Days away from the Eid holiday Shafooq Baloot, 25, does not know how or when she will do her annual clothes shopping. “We can’t go everywhere whenever we would like,” the English teacher told me. She lives in town of Bani Na’im which is one of many towns across the West Bank that has been under Israeli closure for nearly a week.
The Israeli army shut the main entrance to her town with cement blocks and an earth mound after a teen from her town killed a 13-year old Israeli in a nearby settlement last Thursday.
“Sure the stores have stuff here, but in Hebron it’s cheaper,” said Baloot. She hoped to buy a new wardrobe during the seasonal sales that accompany the Muslim religious month of Ramadan.
Over the weekend Israeli forces barricaded at least 20 more villages in the Hebron area, along with the southern entrance to the city of Hebron itself — a rare move generally reserved for manhunts.
Life under siege is boring for Baloot. In the afternoon she walked to a curtain shop next door to her house. An oversized picture of Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan hung behind the cash register, a gift from one of the Turkish suppliers. “Erdogen is very popular here,” said Baloot, who referenced the aid the country sends to the Gaza Strip.
A few rusty cars drove by, “we want to know if they [the Israeli army] are going to open the village,” said a man circling the edge of Bani Na’im every ten minutes.
It was an odd scene for a village closed by the military, in that no Israeli forces were present. Typically such limitations are enforced by a militarized presence. Yet in this scenario, no soldiers, no army Jeeps, no border police were in sight.
There is a back dirt road where drivers can motor in and out of Bani Na’im, one of many pathways to the dozens of besieged villages still open despite road blocks at their main entry. In Baloot’s case the journey takes an extra ten minutes. But she does not own a car. In any event, most of the taxis and bus lines suspended service. Baloot is marooned inside of her own hometown, she said.
The siege — which stretches over a wide swath of the southern West Bank — was enacted last week after a Palestinian from Bani Na’im, Mohammed Tarayra, 17, entered the home of Hallel Ariel, 13, in the settlement of Kiryat Arba and stabbed her to death as she slept in her bed. The day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the site of the attack. He spoke about the blood he saw in her bedroom, her toys and avowed to cancel work permits for Tarayra’s relatives.
More Israeli restrictions on Palestinian movement are expected in the coming weeks. On Sunday Netanyahu told his security cabinet further “measures that we have not used in the past” were under review for the West Bank.
“This includes cordoning off the entire Hebron district, 700,000 people; revoking work permits from Bani Naim, the village six terrorists have come from; a massive reinforcement of our units, two brigades with emphasis on securing the roads; automatically investigating all family members of murderers and terrorists and their arrest as per their involvement,” Netanyahu said.
Since attacks and protests began in Jerusalem last October, Israeli forces have killed at least 190 Palestinians and Palestinians have killed more than 35 Israelis. Although things have quieted across the West Bank for the most part, tensions remain high in Hebron.
Outside of Hebron in a stretch of highway that runs north-south through the occupied Palestinian territory, flying checkpoints manned by Israeli military and traffic police stop every car. Drivers are ask to present their IDs. License plates and the owners’ names are crossed referenced, along with logging the movements of each individual vehicle.
But in the outlying villages traffic is at a halt. Dozens of pedestrians that would otherwise take buses walk to their homes from the highway.
Inside of Hebron, few cars pass by a usually busy shopping district.
“When any event happens, this area is closed,” said Talal Idees, 55, an owner of street-side fruit stall. He sells locally grown peaches and lemons, and mangos and grapes imported from Israel.
“Today we have no one,” Idees said, “Half of the customers aren’t here. Today is Saturday. We used to have people from the north like Nazareth or Haifa, but today they are not here.”
Ahamd Abu Ummar, 22, was taking a nap in his souvenir shop, the Golden Bazaar. In the morning he received one tour bus of 30 visitors from Turkey. The bulk of his sales are usually from Palestinian tourists who are Israeli citizens. They buy traditional home furnishings and bottles of olive oil that run half the price as those sold inside of Israel.
“Because we work with tourists, anything that happens affects us,” he said. “They cycle is repeating itself: clashes, tensions, then calms and then it all repeats.”
Abu Ummar planned to attend evening prayers at the Ibrahimi Mosque in central Hebron, but the specter of confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli forces kept him away. Over the weekend Israeli soldiers killed a pregnant woman, Sara Daoud Ata Tarayra, 27, near the religious site.
“The ambiance in Hebron during Ramadan is usually very good. There are a lot of activities and celebrations,” said Abu Ummar. “The people are more lovely than in other times of the years—I’m not talking about the security situation—just the people.”