Current Political Situation: Hebron is well known as a site of political tension and instability, largely due to it being the only Palestine city with a settler presence within the city walls. Though there was historically a small peaceful Jewish community within Hebron, who were not Zionists, most Jews left the area in the early 20th century after a massacre by extremists. The population of Jewish Settlers living in Hebron today is made up of extreme Zionists who originate primarily from America and Europe. These extreme Jewish settlements are considered illegal under international law and this community is concentrated around the Old City, close to the Ibrahimi Mosque. The larger city of Hebron is divided into two zones, H1 and H2 as a result of the ‘Hebron Protocol’ (1997), a subsection of the Oslo Accords. This protocol divides the city into a zone under Palestinian control (H1) and a zone under Israeli military control (H2). There are over 30,000 Palestinians living in the Israeli controlled area, which includes the Old City of Hebron. The Palestinian population within the H2 area has declined in since the division of the city and the increased presence of army and settler presence due to the inhospitable conditions for Palestinian residents.
The Israeli army continues to impose movement restrictions and checkpoints on the Palestinians living within H2 and has closed several streets of the Old City to Palestinian access entirely. This has also led to a severe economic decline within the Old City. There are 18 checkpoints present in the Old City, causing much tension and disruption to Palestinian residents. Those living within restricted areas must pass through these checkpoints on a daily basis, and are subjected to harassment, searches and interrogations as they do. As a result, many Palestinians living in the Old City suffer from psychological problems and children in particular have been seen to have developmental issues as a result of the violence and aggression that permeates their daily lives. Checkpoints also create difficulties for disabled individuals living in the area as well as anyone seeking emergency medical care.
As a result of the military control, movement restrictions, and settler violence, the local economy of the Old City has been devastated. Of the 1829 shops in the Old City, 512 have been closed by military orders which cited ‘security reasons’. An additional 1100 shops have been closed due to lack of customers as Palestinians are either unable or unwilling to enter the Old City for fear of soldier and settler attacks. Consequentially, the streets in the Old City are line with closed shops and the area is often referred to as a ‘ghost town’.
Settler Presence and Violence in Hebron: In 1968, a group of Jewish extremists lead by Rabbi Moshe Levinger asked the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) for permission to spend the Jewish holiday of Passover in the Park Hotel in Hebron. After the holiday was over they refused to leave, claiming historical rights to land within the Old City. Due to support from some Israeli politicians, after several months a compromise was reached whereby the settlers were given a piece of land formerly confiscated by the IDF on to the east of the Old City. This led to the establishment of the the first settlement in Palestine, Kiryat Arba which houses over 7,000 settlers today.
In 1978, group of radical settlers from Kiryat Arba returned to the center of Hebron’s Old City and occupied the Al Daboya building. They called this settlement Beit Hadassah and their presence established the first settlement in the center of Hebron. Since this time, an additional 5 settlements have been established in the Old City of Hebron. The second settlement was built on a Palestinian boys school in the city center, which had been closed by the IDF in 1981/82 for security reasons. The Israeli government then permitted the settlers to takeover and expand the building, which they used to create a religious school, Yeshivat Shavei Hevron, on top of the original historic building. These settlements work to divide the city in half and are directly linked to the movement restrictions and closed streets for Palestinians in Hebron today.
Most of the settlers are very aggressive towards the Palestinians community in Hebron, and are considered among the most aggressive settlers in all of Palestine. They attack individuals, families, children and homes in an effort to push Palestinians out of the Old City entirely. There is also an effort to link the settlements within the Old City to the Kiryat Arba settlement outside of Hebron, despite there being several Palestinian neighborhoods between the two. Violent graffiti can be seen around the Old City and several streets which neighbor settlements have had to be covered by netting or fencing in order to protect against settler attacks. Several windows of Palestinian homes on streets which neighboring settlements have also been covered with fencing to protect against settlers throwing various things inside of the Palestinian homes.
Shuhada Street: Al-Shuhada Street or ‘The Street of Martyrs’ was initially closed by the Israeli Military to protect the settler community in the Old City following the Ibrahimi Mosque Massacre. This street had previously served as a main thoroughfare in the Old City, linking the Ibrahimi Mosque to the rest of the City. According to the Hebron Protocols of 1997 the Israeli Defense Forces agreed to entirely reopen the street to Palestinians, however many shops remained closed even after the street was reopened to Palestinian vehicular traffic. A year after the decision of the Hebron Protocols the street was once again close to Palestinian vehicular traffic and then was alternately opened and closed in subsequent years before being access was definitely cut off in 2000. Entrances to homes on the street were then sealed off, forcing residents to forge entrances on roofs, windows or neighbors homes. Many of the previous inhabitants of Shuhada Street have moved away, and those that remain must have special numbers on their National Identity Cards in order to pass through the checkpoints that restrict access to surrounding streets, friends and family are unable to visit without such numbers. Shuhada Street is now referred to as ‘Apartheid Street,’ and sites previously crucial to the urban fabric of Hebron located on the road, such as the Vegetable and Gold Markets have now been rendered entirely desolate. Settlers have also taken advantage of the lack of access by Palestinians to occupy several Palestinian owned properties.