Hebron is the largest city in the West Bank, with over 250,000 Palestinians living there. It contains several historic, sacred sites that remain core points of contention in Palestine’s negotiations with Israel. Historically, it was a major hub for trade in the region.
In February 1994, an American Jewish doctor—a member of a far-right Israeli group—killed 29 and wounded 125 Palestinian worshipers in the Mosque of Abraham at the Caves of the Patriarch. Another 19 Palestinians were killed by Israeli Defense Forces during protests following the massacre.
Following the Oslo Agreement of 1995, and the Hebron Agreement of 1997, Hebron was jurisdictionally split: “H1” is under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and “H2” is under the control of Israel. In either area, Palestinians are not allowed to approach Israeli settlements without special permits from the Israeli Defense Forcs (IDF). In H2, Palestinians experience extended curfews, strict restrictions on their travel, and the closure of businesses (if they attempt to reopen their shops, they risk arrest). They are barred from using Shuhada Street, the principle commercial road through the area. As a result, about half of Palestinian shops in H2 have gone out of business. Those that have survived have had to place wire netting and plastic tarps above their shops to catch the trash, feces and urine, and other debris thrown at them from the settlements. Israelis have taken over many homes and buildings with impunity. In some situations, Israelis live on the top floors and Palestinians live in the basements.
Our first meeting on Thursday, January 16, was with the Defense of Children International Palestine. The director, field researcher, advocates, and interns discussed with us the ongoing violence done to Palestinian children, including physical assault and injury, murder, torture, public harassment, and their use as human shields.
Currently, about 160 children are serving time in prison for sentences ranging from 2 to 7 years. Israel deals with children by military law; 12-16 year olds can be charged and sentenced for military crimes and frequently serve time; children under 12 experience financial fines. While in prison, the IDF attempts to recruit them as informants and soldiers.
Children are frequently detained, interrogated, and arrested for allegedly throwing stones at or otherwise threatening Israeli soldiers and police. While in detention, children are frequently transferred between military facilities. During these transfers, and into interrogations that can last a few days or a few weeks, they are subjected to severe physical conditions including: restraint in untenable physical positions (such as squats) for six to eight hours; held in a group of 17 in a waiting room measuring 2 x 3 meters for prolonged periods of time (including overnight); blindfolded; screamed at; threatened with physical and sexual assault; held in solitary confinement; denied food and water and access to a toilet.
Further, during detention and interrogation, children are deprived of visitation rights with family and legal representation. Even going to trial becomes a form of torture, as children are required to attend as many as seven sessions before a judge before hearing formal charges.
Children are likewise denied education rights. They are frequently harassed by IDF soldiers on their way to school (see Entry 4: Jerusalem).
For extensive reports, case studies, and other resources, see the Defense of Children International Palestine website.
Our next meeting was at Al-Bishara Church (the Catholic Church of the Annunciation) at the east side of Beit Jala with Father Ibrahim Shomali. Shomali discussed the history of Palestinian Christians. He also discussed the concept of justice. “If God gave the ‘promised land’ to another people, what does that say about God, justice, and the status of Palestinian people?”
Shomali identified himself as a Palestinian liberation theologian, which he defined as a land rights issue/teaching (“If God created us here, then he wants us here”). He talked about anti-violence as an active, not passive, response to the occupation that can include boycotts and demonstrations. He talked about the politics of how Palestinians are represented as violent in the absence of address to the realities of the Israeli occupation. He discussed the suppression of Palestinian religious rights in relation to the lack of freedom that Palestinians experience to travel to and worship at holy sites.
We then took a walk through the Old City of Hebron with Amer Guneidi, including the merchant center, several deserted business districts, and the Mosque of Abraham.
In the afternoon, we met with Jad Issac at the Applied Research Institute. Isaac discussed the segregated roads built with money from the United States, the high cost to Palestinians to context land rights violations, illegal homesteading, fishing rights, and the steady growth of settlements despite U.N. resolutions against them.
Our last meeting of the way was with Khaled Al-Saifi, director of the Ibdaa Community Center of the Dheisheh Refugee Camp in Bethlehem. Al-Saifi is doing amazing work on education and cultural retention. He discussed the many projects going on at the center and the incredible work the children are doing in their studies.
We happened to be at the camp on the 44th day of a labor strike. Workers from the camp experience horrible discrimination in pay and working conditions within the West Bank by Israeli businesses. We were honored to be able to show our support for their efforts to secure better pay and working conditions.