A couple of years ago, prior to the first ‘Open Shuhada Street Day’ protests and demonstrations, I was asked to respond to a number of questions posed concerning Israel’s presence in Hebron (and throughout Judea and Samaria) as well as the issue of “Shuhada Street,” a kilometer stretch of road, running through Hebron’s Jewish community. At that time I wrote a lengthy document, offering answers to many of the questions and statements put forth by others.
With very few changes and additions, I’m posting that article here. It is longer than the normal blog piece, but as a result of the current ‘Shuhada Street’ events, including visits to Hebron by Arab MK Zuhabi, who also participated on the Marmara, as a guest of those attemting to murder Israeli soldiers, and today’s visit by Meretz MKs, it is most important that ‘the other side’ of this issue be brought to light.
Introduction: International organizations declared Thursday, February 25, 2010 as ‘Open Shuhada Street Day.’ Shuhada, in Arabic, means martyr. This is, according to the Arabs, a road named in memory of ‘martyrs’ who have murdered Jews. The street’s real name is King David Street, in honor of King David, who began his monarchy, the Kingdom of Judea, and later the Kingdom of Israel, inHebron, over 3,000 years ago. Parts of this road have been closed to Arab traffic for security reasons. Gadi and Dina Levy were murdered on this road by a homicide bomber. Aharon Gross was stabbed to death on this road. Sixteen year old Eliya Meshulam was stabbed and critically wounded on the road. Six men were killed and twenty others wounded on the road in a major terror attack on this road. Two retired men were stabbed by an Arab terrorist on the road. Three young men had acid thrown at them on this road. Others were attacked, but escaped injury.
The following document includes responses to claims against Hebron’s Jewish community and the continued closing of King David Street to Arab traffic. The original FAQs are in a lighter font; my responses are in a black font, preceded by‘Response.’
The document is lengthy; if the reader prefers to skip certain questions and answers, it is still worthwhile to jump to the last few pages, depicting an official PA map of Palestine.
1. The settlers say they only have 3% of Hebron. They say they’re not allowed to go to H1 or most of H2. Given that they are restricted from the vast majority of the city, why shouldn’t Palestinians be restricted from the tiny portion of H2 that the settlers claim?
Hebron is a city deep inside the Palestinian territories. Israeli settlements in any of these territories are illegal according to the Fourth Geneva Convention. The issue is not that the settlers have only 3% of the city, but rather that they are controlling part of an occupied city.
H1, an area which consists of about 80% of Hebron, is controlled by the Palestinian Authority. H2, the remaining 20%, is controlled by Israel. Israeli settlers, who make up less than 1% of the population of Hebron, control 20% of the city, which is not only incredibly disproportionate but also illegal.
In order to allow the settlers to live in a small part of H2, the Israeli army exerts control over a much larger proportion of the city in order to secure a buffer zone for the settlement. While the settlers themselves do not travel around most of H2, the Israeli military does patrol the entirety of H2, thereby placing restrictions on Palestinian movement throughout this part of Hebron. If Israeli settlers were allowed to walk in all of H2, the Israeli military would likely control an even larger percentage of the city in order to keep them safe.
Although H2 is a relatively small portion of the city, it is Hebron’s true city centre where the industrial and commercial zones, as well as the most important landmarks, are located. H2 is an important passageway between the northern and southern parts of the city. Therefore, restricting movement in H2 significantly affects the freedom of movement of all residents of Hebron.
a) Concerning H1 and H2: Israelis presently have access to three percent of Hebron. Arabs have access to 98% of Hebron. Jews are forbidden from entering H1. Arabs may travel freely between H1 and H2.
Concerning the city center: As can be seen above, Hebron city center is certainly not in H2. Arab Hebron is a large, thriving city, with continued construction, factories, businesses, markets, and all elements of metropolitan life. This area, much larger than H2, is certainly more conducive to businesses and markets; therefore the claim that H2 is actually the city center is false.
Concerning access to all areas of Hebron, Hebron’s Arab population has access to over 98% of the city. All areas can be accessed without any major issues.
The Historical Context
Jewish settlement in West Bank and Gaza Strip territory has existed from time immemorial and was expressly recognised as legitimate in the Mandate for Palestine adopted by the League of Nations, which provided for the establishment of a Jewish state in the Jewish people’s ancient homeland. Indeed, Article 6 of the Mandate provided as follows:
“The Administration of Palestine, while ensuring that the rights and position of other sections of the population are not prejudiced, shall facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions and shall encourage, in cooperation with the Jewish Agency referred to in Article 4, close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands not required for public use”.
Some Jewish settlements, such as in Hebron, existed throughout the centuries of Ottoman rule, while settlements such as Neve Ya’acov, north of Jerusalem, the Gush Etzion bloc in Judea and Samaria, the communities north of the Dead Sea and Kfar Darom in the Gaza region, were established under British Mandatory administration prior to the establishment of the State of Israel. To be sure, many Israeli settlements have been established on sites which were home to Jewish communities in previous generations, in an expression of the Jewish people’s deep historic and religious connection with the land.
For more than a thousand years, the only administration which has prohibited Jewish settlement was the Jordanian occupation administration, which during the nineteen years of its rule (1948-1967
) declared the sale of land to Jews a capital offense. The right of Jews to establish homes in these areas, and the legal titles to the land which had been acquired, could not be legally invalidated by the Jordanian or Egyptian occupation which resulted from their armed invasion of Israel in 1948, and such rights and titles remain valid to this day.
International Humanitarian Law in the West Bank and Gaza Strip
International humanitarian law prohibits the forcible transfer of segments of the population of a state to the territory of another state which it has occupied as a result of the resort to armed force. This principle, which is reflected in Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, was drafted immediately following the Second World War. As International Red Cross’ authoritative commentary to the Convention confirms, the principle was intended to protect the local population from displacement, including endangering its separate existence as a race, as occurred with respect to the forced population transfers in Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary before and during the war. This is clearly not the case with regard to the West Bank and Gaza.
The attempt to present Israeli settlements as a violation of this principle is clearly untenable. As Professor Eugene Rostow, former Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs has written: “the Jewish right of settlement in the area is equivalent in every way to the right of the local population to live there” (AJIL, 1990, vol. 84, p.72).
The provisions of the Geneva Convention regarding forced population transfer to occupied sovereign territory cannot be viewed as prohibiting the voluntary return of individuals to the towns and villages from which they, or their ancestors, had been ousted. Nor does it prohibit the movement of individuals to land which was not under the legitimate sovereignty of any state and which is not subject to private ownership. In this regard, Israeli settlements have been established only after an exhaustive investigation process, under the supervision of the Supreme Court of Israel, designed to ensure that no communities are established on private Arab land.
It should be emphasized that the movement of individuals to the territory is entirely voluntary, while the settlements themselves are not intended to displace Arab inhabitants, nor do they do so in practice.
Repeated charges regarding the illegality of Israeli settlements must therefore be regarded as politically motivated, without foundation in international law. Similarly, as Israeli settlements cannot be considered illegal, they cannot constitute a “grave violation” of the Geneva Convention, and hence any claim that they constitute a “war crime” is without any legal basis. Such political charges cannot justify in any way Palestinian acts of terrorism and violence against innocent Israelis.
Politically, the West Bank and Gaza Strip is best regarded as territory over which there are competing claims which should be resolved in peace process negotiations. Israel has valid claims to title in this territory based not only on its historic and religious connection to the land, and its recognized security needs, but also on the fact that the territory was not under the sovereignty of any state and came under Israeli control in a war of self-defense, imposed upon Israel. At the same time, Israel recognizes that the Palestinians also entertain legitimate claims to the area. Indeed, the very fact that the parties have agreed to conduct negotiations on settlements indicated that they envisage a compromise on this issue.
The agreements reached between Israel and the Palestinians contain no prohibition whatsoever on the building or expansion of settlements. On the contrary, it is specifically provided that the issue of settlements is reserved for permanent status negotiations, which are to take place in the concluding stage of the peace talks. Indeed, the parties expressly agreed that the Palestinian Authority has no jurisdiction or control over settlements or Israelis, pending the conclusion of a permanent status agreement.
It has been charged that the prohibition on unilateral steps which alter the “status” of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which is contained in the Interim Agreement and in subsequent agreements between the parties, implies a ban on settlement activity. This position is disingenuous. The building of homes has no effect on the status of the area. The prohibition on unilateral measures was agreed upon in order to ensure that neither side take steps to change the legal status of this territory (such as by annexation or unilateral declaration of statehood), pending the outcome of permanent status negotiations. Were this prohibition to be applied to building, it would lead to the ridiculous interpretation that neither side is permitted to build homes to accommodate for the needs of their respective communities.
It is important to note, that in the spirit of compromise and in an attempt to take constructive confidence building measures in the peace process, successive Israeli governments have expressly recognized the need for territorial compromise in West Bank and Gaza Strip territory and have voluntary adopted a freeze on the building of new settlements. In this regard, the present National Unity Government, under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, has officially declared that it will not build any new settlements, while remaining committed to the basic needs of the existing settlement communities (Government of Israel, Policy Guidelines
, March 2001).
2. The Israeli military says that Palestinians are allowed to walk anywhere other than Shuhada Street. Is it really such an inconvenience to have one street closed to pedestrians?
It is not for the Israeli military to decide whether it is convenient or inconvenient for the Palestinians, yet this attitude of entitlement and legitimacy is the by-product of prolonged foreign occupation of a local population. The Palestinian residents of Hebron are not considered or consulted regarding whether or not the closure of their streets is in their security interest. Rather, the Israeli army makes decisions on their behalf and thus dictates the way Palestinians are allowed to live in their city. Shuhada Street is Hebron’s main street; traveling on it and crossing over it are essential to vibrant life and commerce in the area.
First, Israel is not ‘occupying a foreign city.’ In 1967 Israel came back home to Hebron, where Jews had lived for hundreds and thousands of years prior to the 1929 riots, massacre and expulsion.
Second, it must be noted that Arafat and the PLO (PA) accepted the legitimacy of a Jewish presence in Hebron when he signed and agreed to implementation of the 1997 ‘Hebron Accords’ which transferred some 80% of Hebron to the total control of the PA.
Third, let it be known that until the advent of ‘peace’ Hebron was an open city, the Jews and Arabs were able to access the entire city. That ended in 1997 when the H1 PA controlled area of Hebron was closed to Jews, despite the fact that according to the accords, Hebron was to be an ‘open city.’
Fourth, unfortunately, since the advent of Oslo, Jews must now travel kilometers out of their way in order to reach various destinations, being that many areas are now ‘closed to Jews’ and ‘open to Arabs only.’
The ‘inconvenience’ to Arabs in Hebron is miniscule, as compared to the distances Jews have to travel throughout Israel.
3. Wasn’t Shuhada Street closed as a response to terrorism?
No. Shuhada Street was initially closed to Palestinian shops and vehicular traffic in 1994 after the Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein killed 29 and injured 150 Palestinians when he opened fire in the Ibrahimi Mosque (Tomb of the Patriarchs) during prayers. The army cited fear of Palestinian revenge attacks as its rationale for closing the street. This main artery of the street and the former sight of the market place was reopened to traffic (but not commerce) in 1997 in accordance with the Hebron Protocol. In 2000, Shuhada Street was closed completely to traffic and partially to pedestrians. The street was effectively “sterilized” in 2002 by closing it off to all forms of all Palestinian movement.
How does the closure of Shuhada Street work legally?
It doesn’t. In 2004, Palestinians appealed to the Israeli Supreme Court about restrictions on their movement in H2. In November 2005, the State replied that Shuhada Street is open to all regular traffic, only closed to shops and vehicles, admitting that there were legal problems during the preceding years with the closure of areas all over Hebron without warrants. (Since 2005, the State has produced warrants to impose various restrictions of movement on 21 areas around the city.) In reality, areas marked on State and military maps as open to various forms of traffic and commerce are actually closed. A 2005 ‘Children of Abraham’ video demonstrated that soldiers regularly prevent Palestinians from walking in areas that are indicated as open to traffic, and that some areas without any indications of closure on the maps are actually sealed with barbed wire and concrete blocks. A letter of complaint received a reply from the military in December 2006 stating that the street had been closed by mistake. The next Friday, the street was opened and on that Sunday, Palestinians were allowed to cross but only after being detained for two hours in both directions while international volunteers escorting them were arrested for disturbing the peace. The street was closed de facto by military orders and it was later revealed, via soldiers’ testimonies, that soldiers received orders to prevent people from wanting to be there. In 2007, the Supreme Court discussed the case again but the night before the decision was made the military unsealed the welding on the doors to homes on Shuhada Street and gave the families special permission to come out of their houses. They declared that by oral warrant from a General in the central command, the street is generally closed to Palestinian movement because all business and homes are closed anyways, therefore, there is nothing to see there.
Isn’t the policy of separation necessary to protect Jews from terrorism?
There is a real fear of terrorism which is supported by hundreds of successful and attempted Palestinian attacks on Israeli settlers, soldiers and police officers in Hebron. The separation policy responds to this fear by insisting that it is a necessary measure for protecting the Israeli settlers as long as they are inhabiting the center of the Palestinian city of Hebron. However, this security policy of separation reflects the political reality in the city, and not vice versa. As long as there is a policy that allows for Israeli settlement in Hebron, infringement of Palestinians’ civil and human rights necessarily follows. Our focus is on bringing Palestinian life back to Hebron and we believe that there is no way to ensure a dignified life for Palestinians if the foreign presence in the city remains in control.
1.July 6, 2011: After 7 years of discussions, Supreme Court rejects Arab appeals that a Jewish street in Hebron be opened to Arab traffic http://goo.gl/9OKlA
In the early 2000s the Israeli courts required that the road be reopened to Arab traffic. As a result, during the first-stage, public transportation (Arab taxis) and municipal vehicles) were permitted to travel on the road. Pedestrian traffic was allowed on the entire road.
During this period of time, Israeli women were constantly accosted, physically and verbally, primarily by Arab teenagers and young adults. Arab taxis filled the road, causing constant traffic issues. However the road remained open.
Following the beginning of the second intifada in October, 2000, Arab terrorist forces began constant shooting attacks at the Jewish neighborhoods in Hebron from the hills surrounding the community, hills which were transferred to PA control as part of the Hebron Accords in January, 1997.
Shalhevet Pass was murdered, and others were wounded. The Levi couple from Kiryat Arba was murdered by a homicide bomber who exploded next to them on the road.
Israeli security forces decided that the road must be closed to Arab traffic as a necessary security measure. According to continued examinations of the situation, they maintain this opinion.
It must be said: The 2nd intifada was a declared war by the PA against Israel, Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, and in our case, against Hebron’s Jewish community in particular. Had the war not begun, the street would probably still be open. However, there is a price for war. When shooting began, with the intention of killing and maiming Jews, in an attempt to again force us from our homes, Israel decided not to ‘turn the other cheek,’ leading to mandatory security measures, some of which are still enforced at the present.
Who gets to pray in the Tomb of the Patriarchs and when?
The Tomb of Patriarchs is divided into a Muslim and a Jewish section. On most days, each group is allowed to pray in its designated area, although access to the tomb is difficult for Palestinians, as they must pass several checkpoints before reaching the Ibrahimi Mosque. For ten days a year, each group has access to the entire site while the other group is not allowed to enter.
If the settlement isn’t there, will Jews (and other non-Muslims) be able to access the Cave of the Patriarchs?
For 700 years, non-Muslims were denied access to the Tomb of the Patriarchs. They were only permitted to pray as high as the 7th step of a staircase on the Southern wall of the building. There is a justified fear that if Israel were not in control of the religious site non-Muslims would again be denied access. We believe in freedom of access to holy places all over Israel and Palestine for adherents of all religions. In any future agreement, we would call for the Palestinian Authority to allow open access to the Tomb of the Patriarchs as we would call for Israel to offer open access to holy sites within its borders.
2. Kamal Dweck, formerly deputy mayor of Hebron, declared that Ma’arat HaMachpela, the tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, should it ever again fall under Moslem control, would be accessible only to those of the Islamic faith.
Yesterday I spoke with Mustafa Barghuti, former minister of information for the PA, and asked him who may worship at this holy site. He refused to answer the question. (See: http://goo.gl/mld0
Note that the structure above the authentic caves was built by Herod, King of Judea, 2,000 years ago, which is 600 years prior to the birth of Muhammad.
Also, Jews and Christians must undergo the identical security examinations prior to entrance to the site as to Muslims.
5. Would Jews be allowed to live in Hebron if it were under Palestinian control?
It would be ideal if under some future agreement neither Israel nor the Palestinian Authority would restrict residence in cities or neighborhoods based on ethnicity or religion. The decision about the make-up Palestinian cities in the Palestinian territories would be made by the Palestinian Authority.
- ‘Palestinian president’ Mahmoud Abbas: “We have frankly said, and always will say: If there is anindependent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, we won’t agree to the presence of one Israeli in it,” Abbas told reporters in Ramallah. http://goo.gl/REIv4
- The Palestinian Liberation Organization’s Ambassador to the US Maen Areikat said Wednesday that any future Palestinian state must be free of Jews. Speaking to reporters in the US he said, “After the experience of the last 44 years of military occupation and all the conflict and friction, I think it would be in the best interest of the two people to be separated.”http://goo.gl/YWceb
Clearly the answer to the question is NO. A Jewish presence in Hebron without the presence of an Israeli security force would inevitably lead to results similar to those of 1929.
6. Are the Israeli settlers of Hebron representative of the whole movement?
The Israeli settlers in Hebron are the extreme in the movement in terms of their disregard for Israeli law. The policies that protect and allow the expansion of their settlements are the same as those throughout the entire occupied Palestinian territories.
.Why are there both Israeli police and Israeli soldiers in Hebron?
In the occupied Palestinian territories, there are two systems of law in operation. Israeli martial law is imposed on the Palestinians in the territories because they are under military occupation. The Israeli settlers in the occupied territories are under the jurisdiction of the much more advanced Israeli civil legal system, which applies also to Israeli citizens living in Israel. The Israeli soldiers in Hebron enforce martial law on the Palestinian population and the Israeli police in Hebron are mandated to enforce Israeli law on Israeli citizens in the city. Neither of the two separate legal systems, which are enforced by a single government over two different populations that live in the same physical space, have the interests of Palestinian security or legal stability in mind.
The Israeli Supreme Court is the highest court of appeal for Palestinians, but regards itself as an Israeli court being used by Palestinians rather than the high court for all the residents of Israel and Palestine. Two illustrative examples:
· Stone throwers: An Israeli child throwing stones in Hebron is considered a criminal offense and falls under the Israeli legal system. Children under 12, however, are channelled through social services rather than through the court system. A Palestinian child throwing stones in Hebron is considered a security offense. The police investigates and then the case is tried in military court. Palestinian children are generally held in custody until sentencing, considered a danger to society. Children regardless of age can end up in jail.
· Protesters: Israeli and Palestinian protesters detained at the same demonstration undergo two very different legal proceedings. After arrest, Israelis must be brought before a judge within 24 hours in order to extend the detention. Palestinians arrested for the same offense can be held for eight days before seeing a judge.
7. How many soldiers and police officers are there?
There is a single battalion of 500 soldiers stationed in Hebron. There are about 140 border police, who control the Tomb of Patriarchs, and 30-50 police officers in the city.
For 600 Israeli settlers and 200 Jewish students in the city, why are there so many soldiers in Hebron?
Enforcing security regulations in a dense, urban area in the midst of a hostile population requires significant force. Because of the lawless nature of the inhabitants of the Israeli settlements in the city, these soldiers and police officers are sometimes engaged in protecting Palestinians and Palestinian property from settler violence as well.
Israeli security forces provide multiple services.
a) They offer protection to Hebron’s residents against constant terror threats. (Since the beginning of 2010 thirteen Arabs have been apprehended with knives in the vicinity of Ma’arat HaMachpela, admitting that they intended to kill soldiers or civilians. One Arab attempted to stab an Israeli soldier and was shot and killed.)
b) They offer protection to over half a million people who visit Hebron annually.
c) They offer protection to Israelis throughout Israel. When Israel withdrew from the H1 – PA-controlled area of Hebron, Hebron terrorists planned attacks throughout Israel, killing, maiming and injuring scores of people. See Newsweek: The Jihad Soccer Club: They Were The Best Soccer Club In Hebron- http://goo.gl/tvsB.
B’Tselem, The ebron Rehabilitation Committee, Breaking the Silence, Children of Abraham, The Tel Rumeida Popular Committee, Yesh Din, Association for Civil Rights in Israel, The Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel
are all pro-active pro-Arab organizations, without any attempt at objectivity, impartiality or neutrality. See: http://goo.gl/GGyt
For more information see: Frequently asked questions about the Jewish Community of Hebron – http://goo.gl/d7tR
In conclusion: the original FAQ document prepared, dealing with King David Street and the Jewish presence in Hebron was written by people who obviously reject, not only the Jewish presence in Hebron, but also throughout Judea and Samaria. It stands to reason that many of them also question the legitimacy of the State of Israel and the Jewish presence in Eretz Yisrael. This is obvious, as is written in the following question and answer: Why focus on Hebron? By building a focused campaign around a single issue in a particular locality, we hope to define achievable goals that will set a legal and political precedent for change in other areas of the occupied Palestinian territories as well.
According to most ‘Arab-palestinian leaders’ all of Israel is ‘occupied Palestinian territory.’ (See following pages: ‘Palestinian Tourist Map’ printed by the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. Note the borders of ‘palestine’ – and Tel Aviv.) The conclusions reached are obvious.
This is Hebron: The brown section is Arab. The blue area, jutting into the brown area, is under Israeli security control.