Saturday, December 16, 2017

Hebronites fear increase of attacks and restrictions as decision to let settlers return draws near


By Lien S. - October 28, 2013
TAGS:
Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation] [Features]
Tags: [Hebron] [Settlers] [settler violence] [settlements] [Settlers attacks]

The Al-Rajabi building. Photo by Lazar Simeonov

 

On 2 September the Israeli Supreme Court held its final hearing on the ownership of the Al-Rajabi building in the Ras neighborhood of H2 in Hebron. Israeli settlers claim they have purchased the building and aim to transform it into a new settlement that could house up to 40 families. This would leave its Palestinian neighbors extremely vulnerable to settler attacks and would most likely further increase restrictions on their movement. 

The decision to choose the Al-Rajabi building for the location for a new settlement in the city is very strategic, as it would link the illegal settlement of Kiryat Arba to the four other illegal settlements in the Old City in addition to the Ibrahimi Mosque. 

“This would provide the settlers with a corridor in which they can move freely from Kiryat Arba to the Ibrahimi Mosque, while it would increase the restrictions on Palestinian movement,” explains Hamed Qawasmeh, human rights officer at the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The settlers claim that they purchased the building from the previous owner and therefore have the right to live there. Yet, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) stresses that even if a property in an occupied territory is bought by settlers, it does not give the Israeli government the right to establish a settlement there, as Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits an occupying power to “transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

As the final decision is pending, the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel the (EAPPI) underlines that it is “extremely concerning” that the Israeli authorities are even considering to allow another illegal settlement in an area as tense as Hebron amidst renewed peace negotiations. The final decision on the issue rests with Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. 

“House of Peace”

Beit Shalom, or House of Peace, is what settlers ironically call the Al-Rajabi building. When they occupied the house between 19 March 2007 and 4 December 2008, the inhabitants “sprayed graffiti onto Palestinian property, slashed car tires and broke the windows of parked cars, defaced burial sites, raided Palestinian houses and physically violated their neighbors,” says Hamed Qawasmeh. 

Shoemaker Bassam Al-Jabari lives and works near the Al-Rajabi building. He recounts being frequently attacked both verbally and physically by the settlers and fears that the number of attacks will rise again if settlers move back into the Al-Rajabi building. 

“Urine was thrown at my family and when settlers set the shop on fire once, the Israeli army prevented the fire brigade from entering. The settlers also claimed my horse belonged to them, but I have the legal papers proving that it’s mine. In the end they poisoned it,” explains Al-Jabari.

The area surrounding the Al-Rajabi building also houses the Al-Ras Mosque and a large Muslim cemetery. “When there is a burial, over 100 mourners will come, which will most likely result in clashes with settlers and the army,” Hamed Qawasmeh relates.  

In the past, the Al-Ras mosque has seen racist settler graffiti sprayed onto its walls, garbage placed in front of its doors and eggs and tomatoes thrown at worshippers. 

Movement restrictions for Palestinian families

In addition to attacks, a new settlement in the Al-Rajabi building would also mean more movement restrictions for Palestinian residents of Hebron. 

According to UN figures, 200 students cross a gated checkpoint next to the building every day to reach their school. If the new settlement is established, they would have to take a ten minute detour along the main Kiryat Arba road, exposing them to the danger of being attacked by settlers from the Al-Rajabi building and Kiryat Arba. 

The rising fear of settler attacks could result in a higher drop-out rate, particularly among older girls because of the conservative nature of the community. 

The 40 Palestinian vehicles currently allowed to drive on the road in front of the Al-Rajabi building would most likely see their permit revoked if the settlers were to move in again.

Building restrictions

Palestinian families living in the vicinity of the settlements are often denied permission to build extensions to their houses. Bassam Al-Jabari has been prevented at least six times this year from finishing the second floor of his house, EAPPI reports. 

“Even though the Hebron municipality had given me the permission to build, the Israeli army prevented me from finishing the second floor of my house because it’s located close to the Al-Rajabi building and in between Kiryat Arba and the Old City. All of the construction materials were confiscated.”

The UN has documented at least 24 families moving away from Wadi al-Hussein because of settler attacks and building restrictions. “My son has been engaged for 1.5 years now. I wanted him to live on the second floor with his family, but if I can’t finish it, I will have to rent a house for them elsewhere,” Bassam relates.

“Since 1994 Israel has been talking about peace, but I’m still living in the same situation,” he concludes. “I don’t see a reason why we couldn’t coexist. Regardless of our religion, we are all children of God. But if we live together, it needs to be with respect and equality instead of violence and discrimination. I welcome everyone, including Israelis, who respect my right to live.

 


Flyers put by Israeli settlers at the entrance of the Abu Rajab building. Photo by Lazar Simeonov

 

The Abu Rajab building

The Abu Rajab building in the Old City of Hebron is also a source of great concern to its Palestinian neighbors. Settlers claim they purchased a share of the house and took over the second and third floor in April 2012, leaving only the first floor for the Abu Rajab family. 

After having lived in the house for a few days, an Israeli court ordered the settlers to leave in 2012. 

“Even though a court order says that no one is allowed to live on these two floors anymore, the settlers still occupy them. They don’t sleep there, but they come and go,” Hatem Ali Abu Rajab recounts. 

“When an Israeli soldier got killed in Hebron, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the settlers to move back into the building immediately. But on what legal base? The court case is still pending.”

The normalization of occupation

Next door to the Abu Rajab building, Al-Faiha School for girls provides education for 253 students from first to ninth grade. 

“If settlers move back into the Abu Rajab building, that would be a catastrophe for the school,” the principle explains. “Settlers might throw stones from their building into the school yard, harass the girls or scare them with their dogs.”

Many girls have to pass two to three checkpoints every day on their way to school. “Sometimes I come to school very late because they search my bag or make me wait,” one of the ninth graders explains. “When going to school, I’m always afraid of having to answer too many questions, of being late or being arrested if something in my bag looks suspicious to the soldiers.” 

The principle concludes that the harassment and the daily passing of checkpoints have become a daily routine for the children. 

“They are getting used to being humiliated. This is the normalization of occupation.”


Students from the Al-Faiha girls school. Photo by Lazar Simeonov

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