According to a new report released by B’Tselem , for 25 years, Israel has been openly pursuing a policy of segregation in the center of Hebron, in order to allow a handful of Jewish residents to live as though they had not settled in the middle of a bustling Palestinian city, in the heart of an occupied territory. This policy completely ignores the needs of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and sentences them to an unbearable reality, with the hope that they will leave their homes ostensibly of their own free will.
Due to the settlers’ presence in the city, Israel and the PLO did not sign an agreement concerning Hebron until 1997, two years after the Oslo Accords were signed. Under the terms of the agreement, the city was divided in two: In Area H1, which was home to about 115,000 Palestinians at the time, security and civilian powers were formally transferred to the Palestinian Authority (PA) as in other West Bank cities. Area H2, which includes the Old City and all the settlement points and was home to some 35,000 Palestinians and 500 settlers at the time, remained under Israeli control in terms of security, while the PA was given civilian powers relating to Palestinian residents only.
About 700 settlers currently live in H2, within a smaller area spanning some 800 dunams (80 hectares or just under 200 acres), which includes the immediate vicinity of the settlers’ houses and the streets they use. Currently, about 700 settlers live in this area, some 400 permanently and another 300 or so are students of the Shavei Hevron yeshiva. This area is home to about 7,000 Palestinians, about 1,000 of whom live in a narrow strip that runs from the Tomb of the Patriarchs through al-Shuhada Street to Tel Rumeida, where most of the settlers’ homes are concentrated. In recent years, both official and unofficial plans have been advanced to expand the settlement and develop tourism in the historic center of Hebron. If these plans come to fruition, the settler population in Hebron stands to double over the next few years.
To enforce its regime of separation, Israel installed a cruel system of travel restrictions, which creates a contiguous strip of land isolated from the rest of the city that is partially or fully off limits to Palestinians, whether traveling on foot or by car. This corridor extends from the settlement of Kiryat Arba in the east to the Jewish cemetery in the west. Until the beginning of September 2019, the system of travel restrictions includes 22 checkpoints and 64 physical barriers of various types, which keep Palestinians away from the major streets and the vicinity of settler homes.
According the B’Tselem report, “the settlement in Hebron is exceptional in that it was injected into the heart of a major Palestinian city. Yet even if Israel’s policy in Hebron is extreme, it is essentially identical to that employed in the rest of the West Bank: treating the area as primarily intended to serve Israeli needs and regularly ignoring the interests of Palestinians while giving settlers preferential treatment. This is carried out under a guise of legality based on military orders, legal opinions and High Court judgments – all of which sanction the ongoing occupation and dispossession.
In Hebron, however, it is not only grand apartheid that applies, as it does elsewhere in the West Bank. Here, the separation regime is pursued so openly, so brazenly, in public space, that it exhibits aspects of ‘petty apartheid’ as well, in the form of policed, formal, public segregation of human beings based on ethnicity – Jewish or Palestinian – exercised through separate streets, checkpoints and physical obstructions.”