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Palestinian children talk near the IDF, 2016. Picture: Tim Sanders

Palestinian children talk near the IDF, 2016. Picture: Tim Sanders

Justice for Palestine is central to the left. The situation in Hebron is a good example why, argues Sybil Cock

Let’s look at Hebron - the West Bank’s largest city. Around 200,000 Palestinians share the city with 500 - 800 settlers. There is a brigade of the occupying army, 2000 in number, stationed permanently in the city to protect the settlers and to intimidate the local residents.

The busy industrial city has buildings venerated by all 3 Abrahamic faiths. The Ibrahimi mosque sits next to the Avraham synagogue. To today’s visitor, the ancient centre is eerily dead with many abandoned buildings in the market particularly. The surrounding hills which overlook the city are covered in settlements – 15,000 people with facilities only dreamed of by most Palestinians. 

In 1994, during Ramadan, an extreme right-wing immigrant from the US, Baruch Goldstein, from one of the nearby illegal settlements, opened fire on worshippers at the Mosque, killing 29 and injuring many. There were mass protests across Palestine – Israeli forces killed and injured dozens. The notorious suicide bombings of the 1990s started immediately afterwards. Goldstein also died during the massacre and his burial site was until recently a site of pilgrimage for extremists.

Goldstein was a member of a party called Kach – it was subsequently banned but has re-emerged as Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power).

Back to today’s Hebron. Under an elaborate security sharing agreement of 1997 between the Palestinians and the Israelis, the city is divided. The Eastern part of the City, including its historic centre and Market area, is under full Israeli military control. Over half the Palestinian businesses in the area have closed.  Settlers live above the market and constantly harass residents, e g. by emptying chamber pots on the people in the street below. The Palestinians have had to install a wire mesh canopy above the streets in the market to protect themselves from this and more dangerous missiles from above.

Children must make huge detours and pass through numerous checkpoints to get to school.  The main street, Shuhada Street, is closed to Palestinians. It is very common to see routine harassment by soldiers of quite young children.

The neighbouring villages of the South Hebron Hills are routinely subject to house demolitions, curfews, land confiscation, and settler harassment. Schools are built furtively in the hope that the occupation forces will not notice them. Astonishingly, buildings such as wells and animal shelters built with EU or NGO money are not spared demolition – getting permission for Palestinians to build is nigh on impossible.

The settlers have unrestricted access to walk and drive around every part of town whereas the Palestinians are totally prohibited from some parts and must undergo checkpoints, routine stop-and-search tactics etc designed to intimidate them into abandoning their journey.

In Israel, elections are imminent. Netanyahu, tainted by domestic scandal, is desperately manoeuvring among the multiple right-wing parties. Last week, he made a deal with Otzma Yehudit which will likely bring it into government after the election. They are the Jewish equivalent of the KKK and believe in the full annexation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the expulsion of Palestinians not loyal to Israel (i.e. all of them). They also want the removal of the representatives of Israel’s 1.7m Palestinians from the Knesset. In recent days, the leader of Otzma Yehudit has been banned from standing in April’s election by the high court on the grounds of his overt racism.

Itamar Ben Gvir, Otzma Yehudit’s deputy leader, who remains a candidate, has a picture of Baruch Goldstein in his living room.

Netanyahu was not slow to add his name to the list of world leaders condemning the far-right massacre of Muslims in New Zealand, hoping that the world has forgotten its precedent in Hebron in 1994.  And probably not noticing that the largest group of those killed were Palestinians. 

After Goldstein’s 1994 massacre, the outside world reacted to the situation in Hebron with its usual indifference. However, a Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) was established by the UN after the mosque massacre. 

Its purpose was to monitor the welfare of Palestinians. The monitors worked in small groups. They were allowed to observe but not to comment on or intervene in anything that they witnessed. A recently leaked report from TIPH found Israel to be in "severe and regular breach" of several aspects of International Law.

In January 2019, Israel unilaterally removed the TIPH observers from the streets of Hebron. The UN and international community failed to react to this. This sparked furious protests in the city’s streets, which were met, as usual, with tear gas and stun grenades.

I have been in Hebron many times, with different visitors. All have been visibly shocked by what they saw. The purpose of this brutal occupation is to drive Palestinians out of their land. Their resilience deserves our support.

Israel serves the West’s purpose in the Middle East. We should put the struggle for Justice for Palestine at the heart of our activity – all the more so now that our solidarity is under attack.

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