Sunday, July 06, 2008

Hebron's "Sterile Zone": Martial Law Tightening

The Israeli Military has recently taken further measures to reduce the safety and access of Palestinians to the Old City in Hebron by forbidding members of Christian Peacemaker Teams and Israeli peace groups from accessing what the military terms, "The Sterile Zone." The military presence in much of Hebron (H1) is similar to that of other Palestinian cities, but the Old City (H2) is quite different because of the presence of Israeli settlers, some of the most right-wing of all settlers. Because of the settlements, the IDF troops severely restrict the access of Palestinians to the Old City. According to B'Tselem and the Association of Civil Rights in Israel, "violence, arbitrary house searches, seizure of houses, harassment, detaining passers-by, and humiliating treatment have become part of daily reality for Palestinians and have led many of them to move to safer places".

After a 13-year-old process of closures and segregation which began – ironically – with the Goldstein attack on Palestinians in the mosque, and continued through the intifada, there are now 304 closed shops and warehouses – 218 of them shut down by military order. The whole of the "sterile zone" protecting the settlements is closed to Palestinian vehicles. And the central section of Shuhada Street is closed to Palestinian pedestrians, except for four families who still live on this once densely populated but now desolate artery. The term used by B'Tselem and ACRI for the steady Palestinian depopulation of the area is "enforced eviction". Jan Kristiansen, a former head of the (already decade-old) Temporary International Presence in Hebron, described it as "ethnic cleansing".
In December 2006, ACRI challenged the ban on pedestrians using much of Shuhada Street, pointing out that it had not been sanctioned by a written military order. The Army agreed it was indeed a mistake and issued a directive cancelling the prohibition. Some prominent local Palestinians were allowed to walk along the street after detention and body searches, and with a substantial military escort. Within a week the Palestinians were again told they were not allowed to use the route.

A few days ago, members of CPT were told that they could no longer give tours in the Old City's "Sterile Zone" around Shuhada Street because they do not have an Israeli guide license. A few months ago, British journalist, Donald MacIntyre took such a tour with Yehuda Shaul, a member of the Israeli peace group, Breaking the Silence. Then he compared what he had seen and heard on that tour with the Israeli military's account:

A tour round the inner city with a senior Israeli military official gives a very different take on Hebron from Shaul's. The official, who insists on anonymity, argues that while Palestinians are restricted in only three per cent of the city, Israelis are either barred or heavily restricted in the other 97 per cent. While ACRI and B'Tselem pointed out that a resident of the Old City wanting to cross one side of Shuhada Street to the other needs to go round the entire city centre and pass through a number of checkpoints, the Army insists that the restrictions on pedestrian movement in the city are "minimal". As for vehicles, the Army says that those carrying supplies like construction materials are allowed through with prior authorisation and that the required detours add only 10 minutes to the journey for Palestinians. The official stresses that the closures are needed for security reasons and insists, "I am responsible for the lives of Palestinians and Israelis. I am not just in charge of the Israelis."

This, of course, goes to the heart of the question of who bears the real burden of keeping the settlers safe. In the words of the ACRI/B'Tselem report, "Israeli law-enforcement authorities and security forces have made the entire Palestinian population pay the price for protecting Israeli settlement in the city." In doing so, it caused "the economic collapse of the centre of Hebron and drove many Palestinians out of the area."

Unfortunately, limiting CPT's access to "the Sterile Zone" has even greater consequences than that visiting internationals might only hear the distorted narrative that the IDF will approve for tours:


Israeli martial law imposes further restrictions on Palestinians, CPTers, Israeli peace groups, regardless of Israeli court decision

5 July 2008

On Tuesday, 1 July 2008, CPTer Kathleen Kern was leading a delegation of Presbyterians up Shuhada Street, when a police jeep pulled up beside her. Kern noted that the delegation was composed of Americans, whose tax dollars had paid for improvements on Shuhada Street, undertaken with the stipulation that everyone Israelis and Palestinians--could use it. The officer said the group could continue, but Kern could not because "CPT and Bnei Avraham" (Sons of Abraham-a group committed to Palestinian and Israeli reconciliation in Hebron) were not licensed tour guides.

On 4 July, when Kern went to meet an Israeli friend, Q., who came on an Israeli bus that stops in the Ibrahimi Mosque/Cave of Machpelah area, the police stopped both her and Q. They again reminded Kern that she could not go near the settlements, for her own safety, because "the local citizens" (meaning settlers) did not want her around. They then entered Q.'s Israeli ID into a computer aboard the police jeep. Kern told him that she and Q had no intention of going to the settlements. As she and Q. began walking toward the team's apartment, Border Police stopped them and said that Q., since he was Jewish, could not enter the market, the only remaining route to the team's apartment, since numerous entrances have been closed to Palestinians and internationals' use. He decided to catch the bus back to Jerusalem that was arriving in ten minutes, because if he and she tried to enter the market a roundabout way and failed, he would have to wait for four hours to catch the next bus.

As Kern waited for the bus with Q., the police officer who had stopped her on 1 July approached and told her she was not allowed in the area. She noted that he had just mentioned Shuhada Street, not the entire mosque area, and he told her Shuhada Street, the park in front of the mosque, and Tel Rumeida were off limits to CPT. What if we need to go to the police?" she asked, pointing to the station in front of the Mosque. "You can come to the police station," he said. He assured her that Q. would be safe and made a point of telling him that TIPH—a monitoring group authorized by the Israeli government--was allowed to be in the area, just not CPT.

The areas that the police indicated were off-limits include areas where CPTers are present to ensure that Palestinian children get safely to school during the school year, and areas where settlers frequently attack their Palestinian neighbors. The restrictions the police are enforcing on Israeli peace groups also mean that Palestinians in the area will never meet Israelis who support their human rights; they will have connections only with Israelis who harass and abuse them.

In December 2006, the Israeli High Court ruled that Palestinians must have free access to Shuhada Street, but the Israeli military and police continue to maintain the area for settler use only, referring to it as a "sterile" zone.

Report Reprinted with Permission by Christian Peacemaker Teams

Cross-Posted at Booman Tribune and Street Prophets

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