The Jewish residents of Hebron will look back at the 13th of April 2014 and smile in nostalgia at the second time they managed to deceive an entire country. With the Israeli Defense Minister’s approval, a group of settlers entered and seized the Rajabi family’s home in Hebron last week. Three decades after the last Hebron settlement was erected, this event marks a new chapter in the story of Israeli settlement in the city of our forefathers and mothers.
There is nothing new under the sun. With deliberate symbolism, settler leaders have returned to the original trick they used to establish the first Hebron settlement during the Passover of 1968. At the same time of year, several months after the start of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank in the wake of the Six-Day War, Rabbi Moshe Levinger asked the government to allow him to spend Passover in Hebron, together with a number of his supporters.
The government agreed, so Levinger and his comrades invited the public to join the celebration. In a message to a religious Zionist newspaper, they added a small request: “bring refrigerators!” Since refrigeration was obviously not a necessity for the holiday itself, the message exposed the settlers’ preconceived plans to extend their stay.
Indeed, at the end of the holiday, Levinger and his followers refused to vacate, leaving the government ministers scratching their heads.
The state’s response in the spring of ’68 paved the way for the establishment of Israeli settlements in the heart of the Palestinian city of Hebron. After allowing the settlers to remain in the city, the government spent the next decade acquiescing to settler demands time after time. At the end of the day, the Hebron settlers received the official state recognition they sought, while their territory expanded throughout the 1980’s.
The existence of an Israeli settlement in the heart of Hebron, the largest Palestinian city in the West Bank, exacts a high price on the local population. The lack of law enforcement against settler violence, the Israeli separation policy restricting Palestinian movement in the city center and the IDF activity in neighborhoods surrounding the settlement have all caused the heart of Hebron to virtually empty of its Palestinian residents.
Hebron’s commercial center, which served as the social and cultural center for more than half-a-million nearby residents, stands deserted today. Stars of David and racist settler graffiti adorn the doors of Palestinian shops, closed due to military orders.
An IDF officer in the Nahal Brigade describes the Palestinian routine in the city to Breaking the Silence: “The Palestinians there are submissive and know these things. I mean… they know to get out of the way when an IDF patrol comes by. They know I can enter their homes and they are used to it. Soldiers have passed through every home there thousands of times.”
The new Rajabi House tenants hung giant banners reading “House of Peace” on the building’s walls after their arrival, yet the new settlement bodes anything but peace. Alongside the clear political significance of establishing the first new settlement in the city since the 1980’s, Israeli presence in the Rajabi House poses a grim future for Palestinians living in the surrounding areas. Just like the consequences caused by previous settlements in the city, with the introduction of settler neighbors come restrictions on movement, IDF patrols inside homes and violent attacks on passersby.
Populating the Rajabi House will in effect empty the Palestinian neighborhoods around it. This claim is not based on unfounded prophecies but simply upon the fact that history repeats itself. Even today, only 24 specific Palestinian vehicles have permission to drive on the road where the Rajabi House is located. It is reasonable to predict that these restrictions will be expanded, in order to comply with the principle of separation according to which the Israeli security forces operate in Hebron.
As in Passover of 1968, likewise in Passover of 2014; the settlers have forced the hand of the Israeli government and stuck another wedge in the heart of Hebron.
Hundreds of soldiers have provided testimony to Breaking the Silence regarding the price we pay for settling the city. A soldier who served in Hebron exemplifies how removed Passover is there from the holiday’s emphasis on liberation: “On Passover, many Jews arrive during an Arab event and we had to be there in their (Palestinian) home for two or three days… So we arrive at six in the morning, our platoon commander arrives who speaks no Arabic, and tells the family that they have to leave their home. They don’t understand what he wants, they don’t want to leave, the whole clan is in the house, tons of people. He yells at them and it is really stupid… Yet this is shit, kicking them out for 48 hours. What are they supposed to do? Go to their neighbors?”
The image being projected from the territories should rile every person who values justice and human rights. This is because the story of the settlement in Hebron does not revolve solely around our historical Jewish connection to the city, but also around the terrible price we pay – and force others to pay – in order to maintain Israeli control of the heart of a Palestinian city. Just like in 1968, in 2014 a small band of settlers sets the agenda for us, IDF soldiers, and for the rest of the country. Meanwhile, this agenda exacts an unimaginable toll on Palestinians living in the city.
The author served as a combat soldier in the Levi Battalion of the Israeli military. Today, he serves as the Director of Research at Breaking the Silence.
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