While the international media's spotlight is focussed elsewhere, Israel’s relentless campaign to drive away Arab inhabitants of the Old Town of Hebron has gone unnoticed.
It is ethnic cleansing in its most insidious form, says Hebron Mayor Mustafa Abd al-Nabi Natshe, describing the exodus of Palestinians from Hebron’s Old Town.
In 1996, when Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) signed the so-called Hebron Protocol, as many as 35,000 Palestinians lived in the Old Town, mainly near the Ibrahimi Mosque.
Now, eight years later, it is believed thousands of Arab inhabitants have left their homes, fleeing what Natshe calls an “institutionalised persecution” aimed at emptying the town of Arabs.
Last week, the outgoing head of the International Presence in Hebron (TIPH), Jan Kristensen, castigated Israel for “effecting ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians in Hebron.
"Israel is carrying out a silent, undeclared transfer of Palestinians in Hebron. This is a crime against humanity, which the world knows very little about. We appeal to freedom and peace lovers around the world to help us stop this crime before it is too late”
Head of the Old Town’s
“The activities of the settlers and the army in the Old Town of Hebron are causing an ethnic cleansing. If the situation continues for a few years, the result will be that no Palestinians will remain there. It is a miracle they have managed to remain there until now.”
A former lieutenant colonel in the Norwegian army, Kristensen accused the Israeli occupation army and Jewish settlers in Hebron of following a concerted policy aimed at “emptying Hebron of Arabs”.
He argued that both settlers and army were playing complementary roles.
“The settlers’ activities, which are aimed at forcing the Palestinians to leave, and the army’s activities, which impose severe restrictions on them, create an irreversible reality. Anyone whose economic situation permits, leaves.
“There are roadblocks in the area all the time. Once, there were more than a hundred days of continuous curfews, with only brief interruptions. The markets are closed, the roads are closed, and if you’re a Palestinian who doesn’t appear on the lists, you can’t enter.
"The settlers go out almost every night and attack those who live near them. They break windows, cause damage and effectively force the Palestinians to leave the area.”
It is not clear how many of the Old Town’s inhabitants have actually left.
Bassam Dwaik lives in the Old Town, not far from the Ibrahimi Mosque. He estimates that up to 30% of the 35,000 Palestinians who lived in the Old town before the outbreak of the Intifada have already left.
Hebron Mayor Abd al-Nabi says
Israel is carrying out an ethnic
cleansing in its most insidious form
Dwaik, an Arabic-Hebrew translator, believes that Israel’s undeclared goal is to get the bulk of the Arabs to leave the Old Town “by hook or by crook”.
“They want the Old Town to be pure of goyem (non-Jews), but since 99% of the inhabitants are Arabs, not Jews, the Israeli army and settlers have been making every conceivable effort to make our daily life unbearable pushing us to leave.”
Dwaik cites several tactics used by the Israeli army to achieve this goal, including open-ended curfews, routine harassments
of Palestinians, closure of roads, various forms of humiliation and encouraging gangsters and other underworld activities.
Crime against humanity
Khalid Qawasma is the Head of the Old Town’s Reconstruction Committee. He told Aljazeera.net that ethnic cleansing of Arabs was Israel’s undeclared strategy in Hebron.
“Israel is carrying out a silent, undeclared transfer of Palestinians in Hebron. This is a crime against humanity, which the world knows very little about. We appeal to freedom and peace lovers around the world to help us stop this crime before it is too late.”
Qawasma accused the Israeli army of “conniving and conspiring with the settlers” for the purpose of “making the daily life of Palestinians a perpetual nightmare.”
He cited the example of Abu Samir Sharabati, whose house, which is located near the settler enclave in the Old town, was burnt down by the settlers two years ago in full view of the Israeli army and border police.
TIPH chief Jan Kristensen says
Israeli army and settlers work in
tandem to drive Palestinians out
“The police came to Sharabati to tell him that the settlers were going to burn down his home that evening. When Sharabati asked them why they wouldn't protect his home and family from settler terror, the policemen told him that the law didn’t authorise them to deal with the settlers.”
Qawasma says the occupation army’s policy of “encouraging” Arabs to leave is beyond the faintest doubt.
Qawasma, son of the late PLO leader Fahd Qawasma, said Palestinians in the Old Town have become “prisoners in their own homes.”
“Imagine you have to have a permit to leave your home or return to it in the afternoon.”
“The activities of the settlers and the army in the Old Town of Hebron are causing an ethnic cleansing. If the situation continues for a few years, no Palestinians will remain there"
Head of the International Presence in Hebron (TIPH)
The army persecution does not stop there. “If you live in the old town and try to move furniture into your home, they (the soldiers) won’t allow the car to proceed on the ground that the home is a closed security zone. However, if you tell them you want to move from the area and need to transfer your furniture and belongings, they will happily allow you to do it.”
An Israeli army spokesman in Hebron admitted, “IDF activities in Hebron were causing harm to the civilian population.”
However, he argued, “the terror groups in Hebron obliged the IDF to act vigorously against terrorism in the city.”
However, when asked how he could justify locking down 36,000 civilians in their homes for a hundred days, the spokesman uttered one word: “security.”