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Israel’s plan to build new settlement atop Hebron market evokes painful memories for residents

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A new Israeli settlement will be built in the heart of the flashpoint city of Hebron, in the southern West Bank, joining a long list of notoriously violent settlements in the area.

Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennet, of the ultra nationalist “New Right” party, said on Sunday that a new settlement would be built on top of Hebron’s once bustling fruit and vegetable market, now referred to by locals as a “ghost town.”

According to Bennet, the existing buildings, which belong to the Hebron municipality, will be razed to the ground to make way for new shops and buildings for the settlers.

The new settlement will create a contiguous settlement bloc in the middle of Hebron’s Old City, extending from the Ibrahimi Mosque to the Avraham Avinu settlement, and according to Bennet, will double the Jewish population of the city.

While local settlers celebrated the announcement and thanked Bennet and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the decision, Palestinians in the city say the construction of a settlement on that specific part of the city would be rubbing salt in the wounds of their community.

“This is devastating news for us,” local activist Imad Abu Shamsiyyeh told Mondoweiss.

“The Hebron fruit and vegetable market used to be the bustling center of this city, until the Palestinians were forced out by the Israeli occupation,” he said indignantly, frustrated by the thought of settlers officially taking over the once beloved souq.

Shuhada Street, desolate (Photo: Lori Rudolph)

Shuhada Street, desolate (Photo: Lori Rudolph)

A painful past

The story of the Old Hebron market and its location in the Old City, Shuhada Street, is one that the residents of the city can never forget.

In 1994, following the massacre of 29 Palestinians at the Ibrahimi Mosque by an Israeli-American settler, Israeli forces began shuttering Palestinian shops and forcibly removing residents from their home.

“They said it was for ‘security reasons’,” Abu Shamsiyyeh, who in 48 years old now and was in his 20s at the time, recounts as if it were yesterday. “They [Israelis] were the ones that attacked us [Palestinians], and killed us, yet we were the ones that were forced out of our homes.”

Almost overnight, the city was forever changed. In the years that followed, the situation continued to worsen for Palestinian residents.

For those that remained on Shuhada street, restrictions on movement started to pile on, their shops were welded shut, and year by year, more settlers moved in — sometimes into the abandoned homes, and sometimes by force into homes still occupied by Palestinians.

After years of closures, curfews, and infrequent openings, in 2000, during the Second Intifada, Israeli forces permanently closed off  the street, and the old market, to Palestinians.

To this day, only Israelis and internationals are allowed to walk down the street, past the rusted and crumbling store fronts until they reach the settler outposts of Beit Hadassah, Beit Romano, and Avraham Avinu.

The few Palestinian families who still live on the street must cross through checkpoints and use back entrances and alleyways to get to their homes, all the while navigating past armed soldiers and settlers who often harass them.

Debris thrown by Israeli settlers into a net above the Palestinian market in the old city of Hebron. (Photo: Manfred Schweda/ thisfabtrek.com

‘We are living in a prison’

55-year-old Mufeed al-Sharabati, his wife, and five children are some of the few dozen Palestinians who remain on Shuhada street. They live in a 45-square meter home, which they have been prevented from expanding, which sits adjacent to the Beit Hadassah settlement.

Al-Sharabati used to be surrounded by neighbors and friends that he grew up with, cherishing the early mornings opening up his tobacco and argileh shop, and watching the market come alive.

But the sound of market goers haggling with shopkeepers and the laughter of his neighbors are just a distant memory for al-Sharabti.

Now, he and his family are anxious every time they leave the house, for fear of being attacked by their current neighbor, the notoriously violent settler Ofer Hanna, who has become a household name in Hebron, famous for his relentless harassment of Palestinians in the city.

It’s been more than 20 years since he has opened up his shop, which was welded shut by Israeli forces. “If I try to open it, I can be arrested and fined by the soldiers,” he said.

“We took a huge economic hit after losing my business,” al-Sharabati said, “it was my main source of income.” Now, he relies on a monthly pension from the Palestinian Authority to support his family.

“We are living in a prison,” al-Sharabati said matter of factly. “The only difference between us and people in jail, is that most prisoners will be released eventually. But for us, this is the rest of our life.”

Israeli security forces stand guard prior to the arrival of the Israeli prime minister to attend a state memorial ceremony at the Ibrahimi mosque, in the West Bank city of Hebron on September 04, 2019. (Photo: Mosab Shawer/APA Images)

Israeli security forces stand guard prior to the arrival of the Israeli prime minister to attend a state memorial ceremony at the Ibrahimi mosque, in the West Bank city of Hebron on September 04, 2019. (Photo: Mosab Shawer/APA Images)

US, international community to blame

With all the hardships he and his family have endured over the years, al-Sharabati was not surprised to hear that things in his neighborhood would be getting worse with the construction of the new settlement.

It did not, however, make it any easier.

“My reaction to hearing the news was the same as all the Palestinians living in Hebron,” he told Mondoweiss. “Everyday things are getting worse for us, and no one bats an eye.”

For al-Sharabati and Abu Shamsiyyeh, Bennet’s announcement on Sunday came as a direct result of the US decision earlier this month to no longer recognize settlements as being illegal.

“The American government gave the greenlight to the Israelis to build settlements without consequence,” al-Sharabati said, adding that Hebron is “like a ticking time-bomb.”

Echoing al-Sharabti’s sentiments, Abu Shamsiyyeh anticipates that Hebron will be one of the most affected parts of the West Bank by the Trump administration’s foreign policy changes.

“Israel dreams of controlling the entire area of Hebron, and this announcement is part of their larger plans that they have been working towards for years,” he said.

When asked if they had any hope for the international community to step in and make a difference, both men responded with a resounding no.

“The international community has abandoned us,” Abu Shamsiyyeh said. “They have done nothing to help us fight this occupation. They always speak about democracy and fighting for democracy, but they do nothing to stop the Apartheid system that grows increasingly worse every day.”

Al-Sharabati said he “knows for a fact” that the Americans, and the rest of the world “do not think about or care about how their actions will affect the Palestinians.”

“My message to the American government and president is to come visit Hebron,” he continued.

“Come see what happens, and try to live under the circumstances we live under. If you only felt what we feel, you wouldn’t make such decisions.”

Yumna Patel

Yumna Patel is the Palestine correspondent for Mondoweiss.

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13 Responses

  1. eljay on December 4, 2019, 2:36 pm

    As Zionists continue daily and diligently to demonstrate, supremacists – even Jewish ones – are truly hateful and immoral people.

  2. Rosetta on December 5, 2019, 1:43 am

    While Israel may gloat over the subjugation of the Palestinians and believe that with such acts they grind them into the dust, the reality is that the world sees only a thug and a nation without a shred of grace, integrity, compassion or decency. It is bad enough that Yad Vashem is built on land which belonged to Deir Yassin, the Palestinian village which experienced one of the worst massacres by Zionist forces.

    Israel consistently manages to kick ‘own goals’ in terms of destroying any credibility it might have in world opinion.

    • Talkback on December 5, 2019, 8:32 am

      Rosetta: “It is bad enough that Yad Vashem is built on land which belonged to Deir Yassin, the Palestinian village which experienced one of the worst massacres by Zionist forces.”

      If that’s true I’m surprised. At least for 200ms.

      • Rosetta on December 5, 2019, 4:11 pm

        @Talkback,

        It is not built on the land where the village stood but it is built on land belonging to the village which the Palestinians farmed. All villages had areas of land which belonged to the people of the village. And that would spread some distance around the village itself.

        Yad Vashem is 1.5 miles from where Deir Yassin village stood. It is in clear sight of the Israeli memorial. In truth, I suspect what happened to the Palestinians was irrelevant to the Israeli colonists and they would not have made the connection. They had no interest in the people whose land they had stolen and indeed, had to pretend they did not exist. I am not suggesting the site for Yad Vashem was chosen to inflict greater pain on the Palestinian people because of Deir Yassin. I mean around 500 villages were wiped from the face of the earth by the Israeli colonists although not from British Mandate maps.

  3. Rosetta on December 5, 2019, 2:03 am

    They are not necessarily hateful and immoral people, but they are people so debased through bigotry they are capable of immoral and hateful acts. Condemn the act, not the individual.

    • eljay on December 5, 2019, 7:41 am

      || Rosetta: They are not necessarily hateful and immoral people … ||

      hateful: deserving of or arousing hate
      immoral: conflicting with generally or traditionally held moral principles

      Sure they are. But I agree that supremacists may not consistently be hateful and immoral so perhaps I should have written:

      As Zionists continue daily and diligently to demonstrate, supremacists – even Jewish ones – are truly and hypocritically hateful and immoral people*.

      _________________________________
      (*Which I generally – and perhaps incorrectly (anti-RoHally?) – shorten to “truly hateful and immoral hypocrites”.)

      • Rosetta on December 5, 2019, 4:06 pm

        @eljay,

        I still would have said, ….are people committing truly and hypocritically hateful and immoral acts. We are all capable of evil and good and the best of people do the worst of things, often for the best of reasons. Such is human nature. Just as the worst of people do the best of things etc.

      • eljay on December 7, 2019, 12:42 pm

        || Rosetta: @eljay,

        I still would have said … ||

        And you are welcome to say so.   :-)

        || … We are all capable of evil and good and the best of people do the worst of things, often for the best of reasons. … ||

        The best of people do the worst of things in the worst of situations. IMO there’s nothing “the best of people doing the worst of things, often for the best of reasons” about people who knowingly and hypocritically:
        – advocate, participate in and/or defend the commission against others of acts of injustice and immorality they would not have others do unto them; and
        – oppose the universal and consistent application of justice, accountability and equality.

    • echinococcus on December 6, 2019, 12:01 am

      “Condemn the act, not the individual.”

      We had way less Christian charity when I was young. That’s perhaps why some things used to work better: to get durable results you should condemn the act, hang the perp and then only absolve him, because he would now be harmless.

      • Rosetta on December 6, 2019, 6:43 pm

        Condemning the act, not the individual does not mean society does not take action and punish people for crimes committed. It simply means that compassion for the individual is retained and one is condemning the action and not writing off the individual.

    • Misterioso on December 6, 2019, 9:42 am

      @Rosetta

      With respect, your comment makes no sense whatsoever!!

      • Rosetta on December 6, 2019, 6:45 pm

        What I was trying to say is that when people commit evil acts it is important to retain compassion for the humanity of the individual and one can condemn their actions without demonising them. In other words, everyone has a capacity for good and evil and ‘there but for grace go any of us,’ and that circumstances can have the worst of people doing the best of things and vice-versa.

      • echinococcus on December 7, 2019, 12:31 pm

        Rosetta,

        It’s somewhat hard to hang an “act” instead of the sonovagun — being an individual, as you rightly say, there is no way to hang part of the war criminal.

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