When Israeli soldiers prevented Palestinian dinner guests from crossing a checkpoint that separates downtown Hebron from the rest of the West Bank city on Monday, the group placed their home-cooked dishes on the pavement and held the iftar at the checkpoint.
Badia Dwaik, the Palestinian coordinator of Human Rights Defenders, was invited to the home of Mufeed Sharabati (Read more about Sharabati in OCHA’s “50 stories of Palestinian life under occupation”) for the first meal after sundown during the Ramadan month. In typical iftar fashion, Dwaik packed up a feast, along with several others with the Hebron-based group Dismantle the Ghetto. Included in their tupperware was a large maqloube–a Palestinian meal of rice, vegetables, and chicken that is flipped upside down from a cooking pot when it’s ready to serve. Maqloube literally means “upside down” in Arabic.
Yet the iftar dinner among friends grew complicated when Dwaik and the others were denied entry through a Hebron checkpoint, Checkpoint 56, which divides the city in two.
The maqloube, an oversized jug of yogurt, and a couple of bottles of soda also were denied passage through the army crossing.
Since 1997 Israel has controlled an inner corridor of Hebron. It is the only Palestinian urban area in the West Bank under the full control of the Israeli Defense Forces, a hangover from when Israeli troops administered Palestinian cities before the Oslo Peace Accords were signed in the early 1990s.
In the late 1990s when Hebron was effectively split in half, H1, the area outside of Checkpoint 56 was moved under Palestinian jurisdiction, and H2, a downtown strip, remained under the control of the Israeli military.
Around 500 Israeli settlers reside inside of H2, and so do 35,000 Palestinians who are required to follow more stringent regulations than their friends and relatives with homes in the adjacent H1.
In November 2015 Palestinians living in H2 experienced a dramatic shift for the worse. Amid an uptick of tensions, the Israeli military imposed a closed military zone over the Tel Rumeida area, where dinner host Sharabati has a home. The order changed the dynamics inside of H2. Palestinians living there had to register for a new system of ID numbers that verifies residency inside of the quarter the Israeli military rules. Palestinians without this ID number are banned from entry. In practical terms, this means that Sharabati generally cannot receive visitors to his home, particularly if they are not his neighbors.
As a result of the 2015 closure, Hebron’s Old City, which was already often dubbed a “ghost town,” became barer.
In early 2016 the military order over H2 expired, a move that was initially regarded as positive among Palestinians and advocates. Yet as a Dwaik and his friends discovered this week, soldiers are still enforcing a closure despite no official policy in place.
Dwaik filmed Monday’s iftar dinner at the checkpoint. In the video, a Palestinian man remarks, “it’s not dangerous for them [the Israeli soldiers] to let the maqloube inside of Shuhada Street,” referencing a one-time bustleing boulevard just beyond the turn stop and a gate.
The feast starts up on the pavement, in front of the checkpoint’s metal bars and a small prefabricated building where soldiers inspect IDs and search personal belongings.
In a statement prepared by Dwaik, he described the scene of the Ramadan dinner at the military crossing,
“We have a checkpoint we have to cross and we can not.
Israel has talked a lot about reducing restrictions during Ramadan. Most relevant to their announcement is the one where 700 additional permits for visiting West Bank. It is a ridiculous low number itself and become even more of a joke since the Palestinians living in Al-Khalil is denied freedom of movement.
Reality is, we can’t even break Iftar together if we decide to be humans instead of numbers.
Since Dismantle the Ghetto members can not enter, they have no choice but to break their fast at the checkpoint. With blankets on the ground, they start to serve each other Maqlobe, the most famous Palestinian dish.”
“Shuhada Street is an example of ethnic cleansing and is nothing more than an apartheid museum,” Dwaik added just as the dinner had started, without their would-be host, Mufeed Sharabati.