Israeli Oppression in Hebron - A Case History of Separation, Forced Displacement and Terror

Israeli Oppression in Hebron - A Case History of Separation, Forced Displacement and Terror

by Stephen Lendman

B’Tselem is the independent Israeli Information Center
for Human Rights in the Occupied (Palestinian)
Territories (OPT) based in Jerusalem with a
well-deserved reputation for accuracy and integrity.
It was founded in 1989 to “document and educate the
Israeli public, policymakers (and concerned people
everywhere) about human rights violations in the
(OPT), combat the phenomenon of denial prevalent among
the Israeli public (and elsewhere), and create a human
rights culture in Israel” to convince government
officials to respect human rights and comply with
international law.

Its human rights work is wide-ranging, carefully
researched, and thoroughly cross-checked with relevant
documents and other official government sources. It
also relies on additional information from Israeli,
Palestinian, and other human rights organizations.
From them, B’Tselem publishes scores of reports, some
quite comprehensive in scope. One of them was 107
pages in length and prepared in May, 2007. It’s
titled: “Ghost Town - Israel’s Separation Policy and
Forced Eviction of Palestinians from the Center of
Hebron.” It recently came out in print form and is
available on request.

This article summarizes its findings. They’re from a
joint effort between B’Tselem and the Association for
Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Israel’s leading human
and civil rights organization and the only one
addressing all rights and liberties issues. ACRI was
founded in 1972, is independent and nonpartisan, and
leads the struggle for these issues in Israel and the
OPT through litigation, legal advocacy, education, and
public outreach. ACRI believes civil and human rights
are universal. They must be “an integral part of
democratic community building and…. a unifying force
in Israeli public life” for everyone, especially those
most marginalized, disadvantaged and currently
persecuted by state authorities.

Hebron is a notable example. The study findings below
present a case history of what Palestinians under
Israeli occupation have endured for decades from a
state-imposed policy of separation, forced
displacement and terror. They show how Israel is
colonizing Palestine incrementally through new and
expanding settlements on illegally seized land. The
human toll is horrific - “protracted and severe harm
to Palestinians (from) some of the gravest human
rights violations” against them that go unaddressed in
the mainstream and continue unabated.

Hebron’s City Center is a case study example. It was
once a thriving commercial and residential area. Today
it’s a “Ghost Town” because Israel destroyed its
fabric of life through a state-imposed policy of land
seizures, extended curfews, harsh restrictions on free
movement and unaddressed violence. Combined, they
terrorize Palestinians and prohibit them from driving
or even walking on the area’s main streets. That, in
turn, makes life impossible for them. The consequences
have been devastating with peoples’ lives uprooted.
The material below reviews the evidence B’Tselem and
ACRI revealed in their study. Consider the
consequences.

Since the territories were occupied in 1967, Israel
expelled tens of thousands of Palestinians throughout
the OPT. In Hebron alone, thousands of residents and
merchants were removed or had no other option than to
leave the City Center because of Israel’s “principle
of separation” policy.

Hebron is important as the West Bank’s second largest
city, the largest in the territory’s South, and the
only Palestinian city with an Israeli settlement in
its center. It’s concentrated in and around the Old
City that once was the entire southern West Bank’s
commercial center. No longer.

For many years, Israel severely oppressed Palestinians
in Hebron’s center. It partitioned the city into
northern and southern parts and created a long strip
of land for Jewish vehicles only. In addition, in
areas open to Palestinians, they’re subjected to
“repeated detention and humiliating inspections” any
time, for any reason, and it got worse after the 1994
Baruch Goldstein massacre of Muslim worshipers in the
Tomb of the Patriarchs. Israel’s military commander
ordered many Palestinian-owned shops closed that were
the livelihood for thousands of people. In addition,
he condoned frequent settler violence as a way to
remove Palestinians from their own land. It worked.

A combination of restrictions, prohibitions and
deliberate harassment devastated Hebron’s residents.
They lost their homes, land, businesses and freedom.
B’Tselem-ACRI document it in detail in the Old City
and Casbah areas where most Israeli settlements are
located and where Palestinians the face harshest
conditions and restrictions on their movements. As a
result, they were removed or had to leave, and what
was once “the vibrant heart of Hebron (is now) a ghost
town.”

A senior Israeli defense official explained the scheme
that’s pretty common knowledge today. He called it “a
permanent process of dispossessing Arabs to increase
Jewish territory.” Distinguished Israeli historian,
Ilan Pappe, calls it state-sponsored ethnic cleansing
that’s been ongoing since Israel’s 1948 creation.
B’Tselem-ACRI document the practice in Hebron’s once
viable City Center.

Israeli Settlements in Hebron

They began on Passover Eve, 1968 when a group of
Israeli civilians rented a Hebron hotel room for two
days and wouldn’t leave. Cabinet ministers supported
them, and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) gave them
weapons and trained them in their use. Six months
later, the Hebron and Gush Etzion Ministerial
Committee officially approved establishing a Jewish
neighborhood in the city, and it was all downhill from
there.

In March 1970, the Knesset established the Qiryat
settlement that in a few years had hundreds of
Jewish-only housing units. The big settlement push
came 10 years later in 1980 when the government built
a yeshiva (Orthodox school) structure in the City
Center by adding a floor to the Beit Hadassah
settlement for the purpose. More activity came in 1984
when Jewish families established a settlement in the
Palestinian Tel Rumeida neighborhood. From then on,
others grew to where a few hundred Jews now live in a
number of Old City locations, mainly in or around what
used to be the city’s commercial area.

After Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 Palestinians and
wounded over a hundred others in 1994, Israel adopted
an official separation policy in the area. First, it
was around the Tomb of the Patriarchs and later
elsewhere in the City Center. In the 1995 interim
agreement both sides signed, the parties agreed to
leave the city under IDF control. Then in 1997, the
Protocol Concerning the Redeployment in Hebron was
signed. It divided the city in two:

—H-1 is comprised of 18 square kilometers and
controlled by the Palestinian Authority (PA); it’s
where most city residents (about 115,000) live; and

—H-2 has 4.3 square kilometers with around 35,000
Palestinians who are controlled by the IDF with the PA
only having civil powers over them. H-2 includes the
Old City, the commercial center and all Israeli
settlement points.

The division notwithstanding, Article 9 of the Hebron
redeployment agreement commits both sides “to the
unity of the city” and the smooth movement of its
residents. It never worked well, but after the second
intifada erupted in September, 2000 everything changed
for the worst. Henceforth, the IDF expanded limited
separation to the entire area containing Israeli
settlements. This entailed unprecedented restrictions
on Palestinian movement that included a continuous
curfew and closure of main streets to residents.

It also led to a sharp rise in violence on both sides,
but mostly against Palestinians, the majority of whom
are innocent victims. At the same time, the
distinction between H-1 and H-2 blurred, and the
commitment to free movement and unity of the city was
abandoned. In April, 2002 during Operation Defensive
Shield, the IDF invaded and took positions in H-1. The
PA relinquished control, and it led to the loss of
Hebron’s City Center commercial, cultural and social
areas with the city becoming a ghost town.

Palestinian Abandonment of the City Center

Hebron’s City Center once thrived as a commercial hub
serving city residents and merchants as well as the
entire southern West Bank. Now it’s gone, most shops
have closed, and Palestinian businesses have moved
elsewhere or no longer exist.

In preparing their report, B’Tselem-ACRI surveyed over
1000 structures in areas in or next to where
settlements are situated as well as others adjacent to
roads for exclusive settler and Israeli security
forces use. Most structures are in H-2, and the survey
covered the following:

—structures in the Casbah;

—the area near the Tomb of the Patriarchs;

—the Tel Rumeida neighborhood;

—around the Avraham Avinu, Beit Romano and Tel
Rumeida points;

—along (the main) a-Shuhada Street;

—on the lower part of the Abu Sneineh neighborhood
near a-Sahia compound;

—along settler-only roads in and out of the City
Center and Qiryat Arba settlement;

—around the Givat Haavot settlement; and

—between and adjacent to Qiryat Arba and Givat
Haharsina in the North.

Two small H-1 areas are also included: the southeast
Baba-Zawiya neighborhood and the Qarnatini Road,
adjacent to the Avraham Avinu settlement. Data was
collected door-to-door to document all residential
dwellings to determine if they were occupied or
abandoned. The same procedure was followed for all
business establishments, and the results were
shocking, but no surprise.

At least 1014 Palestinian housing units (41.9% of the
total in the area) were vacated by their occupants.
Another 659 apartments (65% of the total) were as well
during the second intifada. In addition, 1829
Palestinian businesses (76.6% of them all) were lost.
Of the total, 1141 (62.4% of the total) closed after
the year 2000, 440 or more by military order.
B’Tselem-ACRI believe Palestinian apartment
abandonments were even higher than reported because
neighborhoods near settlements collapsed and housing
and living costs declined dramatically there. Poor
families took advantage. Unable to afford more costly
housing, they left distant parts of Hebron for Old
City neighborhoods where they occupied vacated houses.

B’Tselem-ACRI documented areas hit, and one was the
a-Shuhada Street area, the heart of the City Center
that was closed in part to Palestinian traffic and
commerce after the 1994 massacre. After it happened,
304 shops and warehouses closed, 218 or more by
military edict, and not a single shop is now open for
business. In addition, the IDF seized a bus station
for use as an army base, and non-commercial activities
were affected as well. Important services moved or
ceased to function including the Ministry of Supply,
Information, the Waqf, the Farmers and Women’s
Association, and other formerly functioning area
operations. Medical centers also closed, and
Palestinians paid dearly with more to follow.

Restrictions on Palestinian Movement and Business
Closings

After the 1994 massacre, Israel imposed a curfew on
Hebron residents, restricted their movements, but
conditions became far worse after September, 2000. At
first, the curfew applied to all of H-2 and on certain
neighborhoods in its center with Palestinians unable
to leave their homes for three months except for a few
hours a week to buy food and other basics. At times,
H-1 was also affected but never Hebron settlers.

In the intifada’s first three years, H-2 residents
were under curfew restrictions for over 377 days,
including a 182 day non-stop period with spotty breaks
to restock essentials. In addition, on more than 500
days, H-2 was under curfews that lasted from a few
hours to entire days. Along with other restrictions
covered below, they made life unbearable, and that was
the whole idea behind them. Israelis claimed that
harsh measures were to let Jewish settlers conduct
their daily lives securely. In fact, they were
collective punishment by being randomly imposed or for
reasons unrelated to security.

The affects were devastating - job loss, poor
nutrition, rising poverty, growing family tensions
from prolonged confinement, severe harm to education,
welfare and health systems, and a mass exodus away
from areas near settlements resulting in lost homes
and businesses.

One hardship was crucial for City Center residents
needing medical treatment. They couldn’t get it
because it wasn’t accessible under curfew. As a
result, medical clinics and centers closed and
residents couldn’t travel to where they were open.
Most affected were the sick, pregnant women, the
elderly and anyone needing emergency care. They were
stuck and at times gravely harmed.

Even under dire need, anyone outside their homes
during curfew for any reason risked being shot as the
IDF had a policy to fire on them with impunity. The
Association for Civil Rights petitioned the High Court
of Justice to end curfews in January, 2003 claiming
the practice was illegal and caused severe harm when
in place for long periods. The court rejected the plea
on July 9, 2003 but agreed the measure is drastic and
that military commanders should consider that before
imposing them. That happened in 2004 when the IDF
ended the practice for long periods, but by then the
damage was done. Many Palestinians were gone so they
were unnecessary. In 2004 and 2005, H-2 and H-1 were
under curfew restrictions for only a few days at a
time, and by 2006 they no longer were used on a
regular basis.

In 1994 and after September, 2000, a large network of
101 staffed checkpoints and physical barriers enforced
movement restrictions in H-2. They prevent H-1 located
Palestinians from entering H-2 by car and restrict
them by foot. Even to reach their homes, residents on
the other side of a checkpoint have to register with
the IDF. Still, movement can entail long delays, and
at times they’re kept out anyway.

Emergency and rescue services are also hampered as
ambulances can’t enter H-2 unless arrangements are
made in advance with Israeli authorities. When needs
arise, there isn’t enough time so persons, if able,
must go by foot to where vehicles are allowed. Hebron
Municipality vehicles also are prohibited from the
City Center without prior approval so quick repairs of
electricity, telephone, water and sewage problems are
impossible, and families at times are without
essential services for days as a consequence. The same
problem affects schools as well, and three of them on
a-Shuhada Street lost a large percent of students
because movement restrictions, checkpoints and other
harassments deter them.

For most of the intifada, restrictions were made
verbally, not by official orders, and often were
unrelated to security. It wasn’t until late 2005 that
the military commander issued formal orders for
“protective spaces” following a petition to the High
Court of Justice. But it hardly matters as the IDF
maintains strict restrictions in the City Center, even
if not covered by official orders, and admits the
practice exceeds its authority. Residents whose rights
are infringed are helpless to object or gain relief.

It’s because settlers have power, and a senior army
officer admitted “military commanders are a tool in
(their) hands.” After the intifida began, Hebron
settlement heads gave IDF their demands that included
closing streets to Palestinian pedestrian and
vehicular traffic. The military complied “to Judaize”
the center of Hebron and make it “free of Arabs.”

Restrictions imposed also prevent residents from
returning to homes they left, and High Court petitions
for redress were denied because Israel contends
security requires separation. It means Palestinian
free movement is impaired and peoples’ lives destroyed
to satisfy outrageous settler demands.

Palestinian commerce in the City Center was also
affected. The Casbah area once thrived as one of the
West Bank’s most important business districts. Now,
most shops are closed - in some cases by IDF directive
but overall because free movement was banned,
customers can’t access the area, and business owners
lost their livelihoods as a result. They simply closed
up and left and in some cases were prevented from
taking their merchandise with them. They lost
everything.

The entire Old City was affected with a total of 1829
(76.6% of the total surveyed) Palestinian businesses
shuttered. Since September, 2000 (the onset of the
second intifada), 1141 closed (62.4% of the above
total),  440 by IDF edict. Shop owners trying to
recoup and reopen their shops couldn’t because free
movement restrictions were too harsh and
unprecendented.

Things then got even worse and remain so. The IDF
protects Israeli settlers who freely attack
Palestinians with impunity. Offenses include physical
assaults and beatings (at times with clubs), stone
throwing, and hurling of refuse, sand, water,
chlorine, and empty bottles. Settlers also loot
Palestinian shops and commit acts of vandalism against
them and other owner property. Killings also occur as
well as attempts to run over people with vehicles,
fruit trees chopped down, water wells poisoned, home
break-ins, and hot liquids poured on Palestinian
faces. IDF forces are positioned everywhere in the
area. They witness settler acts and do nothing to stop
them.

Soldiers also commit violence and use excessive force
as do police. In addition, they engage in arbitrary
house searches at all hours of the day and night,
house seizures, harassment, and random detentions and
humiliating searches and treatment overall. These
actions violate international and Israeli
administrative and constitutional law. They persist
nonetheless. More on this below.

B’Tselem-ACRI’s study reviewed major events since the
1994 Tomb of the Patriarchs massacre:

—after it happened in 1994, the main City Center
a-Shuhada Street was closed to Palestinian vehicles
from Gross Square to the Beit Hadassah settlement;
Palestinian shops were forbidden to open;

—after the 1997 Hebron Protocol, a-Shuhada Street
reopened to Palestinian vehicles but shops remain
closed;

—in 1998, a-Shuhada Street again was closed to
Palestinian vehicles;

—after September, 2000, a continuous three month
curfew was imposed on Palestinian residents; a-Shuhada
Street was closed and roads to settlement points were
as well to Palestinian vehicles;

—in 2001, a-Shuhada Street was again closed to
Palestinian pedestrians with rare exceptions; other
Old City areas were also closed to Palestinian
movement; settlers destroyed an improvised market, and
the army prohibited it from reopening; over 100
a-Shuhada Street shops closed; nine Israeli families
squatted in the closed wholesale market with no IDF
effort to remove them;

—in 2002, under Operation Defensive Shield and
Operation Determined Path, a near-continuous 240 day
curfew was imposed and other City Center areas were
closed to Palestinian vehicles and pedestrian traffic;
checkpoints and physical obstructions were established
to harass and prevent free movement;

—in 2003, Shalala compound shop operating
prohibitions were cancelled except for ones near the
Beit Hadassah settlement;

—in 2004, part of a-Sahla Street was reopened to
Palestinian pedestrians;

—in 2006, nine squatter Israeli families left the
closed wholesale market; a few months later they
returned; no IDF attempt was made to remove them; and

—in 2007, the western section on the Shalala H-2
compound was opened to Palestinian vehicles.

These harsh measures took their toll on residents with
unemployment and poverty rising sharply. In 2002, the
International Committee of the Red Cross reacted with
a food distribution program for 2000 households that
increased to 2500 families in 2004. In 2005, the
Palestinian National Economic Ministry reported
average Palestinian household monthly income in H-2 at
only $150.

The figure is likely lower today, but in Gaza under
siege, it’s much lower. Unemployment is around 80%,
World Bank data show 80% of Gazan households live on
less than $75 a month, it’s far too little to survive,
and prior to the present crisis, 85% of the
Territory’s population relied mainly on humanitarian
aid to survive. It may be everyone now with fuel and
electricity cut, strict border closures enforced,
conditions becoming desperate, Israel relenting for a
day, and the International Red Cross warning of a
crisis threatening 1.5 million people.

Refraining from Protecting Palestinians and their
Property from Violent Settlers

Since the first settlements were established in
Hebron’s City Center, Palestinians have been
victimized by countless violent acts that range from
vandalism to killings. Police and the army afford no
protection and instead are part of the scheme to make
residents’ life so intolerable they’ll voluntarily
leave the area. Many have and others follow.

Oppression continues for those who remain, however,
and Israeli Attorney General, Menachem Mazuz,
acknowledges the problem but does nothing to address
it. He recently said “Enforcement of the law (to
protect Palestinians) in the Territories is not only
unsatisfactory, it is poor.” Even Prime Minister Ehud
Olmert admitted a reported Tel Rumeida assault was
“not the first time” this happened, and official
Israeli entities like the Karp and Shamgar Commissions
sharply criticized Israeli authorities for failing to
enforce the law and protect the rights of OPT
residents, especially in Hebron.

Israeli authorities have known of the problem for
years, yet it persists and is quietly condoned. Ian
Christianson, head of the international observer force
in Hebron (TIPH), was quoted saying “settlers go out
almost every night and harm whoever lives near them,
break windows and cause damage….” Many attacks are
carried out by minors and for a reason. Under Israeli
law that applies in the OPT, persons under age 12
aren’t held criminally liable. Settlers know this and
exploit the loophole by using their children to throw
stones, break walls and commit other violent acts they
can get away with. Violence is commonplace throughout
the Territories in spite of IDF presence, and when
children commit it they’re immune from the law
affecting adults that exists but isn’t enforced.

High Israeli officials like former Defense Minister
Amir Peretz shamelessly claimed that soldiers can’t
protect residents because they don’t have enforcement
powers. In fact, they’re obligated to enforce the law
on everyone, including violent settlers, under section
78 of the Order Regarding Defense Regulations. It
empowers the army to arrest, without warrant
authority, anyone (Palestinian or Jew) who violates
the Order that covers the following acts: assault,
throwing objects and intentionally destroying
property.

The Procedure for Enforcing Law and Order on Israeli
Offenders in the West Bank states: security forces
must “take every action necessary to prevent harm to
life, person, or property (and) to detain and arrest
suspects who might flee from the scene.” Section 6(3)
of the Procedure states that the IDF must enforce the
law until police arrive and take over.

Unfortunately, the Hebron Police Department has an
appalling record. Instead of enforcing the law, it
acts with “abominable helplessness” to show its
contempt for residents while supporting settlers. It
doesn’t investigate violent incidents against
Palestinians and ignores them when their officers are
on the scene. A Yesh Din human rights organization
study showed that 90% of police investigations were
closed without charges being filed. This lets settlers
break the law and get away with it. The IDF and police
support them by refusing to uphold the law for
everyone.

Harm to Palestinians by Soldiers and Police Officers

Soldiers and police also break the law routinely and
often. Throughout occupied Palestine and in Hebron
City Center, every night is Kristallnacht, and so are
days. It makes life for residents intolerable because
any time for any reason they’re subject to daily house
searches and seizures, random detainments and
humiliating treatment and harassment along with
security force-committed violence that ranges from
slapping and kicking to bloody beatings and killings.
They serve no purpose except to harass and punish,
break the law, and persist at all hours of the day and
night.

Beatings severe enough to kill are commonplace in
Hebron, and over the years human rights organizations
documented them. Many incidents take place near
settler points where security is intense and settler
demands are paramount. They include:

—smashing a victim’s head with a blunt instrument or
against a wall;

—hitting victims with rifle butts and clubs;

—kicking them in the head and other parts of the
body;

—flinging them to the ground;

—twisting arms and legs forcefully enough to cause
injury;

—stone-throwing and more that at times includes
willful damage to property.

Consider the hypocrisy. Israeli authorities condemn
these actions, but the military and police commit them
in the same of “security.” As a result, many violent
acts aren’t investigated, and when they are they’re
usually whitewashed. Since the second intifada began,
the Military Police Investigations Unit undertook 427
investigations through early 2007 against soldiers in
the West Bank. Of these, only 35 led to indictments,
and since most incidents involved more than one
soldier, over 92% of the time those involved were
cleared of any offense.

As for police-committed violence, 82% of cases
submitted to the Department for the Investigation of
Police (DIP) resulted in no indictment indicating
further whitewashing. Military and civilian
authorities pay little attention to Israeli offenses.
As a result, security forces get the message that
these acts are allowed so it’s no surprise they
continue, and they involve more than violence.

A systematic pattern of abuse and harassment is part
of daily life in the Territories, and in Hebron’s City
Center it’s intense. Unjustifyably seizing Palestinian
houses occur, and at the time of the study, security
forces held at least 35 residential dwellings.
Typically, here’s what happens. Soldiers or police
take over a private home for a security outpost. Its
inhabitants are affected, their lives are disrupted,
they’re excluded from occupied rooms, and can only use
spaces allotted to them - in their own home.

They’re also harassed, routinely searched, threatened
and even beaten; soldiers or police cause damage
(sometimes deliberately); they play loud music;
scatter refuse and even urinate where they want. In
some cases, the abuse goes on for years making normal
life impossible. Early last year, this writer saw a
chilling documentary on this practice. It showed
soldiers abusing families and how traumatized they
were from the experience.

The pattern of harassment also includes searching
homes and shops, random detentions, and demanding
identity cards from passersby on any pretext. Even
when lawful, privacy and dignity are severely
interfered with, and it can happen any time for any
reason. In Hebron, it’s routine, especially for
Palestinians living near settlement points. In those
areas, nearly every home has been searched more than
once by either the IDF or police at any hour. It’s
done in one of three ways:

—pinpoint searches because of a concrete suspicion;

—extensive searches for mapping purposes; and

—routine searches in areas artibrarily chosen to
“manifest a presence” or just to harass.

In Hebron’s City Center, delays and harassment are
common daily practices because Israeli settlements are
there. Security forces are everywhere, their patrols
are frequent, and dozens of annoying checkpoints and
permanent positions have been set up for control. For
Palestinians in the area or who have to go there, it’s
nightmarish. They must pass through checkpoints and
army positions, and have to show identity cards
whenever they do. Even so, delays are frequent and can
last for hours at times. Everyone is affected - the
sick and elderly, anyone on the street including where
they live, shoppers, children going to school and back
home, or anyone else for any reason.

In the US, the Bill of Rights Third and Fourth
Amendments ban these practices. The Third Amendment
states: “No soldier shall, in time of peace be
quartered in any house, without the consent of the
owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be
prescribed by law.” The Fourth Amendment prohibits
unreasonable searches and seizures and specifically
says: “The right of the people to be secure in their
persons, houses, papers and effects, against
unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be
violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon
probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and
particularly describing the place to be searched, and
the persons or things to be seized.”

Despite these protections, the post-9/11 environment
scrapped the law and desecrated the Constitution. It
came through congressional legislation and
presidential executive and other decrees that
seriously eroded Fourth and other Bill of Rights
freedoms. They’re effectively gutted, so no one in
America is secure and may suffer the same abuses
Palestinians now do. It’s affected many thousands of
people in ways unimaginable but now happen routinely
and repressively.

Israel’s Policy in Hebron from the Legal Perspective

Israel bases its Hebron City Center policy on the
“principle of separation” that seriously violates the
rights of all Palestinians affected “in every aspect
of their lives.” It contradicts international
humanitarian law, international human rights law, and
also Israeli administrative and constitutional law as
they apply to an occupying power. In short, the policy
is unjustified and outrageous, but it persists
nonetheless.

International humanitarian law covers two main points
for an occupier:

—to ensure its legitimate security concerns; and

—to guarantee the essential needs of the occupied
civilian population as covered under Article 27 of the
Fourth Geneva Convention. It states these people
“shall at all times be humanely treated, and shall be
protected especially against all acts of violence or
threats thereof….” This fundamental obligation
relates to peoples’ right to life, liberty, personal
safety, freedom of movement and other sacrosanct human
rights.

They’re also codified in international human rights
law and Israeli administrative and constitutional law
that’s binding on an occupier. These laws require
Israel to prohibit their security forces from
infringing on Palestinian rights as occupied people.
They also provide for the right to be heard, the duty
to act reasonably, and to abide by the principle of
proportionality that requires upholding this
fundamental rule: administrative body decisions are
only lawful if the means used to enforce them are
proportionate.

The following practices are not:

—sweeping restrictions on Palestinian movements in
Hebron’s City Center;

—prohibiting Palestinian shops from opening in large
sections of the area;

—arbitrary searches and seizures of private
dwellings as well as quartering security forces in
them; and

—any infringements on Palestinians’ right of
property; to earn a living by any work they choose; to
an adequate standard of living; to adequate housing,
medical care, education and other essential services;
to privacy; and to a normal secure family life.

Israeli authorities consciously and willfully fail to
enforce the law on their security forces and settlers.
As a result, Palestinian rights are ignored and
they’re subjected to continued harassment and
indignities in violation of international and Israeli
law. It makes conditions for them intolerable, and
cumulatively they’re illegal and amount to “cruel,
inhuman and degrading treatment.”

They exist because of and at the behest of settlers’
presence in the city whose rights and demands are
paramount even when they violate the law. All Israeli
settlements in the OPT are illegal, and consider
Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. It states:
“The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer
parts of its own civilian population in the territory
it occupies.” This applies as well to organizing or
encouraging the transfer of its own population to the
occupied territory that displaces legal residents
forced to move.

International law also renounces colonialism. By
encouraging and financing Hebron City Center and other
OPT settlements, Israel violates international law as
well as UN Resolutions 465 and 476 that addressed
Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine and the
Syrian Golan Heights. Since the Security Council
passed both resolutions in 1980, Israel flagrantly
violated them and continues to build new settlements
in the OPT wherever it wishes, the actions are
illegal, and they displace legal residents throughout
the Territories.

It’s no surprise and nothing new because two nations
stand out above all others as serial UN resolution and
international law abusers for the past 50 years -
Israel and the US. In the case of Israel, its record
is appalling for flagrantly and willfully ignoring
over five dozen UN resolutions condemning or censuring
it for its actions against the Palestinians or other
Arab people, deploring it for committing them, or
demanding, calling on or urging the Jewish state to
end them. Israel refuses and has never been held to
account because of its powerful ally in Washington.
All US administrations for the past half century
allowed Israel to be lawless and get away with it.

Israel’s High Court of Justice is equally culpable by
ignoring international law and for its one-sided
support of injustice despite occasionally ruling
otherwise. International and Israeli law are clear.
Yet the Court supports illegal settlements, the
separation wall (seizing over 10% of West Bank land)
declared illegal by the International Court of Justice
at The Hague, targeted assassinations, the right of
settlers to destroy Palestinian property, and Israel’s
right to protect settlements regardless of the cost to
Palestinians.

Many Israeli actions can’t be justified on any basis,
yet they persist with High Court support. Israel and
the Court are obligated under international law to
treat all persons equally, yet they fail to do so.
Consider Article 1 of the International Convention on
the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
of 1965 that Israel signed in 1966 and ratified in
1979. It defines “racial discrimination” as: “any
distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference
based on race, color, descent, or national or ethnic
origin (that) nullif(ies) or impair(s) the
recognition, enjoyment or exercise (equally) of human
rights and fundamental freedoms in the political,
economic, social, cultural or any other field of
public life.”

According to the Convention, Israel governs by a de
facto state policy of willful separation and
discrimination. International law prohibits it and
calls it “racist.” In Hebron’s City Center, it’s
especially egregious under Article 3 of the Convention
that condemns racial segregation. Yet, it’s Israel’s
official policy throughout the OPT and in Israel for
its Arab citizens.

International law also bans collective punishment as
Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states: “No
protected person may be punished for an offense he or
she has not personally committed. Collective penalties
and likewise all measure of intimidation or of
terrorism are prohibited (as well as) Reprisals
against protected persons and their property….”
Israeli sweeping measures against Palestinians after
September, 2000 constitute willful collective
punishment and are thus illegal.

So is forced transfer of an occupied people, by direct
or indirect means, yet Israel’s declared policy and
its actions displaced many thousands of OPT residents
and thousands alone from Hebron City Center that left
the area a “ghost town.” This also violates the Fourth
Geneva Convention under Article 49 that states:
“Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as
deportation of protected persons from occupied
territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or
to that of any other country, occupied or not, are
prohibited (for any reason).” This prohibition applies
as well to transfers within an occupied territory such
as driving Hebron City Center residents out of the
area in deference to its settlers.

Articles 146 and 147 go further by classifying any
unlawful protected person transfers a grave Convention
breach and a war crime for which responsible persons
bear full responsibility.

Current Israeli Action to Stop A Medical Clinic’s
Construction

Not part of B’Tselem-ACRI’s study is an ongoing effort
to stop Israel from demolishing a Beqa’a Valley
medical clinic under construction that’s a 30 minute
walk from Hebron’s City Center. It’s operated by
Palestinian Relief and CARE International to provide
600 - 700 mostly women and children in the area with
routine care, prenatal checkups and vaccinations one
day a week.

In late December 2007, Israel’s Civil Administration
issued a stop work order on the clinic, residents
complied, and had until January 10 to appeal. The
facility is vitally needed, stop work orders usually
precede demolition, and they were also issued for over
25 rebuilt homes. Unless they’re cancelled or stopped,
demolition will proceed as another act of collective
punishment against Palestinians helpless to stop it.

Bush in Palestine

Also, apart from B’Tselem-ACRI’s report, George Bush’s
Israel and Palestine visit deserves mention to
highlight the plight of Hebron’s people and all
Palestinians. It was Bush’s first official visit as
President as part of his seven state, nine day Middle
East tour that had nothing to do with peace, a
two-state solution, or ending an illegal occupation
and everything to do with betraying the Palestinians
and confronting Iran. On January 9 and 10, Bush
visited Jerusalem, Ramallah and Bethlehem in the West
Bank, skipped Gaza and Hebron, and concentrated on
theatrics, photo-ops and reiterated promises one more
time to be broken afterwards.

Palestinians know it, and Haaretz featured their view
on January 10 in an article headlined “Palestinians in
Ramallah brace for visit by ‘that criminal’ Bush.” The
anger is so great that Palestinian security forces dug
up concrete looking for bombs around and beneath a
building Bush visited for a meeting. In addition,
Israel deployed 10,000 police and security staff for
protection, booked the entire King David hotel in
Jerusalem for his stay, cancelled tourist bookings to
do it, blocked roads around the hotel causing huge
traffic jams, and totally isolated the President from
people he supposedly came to help. It’s no mystery
why.

The visit was a follow-up to the Annapolis tragedy and
travesty that was a historic first. It was the first
time in memory the legitimate government of one side
was excluded from peace talks, and that act doomed
them. That meeting and this trip represent more
pretense than peace because Palestinian sincerity
isn’t matched by Israel or Washington. The Bush
administration firmly supports Israel’s illegal
settlements, and Israeli Prime Minister Olmert knows
it. Ahead of Bush’s arrival, he said “I don’t recall
another president who systematically and consistently
showed the same level of commitment to Israel as
George W. Bush,” and therein lies the problem.

What can Palestinians hope from this meeting? A
critical online cartoon (Al-Quds newspaper refused to
publish) captures their view. It shows Bush arriving
by helicopter, and the copy reads: “what denied
entry!! what wall? what checkpoints? what settlements?
MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. The people of Hebron understand.
So do all Palestinians, including the many dozens
killed by IDF incursions post-Annapolis as
Israeli-instigated violence rages in the
Territories….in the name of “peace” Israel and
Washington won’t allow.

Conclusions

B’Tselem-ACRI also understand the problem. Their
report calls Israel’s “constant and grave harm to
Palestinians (in Hebron’s City Center) one of the most
extreme manifestations of human rights violations” it
commits. By protecting settlers through a “principle
of separation” policy, its actions are racist and
illegal as are severe movement restrictions,
oppressive curfews, security force and settler violent
assaults, arbitrary searches and seizures, quartering
troops in homes, mass population transfers, and
unwarranted detentions and delays to collectively
punish and harass.

In Hebron City Center, expulsion alone is unique in
magnitude since the West Bank was occupied in 1967.
Israeli policy there shows a profound disregard for
Palestinian rights and a flagrant violation of
international and Israeli laws. In deference to its
settlers, Palestinians suffer, it’s intolerable, and
at times it takes lives.

B’Tselem and ACRI insist this must end, and
Palestinian rights must be protected and respected.
All Israeli settlements are illegal in the
Territories. International law demands they be
evacuated and regarding the situation in Hebron City
Center alone, B’Tselem and ACRI state “Israel has the
legal and moral obligation to evacuate the Israelis
who settled (there), and return them to Israel.” Until
this happens, Israel is also obligated to ensure
Palestinian safety so they can live normally with
their civil and human rights respected and protected.

Specfically B’Tselem and ACRI urge Israel to take the
following measures:

—allow Palestinians free movement in Hebron City
Center and remove all checkpoints and physical
barriers;

—let Palestinians return to their homes;

—rejuvenate the City Center as a commercial area the
way it was before it was occupied;

—assure the IDF and police enforce the law, deter
settler violence and refrain from all acts of
individual or collective punishment;

—direct investigative authorities to examine and
justly act on every security force and settler breach
of law; and

—assure security forces prevent settlers from
seizing additional buildings and areas in the city.

Above all, state authorities, security forces and
settlers must obey the law and treat occupied
Palestinians justly. Israel claims to be a civilized
state. It’s about time it acted like one.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Also visit his blog site
at sjlendman.blogspot.com.


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