An Israeli soldier guards a group of Israeli Jewish settlers in the West Bank city of Hebron, July 2007. (Mamoun Wazwaz/MaanImages)
HEBRON, 9 September (IRIN) - Israeli policy in Hebron city center has led thousands of Palestinians to leave their homes and some 1,829 businesses have been shut down since 1994, a report by the Israeli human rights organizations B’Tselem and the Association for Civil Rights has charged.
Entitled “Ghost Town”, reflecting the two groups’ opinion of what has befallen the once vibrant center of Hebron, the report surveys Palestinian life in the divided city.
“Israel’s policy severely impacts thousands of Palestinians by violating the right to life, liberty, personal safety, freedom of movement, health, and property, among other rights,” said the report.
“The limitations on movement and commerce in the city of Hebron are the ‘necessary minimum’ needed to provide protection to Israeli Defense Force soldiers and residents of the Jewish community in Hebron,” the Israeli military said in response to “Ghost Town.”
According to an agreement reached in 1997 between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel, Hebron was divided into two sections. H1, about 80 percent of the city, fell under the control of the Palestinian Authority, while Israel maintained control over H2, which contained significant parts of the commercial center as well as the Israeli settlements, considered illegal under international law.
“Ghost Town” cited one Palestinian woman as saying that violence and a feeling of isolation, as well as restrictions on movement, had forced her family, reluctantly, to leave for H1.
“We were frightened and felt we were in a dangerous situation. It was impossible for us to continue living in [our] apartment,” Na’imah Ahmad said, adding that most of her neighbors had done the same.
The economy in H2, where 35,000 Palestinians and only 800 Israeli settlers live, is almost totally destroyed. A new report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), released on 30 August, said that eight out of 10 Palestinian adults in the old city of H2 are unemployed and an estimated 75 percent live below the poverty line.
The average monthly income per household in the area is about US$160 while the average for the West Bank is $405, the OCHA report, entitled The Humanitarian Impact of Israeli Infrastructure in the West Bank, said, quoting Palestinian Authority statistics.
The International Committee of the Red Cross distributes basic food parcels to some 1,750 families in H2, to help ease the dire situation.
Restrictions on Palestinians
Hebron is unique, with the exception of East Jerusalem which Israel illegally annexed in 1967, in that the settlements there are located in the heart of a Palestinian city (OCHA’s report refers to “the insertion of settlers into the heart of a densely populated Palestinian city”).
The security of 800 settlers has led the Israeli military to impose harsh restrictions on the 35,000 Palestinians living in H2. An additional 115,000 Palestinian live in H1, making Hebron the second largest city in the West Bank and arguably the most volatile.
Many of the harshest restrictions began after an Israeli settler murdered 29 Palestinian worshippers in 1994. The Israeli military reacted by limiting Palestinian movement in H2. These restrictions were intensified after the start of the Palestinian uprising, or intifada, in September 2000. Militant Palestinian groups targeted Israeli soldiers and settlers in the city.
In large sections of H2 Palestinians are forbidden to drive cars. In other areas they cannot open shops. In some cases, like Shuhada Street, a main thoroughfare, and on nearby roads, Palestinian movement of any kind is essentially forbidden and the street’s closed shop fronts are all that are left of a once vibrant area.
The restrictions on movement have a direct impact on health. Palestinians say the movement of ambulances must be coordinated in advance, which is not possible in emergency situations.
“At 2am my wife, who was pregnant, started to bleed a lot. We had to go by foot to the ‘Aliyah government hospital, about half a kilometer away,” Taysir Aby ‘Ayeshe said. She lost the baby.
“The settler violence here is constant,” said Hashem al-Azzeh, a registered Palestinian refugee, who lives in H2. He and his family have been repeatedly attacked, he said.
According to “Ghost Town,” Israeli soldiers and police seldom intervene to stop violence against Palestinians, and violent settlers are rarely brought to justice.
The military has set up posts inside about 20 Palestinian buildings, sometimes taking over the entire residence. Their camouflage netting is visible on top of many homes.
Furthermore, Israeli security officers are also occasionally involved in violence against Palestinians.
“Last winter, a soldier on the roof broke out in hysterical laughter and threw sand and stones at me while I was standing outside the house,” Bahija Sharabati told B’tselem in 2006. She also cited abuses by settlers.
“We have already filed dozens of complaints to the Israeli police, but nothing has changed,” the mother of six said.
Other residents said settlers had shot at them.
The Abu ‘Aisha family in H2, after repeated harassment by settlers, built a cage around their home. By living behind a tough metal web they at least do not have to worry about their windows being broken.
The Israeli police denied claims that it closes the majority of cases of violence without a proper investigation. It said many times the alleged victims do not file complaints making it difficult to follow through on those cases.
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