The following is the summary of the report Where Silence Reigns: Israel’s Separation Policy and Forced Eviction of Palestinians from the Center of Hebron, issued this month by B’Tselem - The Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories and The Association for Civil Rights in Israel:
Over the years, Israel established a number of settlement points in and around the Old City of Hebron, which had traditionally served as the commercial center for the entire southern West Bank . Israeli law-enforcement authorities and security forces have made the entire Palestinian population pay the price for protecting Israeli settlement in the city. To this end, the authorities impose a regime intentionally and openly based on the “separation principle”, as a result of which Israel created legal and physical segregation between the Israeli settlers and the Palestinian majority.
This policy led to the economic collapse of the center of Hebron and drove many Palestinians out of the area. The findings of a survey conducted in preparation of this report show that at least 1,014 Palestinian housing units in the center of Hebron have been vacated by their occupants. This number represents 41.9 percent of the housing units in the relevant area. Sixty-five percent (659) of the empty apartments became vacant during the course of the second intifada. Regarding Palestinian commercial establishments, 1,829 are no longer open for business. This number represents 76.6 percent of all the commercial establishments in the surveyed area. Of the closed businesses, 62.4 percent (1,141) were closed during the second intifada. At least 440 of them closed pursuant to military orders.
The main elements of Israel ‘s separation policy are the severe and extensive restrictions on Palestinian movement and the authorities’ systematic failure to enforce law and order on violent settlers attacking Palestinians. The city’s Palestinian residents also suffer as a direct result of the actions of Israel ‘s security forces.
Restriction on Palestinian movement and the closing of businesses
During the first three years of the intifada, the army imposed a curfew on the Palestinians in the city center of Hebron for more than 377 days total, including a consecutive period of 182 days, with short breaks to obtain provisions.
In addition, the army created a contiguous strip of land in the City Center along which the movement of Palestinian vehicles is forbidden. The middle of the strip contains many sections of road that the army forbids even Palestinian pedestrians to use. The strip blocks the main north-south traffic artery in the city, and therefore affects the entire city. View Map.
The extensive prohibitions have led to the closing of hundreds of shops, in addition to those that were closed under army order.
Failure to protect Palestinians from settler violence
Over the years, settlers in the city have routinely abused the city’s Palestinian residents, sometimes using extreme violence. Throughout the second intifada, settlers have committed physical assaults, including beatings, at times with clubs, stone throwing, and hurling of refuse, sand, water, chlorine, and empty bottles. Settlers have destroyed shops and doors, committed thefts, and chopped down fruit trees. Settlers have also been involved in gunfire, attempts to run people over, poisoning of a water well, breaking into homes, spilling of hot liquid on the face of a Palestinian, and the killing of a young Palestinian girl.
Soldiers are generally positioned on every street corner in and near the settlement points, but in most cases they do nothing to protect Palestinians from the settlers’ attacks. The police also fail to properly enforce the law, and rarely bring the assailants to justice. By failing to respond appropriately to settler violence in Hebron , the authorities in effect sanction the settlers’ violent acts. These acts, in addition to being severe, have also contributed to the “quiet transfer” of thousands of Palestinians from the City Center .
Harm to Palestinian residents by soldiers and police officers
The increased presence of soldiers and police in the Hebron city center brings with it violence, excessive and unjustified use of force, and abuse of the powers granted them by law. Violence, arbitrary house searches, seizure of houses, harassment, detaining passersby, and humiliating treatment have become part of daily reality for Palestinians and have led many of them to move to safer places. In some cases, not even the defense establishment tries to defend the security forces’ conduct; however, apparently, not enough has been done to uproot these practices.
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. This policy breaches Israel ‘s obligations under international humanitarian law, international human rights law, and Israeli administrative and constitutional law. Given the drastic effects of the policy on the fabric of Palestinian life in the area and the resultant “quiet transfer” of thousands of Palestinians, the policy constitutes a breach of the prohibition on forced transfer enshrined in the Fourth Geneva Convention and is therefore a war crime, for which the persons responsible bear personal liability.
The Israeli settlement points in Hebron , which were established in breach of Israel ‘s obligations under international law, cause severe and continuous breaches of international legal provisions intended to protect the human rights of persons under belligerent occupation. Israel contends that it is impossible to ensure the safety of the settlers without separating Palestinians and Israelis in the city, and without infringing the basic rights of the Palestinian residents, which has resulted in Palestinians leaving the City Center.
The State of Israel has the legal and moral obligation to evacuate the Israelis who settled in Hebron , and bring them back to Israel.
Until the settlers are evacuated, the Israeli authorities must ensure their safety while minimizing the violation of the human rights of Palestinians. To accomplish this, the government of Israel must allow Palestinians to move about in the City Center and return to their homes, rejuvenate the City Center as a commercial area, enforce law and order on violent settlers, investigate every case of violation of the law by the security forces, and prevent settlers from taking control of additional buildings and areas in the city.