Babies die as Israel blocks ambulances in Hebron

Israeli soldiers guard Jewish settlers during a weekly tour through Hebron’s Old City, in the occupied West Bank, 4 June 2016.

Wesam Al Hashlamoun APA images

With renewed international attention on Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank, a closer look at how these Jewish-only colonies affect Palestinians is necessary.

Settlements are not just illegal, as the recently passed UN Security Council resolution confirms, but devastating to those they exclude.

Settlements do not just consist of creating housing for one ethno-religious group, but also entail a constellation of policies that ghettoize and force Palestinians out of their homes and off their land.

Since 2014, Badil, a group campaigning for the rights of Palestinian refugees, has published a series of studies on forced population transfer in Palestine.

Badil’s latest publication focuses on Hebron in the southern West Bank.

Iron fist

With more than 200,000 residents, Hebron is the one of the largest cities in the West Bank.

Hebron’s Old City was built around the Ibrahimi mosque, which is believed to host the tombs of several prophets.

In February 1994, the US-born settler Baruch Goldstein entered the Ibrahimi mosque wearing his Israeli military uniform and gunned down 29 Palestinian men and boys during Ramadan prayers, injuring at least 100 others.

Goldstein, a member of the Jewish Defense League and Rabbi Meir Kahane’s political party Kach, both considered terrorist organizations by the US, was overwhelmed and beaten to death by surviving Palestinians in the mosque.

Israel’s response to the massacre was to impose a regime of heavy restrictions on Palestinians in the Old City, a single square kilometer area that was once the West Bank’s commercial heart.

Israel first banned Palestinians from the mosque and then converted more than half of the historic building into a synagogue.

Under the Oslo accords, the West Bank was then being divided into areas with gradations of Palestinian or Israeli control.

As a major Palestinian city, Hebron should have been zoned as Area A and placed under the administrative and “security” control of the Palestinian Authority.

But – through the 1997 Hebron Protocol – an exception was made. This document, signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, divided Hebron into two areas.

Eighty percent of the city, labeled H1, came under PA control; the other 20 percent, labeled as H2, came under full Israeli control.

H2 is home to around 40,000 Palestinians and it is where several hundred Jewish settlers have established some of the most militant colonies. H2 also includes the Old City.

Today, Israel exercises its control over Palestinians in H2 with an iron fist. When confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli forces intensified in October 2015, Israel came down on Palestinians with lethal force and heightened restrictions on movement.

Twenty-two Palestinians were killed by the Israeli forces in the Old City or near the surrounding Israeli settlements between October 2015 and March 2016.

Between November 2015 and May 2016, Israel closed off the Tel Rumeida area of Hebron and forced its residents to register with the army. Access was controlled by a military checkpoint and restricted to residents. Relatives and friends of people living in Tel Rumeida were forbidden to visit if they lived outside the neighborhood.

Israel has restricted some roads in the city, such as the main thoroughfare al-Ibrahimi Street, for the strict use of Jews only.

“Life is abnormal”

Badil credits the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee and similar groups with increasing the population of the Old City since it reached its nadir in 1996, at just 400 residents. That number represented a 95 percent drop since Israel’s occupation of the West Bank began in 1967.

The Hebron Rehabilitation Committee helped raise the population of the Old City to its current level of 6,500 by renovating around 1,000 homes and providing economic aid to Palestinians who are willing to endure the dangerous environment.

But Badil estimates that – with an annual growth rate of 3.5 percent between 1967 and 2005 – the Palestinian population of Hebron’s Old City should have been 25,000 by 2005.

On Monday, Israeli forces detained five Hebron Rehabilitation Committee employees as they were working on a house in Shuhada Street, once a major commercial thoroughfare in Hebron’s Old City that Israel has largely closed off to Palestinians.

The group’s director Imad Hamdan said that these and previous arrests “aim to obstruct the committee’s work in maintaining the cultural aspect of Hebron and protect it from the Israeli attempts to Judaize it,” the Ma’an News Agency reported.

Israel “infiltrates every aspect of daily life” and “creates a coercive environment” for Palestinians, according to Badil. By doing so, Israel “triggers forcible transfer in direct violation of international humanitarian and human rights law,” the group’s latest study adds.

The Hebron Protocol created a “permit regime” that restricted access to the Old City.

In December 2015, there were 95 physical obstacles, including 19 permanently staffed checkpoints, in the H2 area. Some 4,200 Palestinian children who attend 15 schools across Hebron are forced to pass through checkpoints every day.

In September 2015, an 18-year old Palestinian girl was shot dead by Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint in the Old City, the first in a renewed spate of killings often in similar circumstances that Amnesty International has described as possible extrajudicial executions.

Israeli soldiers are granted impunity in such killings, which are almost never independently and transparently investigated.

In December 2012, for instance, an Israeli soldier shot dead Muhammad al-Salaymeh on his 17th birthday at a checkpoint meters from his home, near the Ibrahimi mosque.

The shooter, Nofar Mizrahi, suffered no consequences, even though she gave a version of events that was contradicted by video evidence.

“Life here is abnormal,” a Tel Rumeida resident who was named as Imad, told Badil earlier this year. “We cross the checkpoint every single day and we find difficulties whenever we want to bring in anything to the house, including the groceries and basic things like a gas tank.”

Other ways Israel’s occupation makes life “abnormal” for Palestinians is by preventing emergency services such as ambulances or fire trucks from reaching Palestinian homes.

The Palestine Red Crescent Society estimates that the closures increased the time it takes to reach patients in the Old City from seven to 17 minutes, on average. If a medical team needs to pass through a military checkpoint, the average length of time is 47 minutes.

This excessive delay has caused Palestinians to die, according to Badil. Its report quotes a Tel Rumeida resident named Taysir, who said, “we lost two babies while my wife was giving birth” because of Israel’s restrictions. On one of those occasions, Israel blocked for an hour an ambulance that had been called to his home, after his wife had gone into labor.

Another resident of Tel Rumeida – named as Abdul Majid – told Badil that his neighbor’s house burned down in 2015 after the fire brigade had to get permission to reach the scene from Israeli military commanders.

“Our house burned down last year too when a settler threw a torch on it,” Abdul Majid said. “They [the Israeli authorities] refused to let the Palestinian fire truck in.”

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Comments

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I am totally anti-settlements and anti-israeli government policies and anti-whoever agrees with it but I was very upset by the photo you chose to illustrate this article. A photo which was obviously taken in another setting. However hateful of Palestinians those settlers probably are, on this particular picture they are not smiling because a baby died. So I think the choice of this photo who is aiming at showing how perverse the settlers are IS perverse in itself. It is completely wrong to mix registers and it deserves you and the article unfortunately...

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ESTA ,
You are being too precious towards those Israeli wrongdoers , who are smirking & luxuriating at how they

are , so easily , screwing & doing away with their fellow Semites .
The photo shows the human excuses who are benefiting from baby killing .
The photo is perfectly valid . Your whinge is not .
Get some sort of perspective on what is going on there , for heavens sake .

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Well... I am not surprised that you don't understand what I meant. The nature of your email tells me that. I don't "'whinge" against what is happening there. I know exactly what is going on in Hebron that I did see for myself and I have palestinians friends from this city also. BUT whatever you say, this picture was not taken in the context of an ambulance being blocked. And this is my point. What I want is to be informed not manipulated. And this picture clearly tells me:this is how you should feel... and I hate being manipulated by pictures taken out of context. But I am not sure you can understand what I am talking about... so leave it there please...

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I'm sorry to see you get rebuffed for your principled, reasonable stand in regard to these ill-chosen photos. As mistakes go, it's not the worst. This site, of course, is awesome. What would we do without it? (But for some reason, my comments are regularly disappeared, although, perversely, I'm allowed to comment.)

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The photo tells you everything and they shouldn't be there parading, land grabbing, bulldozing, terrorising and killing the innocent indigenous population.

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What kind of heartless people are these? They have shown so much of disregard for lives that are not of their own kind, and caused so much of suffering on those they occupy and steal from.
Is this what Americans send their tax money for?

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Charlotte Silver

Charlotte Silver's picture

Charlotte Silver is an independent journalist and regular writer for The Electronic Intifada. She is based in Oakland, California and has reported from Palestine since 2010. Follow her on Twitter @CharESilver.