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Middle East An insight into life under occupation

In part two of a four-part series, MARY ADOSSIDES documents her study tour of Palestine with the Israeli Commission Against House Demolitions

Day 4: East Jerusalem. “The Nakba [Disaster] has never ended,” the director of the Resource Centre for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights tells us when we meet.

She explains that the Oslo accords had provided hope that a Palestinian state would be created but the outcomes were a disaster following the assassination of Israeli prime minister Yitzak Rabin in 1995.

The West Bank was divided up and the rights of Palestinians increasingly restricted, including their rights to travel freely. 
House and village demolitions are a daily occurrence to enable land confiscation and the settlement expansion declared illegal in international law.

Day 5: Hebron. We drive to Hebron along settler roads blocked off to Palestinians from local villages. In some places, tunnels have been dug under the road to allow villagers passage and sometimes the Israelis set up flying checkpoints in the tunnel.

Soldiers — very young uniformed and armed men and women — staff the 18 checkpoints. The army plays a big role in developing a racist ideology and young soldiers are indoctrinated into believing that they are defending the state against Arab terrorism.

We’re made welcome at Hebron’s Rehabilitation Centre (HRC), which restores historic architecture, refurbishes houses and neighbourhoods and provides protection to Palestinian civilians.

We’re told how the “Hebron Protocol” placed the old city under Israeli authority for “security reasons.” 

The reality is that the settlers wanted to take over Hebron and, to achieve this, extreme right-wing elements, mainly from Europe and the US, formed heavily armed militias which terrorise the local population. 

Six settlements were approved in the centre of the city and huge ones are growing on the outskirts of the old town.

HRC has brought 70 per cent of the Palestinian population back to live in Hebron by providing a range of economic incentives and the population has grown from 200 to 7,500.

As we walk around old Hebron, zionism is everywhere. Arab street names are replaced with Hebrew ones, the Israeli flag is on every street and the star of David is painted on settlers’ doors.
Palestinian car number plates are white, while Israeli equivalents are yellow.

The evidence of separation surrounds us. Shuhada Street has been closed to Palestinians and in others returning Palestinians, living in refurbished houses, have found that Israelis have welded their front doors shut. Soldiers are in evidence everywhere on the streets and on the rooftops.

We cross yet another checkpoint as we walk to the Ibrahimi Mosque, a world religion centre sacred to both Muslims and Jews. 
It was there that 22 years ago Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein — a US immigrant active in the extremist Kach political movement in the nearby Israeli settlement of Kiryat Arba — murdered 29 Palestinians.

Known to Israeli intelligence, he was beaten to death by a crowd soon after the massacre, following which the Israeli government imposed a security clampdown across occupied Hebron.

The Ibrahimi Mosque was divided, with Muslim access reduced from the entire space to around 40 per cent of the site. The other 60 per cent is for Jewish worshippers, who access the site from a separate entrance.

At the end of the day, we climb the hill to visit a Palestinian family in the Bakka Valley. Abu A’s house is built high up on a small plot of land overlooking the Kiryat Arba settlement. 

He lives there with his wife, two daughters, son and grandchild and we sit in his front room and sip mint tea as he tells his story.

His large farming family owned around 10,000 acres and the Israelis confiscated most of it and destroyed the family home.

“I was rebuilding my house but the Israeli authorities instructed me to stop work and get a permit. As I was waiting for it, the land was confiscated again on the pretext of being needed by the government to expand the settlement, resulting in bulldozing. The soldiers arrived with settlers and their children. The children were pulling the vegetables out of my garden.

“That’s how Israelis learn to hate us, they start with the children.”

Two bulldozers destroyed his house. Abu, his pregnant wife and the rest of his family were beaten. He was arrested — “the police claimed they were protecting me” — and after calling his solicitor, injured by the Israelis, he asked to go to the Palestinian hospital but was thrown in prison.

By law, Palestinians injured by Israelis are not allowed to receive medical help from Palestinian medical staff. Only Israeli ambulances can drive injured Palestinians to Jerusalem’s hospital, 40 minutes away.

“For several months we all lived in a tent,” Abu says. “I wouldn’t leave my land. It was cold in the winter but we stayed there. I eventually got permission to build a house, so I built this one.

“But I don’t feel safe here as I know they want the land for their settlements.”

Information on ICAHD study tours to Palestine is available at icahduk.org and on the BDS movement at bdsmovement.net.

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