New Restrictions in Hebron Aim to Cut More Palestinians Off From Each Other

Limits on people's movement are part of an Israeli policy to achieve a silent transfer of Palestinians from the city’s downtown area, says rights group B’Tselem

A Palestinian man walks past the closed off area outside the Tomb of the Patriarchs, also known as the Ibrahimi Mosque, in Hebron, July 12, 2017.
HAZEM BADER/AFP

Over the past two months the army has intensified restrictions on the movement of Palestinians in Hebron’s Old City, separating adjacent neighborhoods and deterring Palestinians from other areas from coming there.

On A-Salaymeh Street, the fence separating the route for Palestinian pedestrians from the route meant for Jews and tourist was lengthened in May. A gate was installed at the end; most of the time it is locked and cuts off the path to the Ghaith neighborhood. On A-Nassara Street, which is already blocked to vehicles, the military has renewed its ban on pedestrians.

A-Salaymeh Street, the main street in the neighborhood with the same name that leads to the Cave of the Patriarchs from the south, is one of the thoroughfares where the Israel Defense Forces has banned Palestinian vehicular traffic. In 2012 a fence erected along the length of the street divided it. Palestinians were forced to go on foot along a narrow, often obstructed path, while Jews and tourists were able to either walk or drive on the paved part.

Segregation fence on a-Salaimeh Street: The alternate route

In 2013 the army once again allowed Palestinians to walk on the paved part of the road after human rights group B’Tselem posted a video in which Border Policemen were shown explaining that only Jews were permitted on it. But the fence remained. In January 2015, the army once against banned Palestinians from the paved road, and this May the fence was extended to the Ghaith neighborhood and locked.

From residents’ testimonies to B’Tselem, it seems that during the first two days after the gate was erected, a Border Policeman stationed there permitted residents to come and go. Then the gate was closed for three days, after which residents were told that they would be permitted to pass between 6 A.M. and midnight, but only when enough people had gathered at the gate, in the opinion of the police.

But even these arrangements are not observed consistently; sometimes the gate is simply left open and sometimes it’s locked, which leaves residents in a constant state of uncertainty. The alternative route is longer and requires using stairs and walking through dark alleys that are difficult to maneuver for elderly people as well as anyone carrying heavy items, including groceries or water canisters (in Hebron the water supply to Palestinians population is cut off every so often).

In the southeastern Hebron neighborhood of Wadi A-Nassara, the army has closed the road that leads to the Cave of the Patriarchs area (known as Worshipers’ Way) to Palestinian vehicles since 2002, when armed Palestinians killed 12 soldiers and armed settlers nearby. The blocked road also leads to the neighborhoods of Al-Hariqa and Jabel Johar; some 45,000 people live in the three neighborhoods.

Palestinian pedestrians barred from using southern entrance to Wadi a-Nasara neighborhood

In 2002 an iron gate was put up to block the movement of vehicles between the neighborhoods; in the first year Palestinians were also prohibited from crossing on foot. Starting in 2014 around 100 permits were given to area residents, allowing them to cross the gate in a vehicle, but at the end of 2015 those permits were canceled and Palestinians were once again permitted to cross only on foot. In May, soldiers stationed at the gate started preventing Palestinians from crossing; since the end of June, however, the soldiers will sometimes let Palestinians pass, but in a random, arbitrary fashion. The detour that circumvents the gate is three kilometers long.

The movement restrictions in the Old City of Hebron, which were imposed and gradually intensified after Jewish extremist Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 Palestinians at the Cave of the Patriarchs in 1994, have forced thousands of city residents to leave their homes and have caused the collapse of the area’s commercial center and open market. For the past two years, Palestinian non-resident of Tel Rumeida have been denied access to the neighborhood.

B’Tselem says that the crackdown is part of a policy to achieve a silent transfer of Palestinians from Hebron’s downtown area, a policy that does serious harm to tens of thousands of Palestinian residents, disrupts their ability to conduct normal routines and makes their lives intolerable.

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit denied that there had been any change. “The movement restrictions in Hebron have not been expanded recently,” it said in a statement, adding that the streets mentioned above remain available for use by the city’s residents. The statement said that the fences and gates are erected in certain parts of H2, the area of the city under Israeli control, for security reasons only, and in general all the gates and paths are open to residents. The fence to the east of the Cave of the Patriarchs was put up many years ago and recently another section was completed to its south as a result of a number of terrorist attacks in the area, including the murder of Gennady Kaufman, the IDF said, noting that the most recent incident was a stabbing attempt on May 5.

A wide gate has been erected in the fence to allow regular passage for local residents and it is only closed in “exceptional circumstances and for the shortest time possible,” and only for security reasons, said the Spokesperson’s Unit. As for the other gate in the Al-Hariqa neighborhood, the gate has been there for over a decade and no policy change has been made concerning crossing there. Pedestrian traffic is allowed 24 hours a day and the gate is only closed during a security incident, and then only for a short time, the army said.