Eyewitnesses in Hebron say that Israeli settlers may be preparing to seize the home of the Abu Rajab family which they first invaded and occupied for several days in April 2012.
At that time, an Israeli court ordered the settlers out of the house, but never allowed the Abu Rajab family who had lived in it to return.
Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the settlers to move back into the three-story building, in response to the killing of an Israeli occupation soldier in the city by an unknown shooter on Sunday.
Meanwhile, thousands of Israeli occupation soldiers have been staging raids and mass arrests of Palestinians in Hebron, subjecting residents young and old to abusive treatment, according to witnesses.
Settlers set up temporary shelters
On Tuesday, Israeli judicial authorities said that Netanyahu’s call had been his personal opinion, and that the settlers would have to await a court order before they would be allowed to occupy the Abu Rajab home.
However, there are signs that the settlers may already be preparing to seize the property.
This morning we were there at about 7:00 doing our school patrol at checkpoint 209, right next to the Abu Rajab house. We could see there were a lot of settlers about. One or two of them were armed. They had put up one or two of those temporary shelters directly outside the building. And we saw some people inside the building. We’re not sure if they were soldiers or settlers.
This evening when we went past the lights in the building were all on. We didn’t see anyone moving around inside, but the lights were all on.
CPT, which has been present in Hebron since 1995, monitors checkpoints in the morning as Palestinian teachers and students walk through, often facing violence and harassment from soldiers and settlers.
Settlers seized home from Abu Rajab family
Settlers violently occupied the Abu Rajab house in April 2012, apparently assisted by Israeli occupation forces.
But they were evicted a week later after an Israeli court ruled that the house should be sealed until it decided who owned it.
Settlers claim to have purchased the Abu Rajab house, which they’ve dubbed “Beit Hamachpela,” but this is contested by members of the Abu Rajab family, who have lived in it for generations.
Hazem Abu Rajab, 25, a member of the extended Palestinian family living in the large three-storey property, said they were woken at 1am by Israeli soldiers, armed and wearing black, who broke down three doors. “Within five minutes, 100 to 150 settlers were inside,” he said. The family insisted it had the deeds and other documentation, and pointed out that anyone legitimately purchasing a property would use keys rather than break down doors in the middle of the night.
The house had been successively inherited by the original owner’s sons, grandsons and great-grandsons, said Abu Rajab. “If the settlers did buy, it was from one owner out of many. This house belongs to the whole family.”
Settlers often claim to have “purchased” Palestinian properties as a pretext to violently seize them from their owners.
The video above, posted on YouTube on 6 April 2012, shows Palestinians in Hebron attempting to visit members of the Abu Rajab family still in the house, but being turned away by occupation forces.
Risk to Palestinian schoolchildren
Early on Tuesday, CPT sent out an email release stating:
The resettlement of the Abu Rajab house is a significant risk directly to the community of Hebron, international law and human rights, as settlements are illegal under international law and impede the on going peace process.
In addition to the legality of the settlement, the location of the [Abu Rajab house] will constitute a severe threat to the freedom of movement for Palestinians. The house sits between two Palestinian schools and the 209 Israeli military checkpoint. If the settlement remains, it will be in the middle of an area hundreds of Palestinian children must pass in order to attend early morning classes.
At the mercy of settlers
A few hundred Israeli settlers, among the most extreme and racist in the West Bank, have steadily been taking over the heart of Hebron – a Palestinian city of more than 160,000 – with the protection and assistance of Israeli occupation forces.
Under a 1997 agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Hebron was partitioned into two zones: “H1” and “H2.”
H1 is nominally administered by the Palestinian Authority and is home to more than 120,000 Palestinians.
H2, under full Israeli military rule, includes Hebron’s historic Old City as well as the Ibrahimi Mosque in which the settler Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 Palestinian men and boys in February 1994.
Israeli occupation forces severely restrict the movement of more than 30,000 Palestinians in H2 while Israeli settlers move about freely under army protection.
This has left much of the city center a ghost town as severe restrictions and harassment keep Palestinians out of the area.
A 2006 survey by the Israeli rights group B’Tselem found that at least 1,014 Palestinian homes in the Old City of Hebron had been vacated by their occupants and more than 1,800 businesses had shuttered due to the Israeli takeover.
This represented 42 percent of the housing units in the district and more than three-quarters of the businesses.
Mass arrests and raids
Israel has intensified its assault on Palestinian in Hebron since Sunday’s shooting of the occupation soldier.
Quoting eyewitnesses, the group said that approximately 5,000 Israeli soldiers had been deployed in several areas of the city.
The witnesses said that the soldiers raided homes and patrolled the streets with megaphones demanding that all residents over the age of 18 report to the main squares.
There, witnesses said, the occupation forces “made them put their hands above their heads and sit in stressful positions in parallel lines, then shackled their hands behind their backs and interrogated them.”
Tensions have been rising in Hebron ever since Israeli occupation forces tightened their stranglehold on the Old City last week so that Israeli settlers from outside the city could visit en masse during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.
Israeli provocations, including roadblocks and additional checkpoints severely hampering the lives of Palestinians, led to clashes in which the occupation forces fired tear gas, sound bombs and rubber-coated steel balls at youths resisting with stones.
Seventeen Palestinians were injured by occupation forces firing tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets and in one case live ammunition on Tuesday as well, according to Ma’an News Agency.
Frequent attacks by soldiers and settlers
Palestinians in Hebron face frequent harassment and violence at the hands of soldiers and settlers. Children have faced violent arrest on the way to school.
Children and youths are led from their homes in the middle of the night blindfolded.
Settlers stage racist parades mocking the Palestinians who live under their and the army’s tyranny.
Last December, on his seventeenth birthday, Muhammad al-Salaymeh, a Palestinian high schooler, was arbitrarily shot dead by Nofar Mizrahi, an Israeli occupation soldier stationed at a checkpoint near the boy’s home.
Mizrahi gave Israeli media a version of the circumstances around the killing contradicted by video evidence.
The killing, like thousands of others by Israeli occupation forces, has never been independently and credibly investigated.
A year before his murder, al-Salaymeh had spoken on Palestinian television about the situation in Hebron:
“There are always closures, but we are steadfast. We will never leave our house in which we were raised for years and generations, because we will be steadfast to our last breath, until we die.”