The Palestinian governor of Hebron on Saturday condemned an Israeli military order that would move to “expand municipal powers of illegal settlers in the city,” Palestinian official media Wafa news agency reported.
According to Palestinian officials, the move breaks the Hebron Protocol, a 1997 treaty signed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
The treaty split up Hebron city into two parts: H1 and H2. The H1 area was to be administered under full Palestinian control, while H2 was to be administered under the Israeli military. However, according to the treaty, civil issues, such as infrastructure, construction and traffic arrangements in the settler’s section of H2 was to be controlled by the Palestinian Authority (PA).
The new military order signed by Israeli Head of the Central Command, Major General Roni Numa, will bilaterally do away with that caveat of the treaty, putting such civil issues under local settler administration, according to Wafa.
Bassam Shweiki, a Palestinian activist and co-chairman of the Hebron Defense Committee, told Mondoweiss that he was not surprised to hear that a military head was able to sign an order breaking the 20-year-old political treaty.
“This order is against everything we’ve made here, it’s against all the agreements, all the treaties and older orders we have worked hard to slowly establish. This new order breaks everything without any kind of formalities or official approval from the Israeli government, and do you know why that is?” Shweiki asked. “It’s because the bodies who are running the government in Israel are not the ministers or the Prime Minister or any elected official, the body running the government is the extreme right and their extremist settlers. That is very very clear.”
Shweiki said the Palestinian community in Hebron plans to take to the streets in demonstrations against the violation of the Hebron Protocol.
“There is very real concern here over this, people are not happy about it, but I can’t say anyone is surprised,” Shweiki added.
Specifically, the new military order establishes a municipal services administration for the Israeli settlers in Hebron. It does so, seemingly not under any body within an existing local or regional authority, but rather under a new body run and composed by Israeli settlers that will have “a certain degree of administrative power,” according to Peace Now, an Israeli watchdog group that condemned the move.
Peace Now added that the military decision de facto grants “official status” to Israeli settlers living in Hebron against international law.
“By granting an official status to the Hebron settlers, the Israeli government is formalizing the apartheid system in the city,” the group said in a statement.
Anat Ben Nun, a Peace Now spokesperson, told Mondoweiss that Peace Now’s legal team had launched an investigation into the order, hoping to obtain a copy of the original, and would be making an announcement with new details in coming days.
According to the group, the military order was signed “immediately following” a court order that removed an Israeli family from what the Israeli court ruled was a Palestinian-owned home, implying that the new order could be some sort of retribution.
The settlers, who had taken up residence in the home for weeks before being forced out by the court order, had been under full protection of the Israeli military during their squat.
Due to the timing, Peace Now called the new military order “another illustration of the policy of compensating the most extreme settlers for their illegal actions.”
Hebron city is the only city-center, not including East Jerusalem, in the occupied West Bank where Palestinians and Israeli settlers live side-by-side.
There are around 30,000 Palestinians and 800 Israeli settlers living in Hebron’s Old City. The 800 settlers are protected by at least twice as many Israeli soldiers stationed in the area.
There are more Israeli checkpoints per square feet in Hebron city than any other Palestinian populated area in the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem or Israel.
Israeli settlers in Hebron are notoriously extreme in their beliefs and actions against the Palestinian population.
Three years before the Hebron Protocol was established, Israeli-American settler Baruch Goldstein carried out a massacre in the Ibrahimi Mosque (known as the Cave of Patriarchs by Israelis), shooting and killing 29 Palestinians in the middle of prayer and injuring 125. Goldstein was beaten to death during the attack and buried in Hebron, where his tombstone still resides, etched with the words “martyr,” “clean hands” and “pure heart.”
More recently, scores of Palestinians during the past two years have attempted to carry out stabbings against Israeli soldiers in the courtyard around the religious site, which is now divided much like the city itself, with one half serving as a mosque and another serving as a Jewish synagogue mostly for the local settler population and Israeli Jewish tourists.