Hebron: Terror in the Shadow of Peace

Mufida, almost 16 years old at the time, was studying for an exam one Saturday afternoon when settlers attacked her house with stones and broke eight windows. (Photo: Anna Burén)

Mufida, not yet 16 years old, was studying for an exam one Saturday afternoon in April when her window was smashed by stones. Scared, she moved to the sitting room in order to try to continue studying, but Israeli settlers would smash eight windows in her house on this afternoon. It is all part of living with the Occupation in Hebron.

Mufida’s mother was hit in the head by a stone during the attack and started bleeding. Her father and mother had to go to the hospital to have the wound stitched. Mufida was forced to take care of her five younger brothers and sisters, further interrupting her studies.

The settlers threw stones at Mufida’s house and at the neighbouring houses for what she estimates to have been half an hour. The soldiers, who for some years have occupied the roof of Mufida’s house for a military observation point, did not intervene. According to Mufida, they just stood there, laughing as the settlers attacked the house.

Mufida points to the windows in the room where she, along with her brothers and sisters, sleeps. This was where she was studying when the stones started flying. There are two big holes in the windows. Outside, in the family’s garden, settlers have thrown their garbage.

Mufida lives in Tel Rumeida, with a view over the Old City in Hebron. It was back in 1984 when radical Jewish settlers came here with their caravans. The Israeli government did not officially approve of the settlement until 1998, but never did anything to remove the settlers either. In 2001, the Israeli Defence Ministry gave the settlers permission to build 16 housing units in Tel Rumeida. The settlements are a breach of international law, which states that it is illegal for an occupying country to move its civilian population into occupied territories.

Hasham, who lives next door to Mufida, feels like he lives inside a big jail. According to him, the troubles with the settlers were not so bad during the first years, but since the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in September 2000, the terror tactics of the settlers against Palestinians in Tel Rumeida have been harsh. Hasham’s 9-year old nephew Josef suffered a broken tooth as a result of the troubles. Josef was on his way to the shop to get some bread one afternoon at the end of March when he was attacked by a settler woman in her 40s. The woman grabbed a stone and forced it into Josef’s mouth. She twisted it around in his mouth until he started bleeding.

According to Hasham, the soldiers were standing in the street did not do anything to stop the attack. As the occupier, the Israeli government has legal responsibility for the security of the civilian Palestinian population.

There is a slightly nervous and very intense look in Hasham’s eyes every now and then during the conversation. Before the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada, he was a businessman. He drove a Mercedes Benz and travelled to Italy and Spain. He says that Venice is one of the most beautiful cities he knows.

Nowadays, he works for the United Nations in Hebron, and he has not seen the ocean in many years. In his garden, Hasham grows lemon and apricot trees as well as a grapevine. But most of them have been destroyed by the settlers, who have also fired gunshots at the water tank and engaged in uncountable incidents of stone-throwing. They have even urinated into his garden.

The settlers in Tel Rumeida, Hebron, use violent means to attempt to drive Palestinians from their houses. Hasham has had many of his trees destroyed and has lived through years of violent attacks from the settlers living next door. (Photo: Anna Burén)

Hasham says that the settlers do everything they can to make him and his family leave and that they have even offered large amounts of money and free visas to the United States for Hasham and his family if he would sell his house to them. But Hasham is not going to leave his house - ever. This is his home, and the fact is that he is already a refugee. His father was one of around three quarters of a million Palestinians who fled during the war that broke out after the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948.

I ask Hasham how he feels inside. He takes a deep breath, sighs slightly, and says that peace must come. But he is saddened by the fact that Palestinians are portrayed as terrorists in the media reports around the world.

The world is speaking about a newborn peace process in the Middle East and about the evacuation of the illegal settlements in Gaza. Behind the headlines, Mufida, Hasham, and about 45,000 other Palestinians are living in the part of Hebron where some 500 Israeli settlers live in four illegal settlements. Many Palestinians have left their homes and shut down their shops in this part of Hebron as a result of the violence committed by these settlers and the Israeli soldiers stationed there to ‘protect the settlers’. The long days of curfews during the first years of the Intifada made life intolerable for so many.

The roof of Hasham’s house in Tel Rumeida is covered with stones thrown by the settlers. (Photo: Anna Burén)

The fanatical religious settlers in Hebron are convinced that God has given them this country and that they therefore have a divine right to be here, at the expense of the Palestinians. Hebron is one of the holiest cities in Islam, Judaism, and Christianity because it is the site of the tombs of the patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Settlers continue to live here even though they too have lost loved ones during the years of the Al Aqsa Intifada.

Mufida passed her exam and dreams of working in a laboratory and experimenting with genetics when she grows up.

Hasham dreams of peace but doubts that it will come to his homeland.

Anna Burén is a journalist from Sweden and works in Hebron as an ecumenical accompanier with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), a programme run by the World Council of Churches.

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