Analysis

For Hebron Settlers, New Neighborhood Announced by Israel Is Only the Beginning

With Defense Minister Bennett’s backing, they aim to Judaize the city’s historic old market

A banner depicting Jabotinsky hung by settlers on a building in the Hebron market, November 29, 2019.
Amira Hass

On the building of the fruit and vegetable market in old Hebron, which the Defense Ministry has been seeking to demolish for the past year months – hangs a cloth banner with a picture of Ze’ev Jabotinsky.

“Rebuilding the Jewish Quarter (“the market”) in Hebron,” is written on one side of Jabotinsky’s face, and on the other a quote, supposedly from him: “We will rebuild everything that they have destroyed, because we have been endowed with this talent; to build to an extent many times what was ruined and destroyed.” The banner is signed: The Jewish community of Hebron.

Haaretz Weekly Episode 51Haaretz

Without a doubt, the settlers of Hebron and their many collaborators have proved in the past 50 years their ability to add and build more buildings for Jews – which stand out in the whiteness of their stones during the daytime, and in the bright, blinding light their spotlights cast on them and their surroundings at night, all hours of the night. But the settlers, military authorities and Civil Administration have mainly proved their talents, with documented methods known to all, at emptying out the center of Hebron of its Palestinian residents via routine harassment, and a series of orders and restrictions on movement imposed by the army.

It can be assumed that those who hung up the banner on the wholesale market building were not surprised by the letter sent Sunday by Defense Minister Naftali Bennett to the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. In the letter he instructed the Civil Administration to begin procedures for an urban renewal plan in the old Hebron market: in other words, to demolish the structure in which the Hebron municipality is a protected tenant, and to build in its place housing units for Jews. The previous defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, began the process – but this plan is not the final word.

Hebron map.

A hint of the unhalting aspirations of the settlers of Hebron can be found in the map included in the pamphlet “The Tomb of the Patriarchs, the Roots of the Jewish People,” published by the Jewish community of Hebron back in 2014, and which is sold at the stand across from the Tomb of the Patriarchs / Ibrahimi Mosque. The map marks three areas in three different colors: Light blue for the “area under Israeli security responsibility (H2),” dark blue for the “Jewish community” and brownish orange for the area “under Arab security responsibility.”

The names of the streets in the light-blue area were Judaized a long time ago: Al-Shuhada Street is King David and in the Tel Rumeida and Ja’abra neighborhoods are streets such as “Tarpat” (the Jewish year 5689 – 1929), “Ma’alei Ha’avot” (The Patriarchs’ Ascent), and “Sa’adia Hahevroni” (Sa’adia the Hebronite).

But the Judaization of the streets continues outside of the light blue area and reaches deep into the brownish orange one. Be’er Sheva Street remains the same, but big Al Shalala Street is Chaida Street (after Rabbi Chaim Yosef David Azulai) and small Al Shalala Street is Grandpa From Slobodka Street (Rabbi Natan Zvi Finkel), the founder of Knesset Yisrael Yeshiva in Lithuania, which moved to Hebron in 1925.

King Hussein Street has become Hahekhal (The Temple) Street. Ein Sarah is a main cross street, filled with people, cars, colors and sounds, where Hebron city hall is located; on the map it is called “Knesset Yisrael.” Near the Old City it becomes Bab al-Zawiyah – Rabbi Bajayo, according to the map in the pamphlet written and edited by one of the settlement’s elders, Noam Arnon. Yasser Arafat Square is, in the language of this map, “Kikar Hayovel” (Jubilee Square) while Manara Square is Hei Be’iyar (the fifth of the Jewish month Iyar, the day in 1948 when Ben-Gurion announced the establishment of the state).

We cannot dismiss the Judaizing of the Hebron streets on the map as the vain imaginings of fanatics. The reality in old Hebron, in the part under the settlers’ control, is deranged, but very real: The heart of the city has been cut off from it. Driving a car is forbidden for Palestinians (only the Hebron municipality’s garbage trucks, which also collect the settlers’ garbage, are permitted to enter through the checkpoint in the Salaimeh neighborhood).

Houses in the area of Hebron's abandoned market, 2007.
Eyal Warshavsky

On Al Shuhada Street, Palestinians are also forbidden to walk, including those living on the street itself. About 10 manned checkpoints surround the area. They are made up of reinforced metal booths, revolving gates, barred corridors, a bar that is raised for the residents in wheelchairs, and mostly of soldiers and policemen who let people wait until they open the revolving gate for them.

Dozens more permanent roadblocks in the form of concrete walls, barbed wire and locked gates cut off the streets and alleys midway. A central flight of stairs is blocked off to Palestinians. It is no surprise that about a third of the 3,400 housing units in the Old City have been vacated by their inhabitants over the years. Most of the empty apartments are in the area under the direct domination of the settlers – but also in the outer ring around the checkpoints, empty, deserted apartments can be seen. Some 1,500 businesses have been closed for over 20 years, a third of them by military closure order, the rest because settler harassment and the restrictions on movement make manufacturing and sales difficult, deterring customers and suppliers.

Last Friday, while Israeli cars and the buses of the Gush Etzion Development Company drove back and forth, the Muslim worshippers, many of them elderly, walked slowly to and from the Ibrahimi Mosque, climbing the steep streets with great effort. A few young people carried packages of food or cement on their backs, and children who visited their grandmother carried in an improvised wheelbarrow toys she found for them in the trash.

“The streets here are like under a curfew,” a resident who dared remain in the Tel Rumeideh neighborhood told Haaretz. To leave and enter his home, a few times a day he must pass through the Tamar military checkpoint in the middle of the street, about 30 meters away. He must wait until the soldier deigns to press the button that opens the revolving gate that leads to a closed room, where they check his identity card, maybe search his bags, and then open another iron door for him that leads to an entryway surrounded by bars that leads to another revolving gate. On Friday afternoon he could be heard arguing with the soldier for a long time, until the soldier allowed him to return home. The same thing happened on Saturday.

The Netanyahus near the Cave of the Patriarchs, April 2019.
Emil Salman

The willful, conscious decisions of all Israeli governments (including the Rabin government, which punished the Palestinians for the massacre Baruch Goldstein committed against them), the army, the Civil Administration and their legal advisers – these are what have allowed the “renewers of the Jewish community of Hebron” to create today’s deranged reality. The 1929 massacre of Jews by Muslim residents has become a chief pretext for the mass expulsion of Palestinians today.

The aforementioned map is found in a pamphlet dedicated to the memory of the preacher of transfer of Palestinians from the country, Rehavam Ze’evi. It imagines the expansion of the urban circles that will be emptied of Palestinians. Its authors have already proved their talent in translating their imagination into reality.