlers as an excuse. Today this street, which was the main commercial street of the city, is for the sole use of settlers”. Abdel Halawa explains that “this road was the main artery of the city in terms of commerce and economy. The central bus station and the main taxi station, in addition to offices, were located in this area”.
Hisham Sharabati believes that the solution to the conflict inHebroncan come only through an end ofIsrael’s occupation. “I do not wish to set the formula for the solution. Politically it will either be a Palestinian state with full sovereignty on all land occupied 1967, includingJerusalem, or a bi-national state on the historicallandofPalestine”, he says.
“I say thatIsraelhas to look now at its future, the future of its children, the future of its people. If we don’t resolve it together, we will have a very bitter future,” adds Hashem al Azza.
* This article was published by the Alternative Information Center (AIC)