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Translation: But Do Jews Drive Out Arabs?

Translation: But Do Jews Drive Out Arabs?

[Messages from Hebron are a dime a dozen. I get quite a few from both sides of the political divide. Generally speaking they tend to be monotonous. Often they get deleted before they can be read. But when the word was put out for a volunteer to translate this item on the Kibush (Occupation) website I put my hand up.

It was a good decision. This is a very important, if disturbing item. Obviously others on the same tour felt just as moved as you can tell by reading Days of Awe: Hebron 5766 in Haaretz by Professor Aharon Shai, a former Mapainik [Mapai is the historical ancestor of the Israeli Labour Party] and a veteran of the Nahal paratrooper brigade. My understanding is that Professor Raphael Falk is a well-known Israeli geneticist. But you should read his account for what he saw –not who he is.

The heading is a pun on the settlers slogan in Gaza: Jews do not drive out Jews.”

As usual my translator’s comments are in square brackets.

Gmar Khatima Tova to those of you who will be fasting on the occasion of Yom Kippur that starts tonight. –Sol Salbe]

But Do Jews Drive Out Arabs?

Raphael Falk

Hebrew original:

Last weekend I participated in a group tour of Hebron. The tour was organised by Israeli youths banded together under the name of B’nai Avraham [Children of Abraham] in conjunction with “Shovrim Shtika”-- [Breaking the silence – officers and soldiers who have decided to tell their stories of what really goes on in the Occupied Territories]. I believe that we must observe the situation in the Territories first hand in order to appreciate and comprehend it. So I had previously participated in tours organised by “Leftist” organisations

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I returned from the Hebron tour unable to believe what I had seen with my own eyes: a brutal and systematic ethnic cleansing of the Arab residents is being carried out there. This is taking place in the area under Israeli –sorry, settler -- control under the patronage of Israel’s government and its army, all in the name of a blatant racist-nationalist messianic religious fanaticism.

Amos, Assaf, Hillel and Yehuda took us though Kiryat Arba [the major Israeli settlement near the town] and the grave of the “saintly Baruch Goldstein” [who murdered 29 innocent Muslim worshippers]. We passed through Worshipper's Way leading to the Cave of Patriarchs to the area under Israeli control (Area H2 – one of Binyamin Netanyahu’s few lasting legacies).

First impression: abandoned houses and lanes either bricked up or blocked with welded metal hoardings. Closed circuit TV cameras are on every pole, observing every movement. At the Cave of the Patriarchs we were greeted by the police who suggested that for our own safety we should not enter the Jewish residential district. From this moment on we were escorted by a soldier and a policeman. The soldier with his weapon drawn placed himself between us and the Jewish houses whenever we got too close to them, to prevent any contact between us and the settlers.

We therefore wandered around the ghost town that used to be the Hebron Kasbah at the edges of the Jewish settlement, the formerly busy souk of Shuhada Street. Most shops were shut and their doors welded down. In some sites such as the former Camel Market -- now being used as congregation areas for the settlers -- the buildings have been reduced to rubble. Their system is simple: Jewish youth under the age of legal responsibility enter the shop buildings and start destroying them from the inside, stall after stall till the entire complex has been taken over. A small number of the buildings have been turned into a youth club or a nature corner, as an intermediate step in the process of taking over what used to be a hectic oriental market.

Every pathway between the area occupied by the settlers and the souk is shut and blocked with barbed wire or more often welded metal hoardings. (We were told that some of these obstructions are designed to protect the few Palestinians who remain in their houses from being harassed by the settlers.) The residents have to use improvised backyard entrances away from the street. Soldiers with their weapons drawn stand on every corner and at every intersection. The whole area has been declared “sterile” – no Arab is allowed to enter. They cannot even cross the road on the way home from work. A roundabout trip of several kilometres, circumnavigating the settlers’homes, is needed just to get home, which is literally a stone’s throw away. Schoolgirls who have to traverse about a hundred metres around the fringe of the sterile area to get to the border crossing the Palestinian area (H1) need to be escorted daily by international volunteers or the youngsters of B’nai Avraham lest they be harassed by the residents of Beit Hadassah and their neighbours.

The only residents that we were able to exchange a few words with were therefore Palestinian. Near Beit Romano (which has been expanded into an impressive, fortified, huge building), at the entrance to the Shlalot area, we were able to discern some Palestinian activity. Several residents gathered around us and we all got involved in a vigorous discussion. The police jeep crew and the military escort that initially separated us from the settlers were soon sucked into the vortex. They too were invited to visit the home of a Palestinian family situated in the shadow of the Tel – Romeida settlement. You enter the house through an improvised gravel path, since the main entrance is under the control of those who lord it over the Tel. The house is surrounded by a garden and, as you often find in Arab houses, a row of vine bushes along the path forms a cool shaded shelter. Alas, some unknown villain had chopped down many of the ancient vine bushes.

Our guides managed to talk the authorities into letting us enter Tel-Romeida. In other words we were allowed to walk about 100-200 metres down an alleyway bounded on one side by a row of caravans and a new large building that was only opened last Passover. That building’s construction received the imprimatur of the then Defence Minister [and current Labour Party leadership contender] Binyamin (Fuad) Ben-Eliezer. By the way the building was made “Kosher” in another way as well. Being built on an archaeological site, it was put up “on stilts” in order to provide a (dubious) solution to the ban on building on such a site. At the end of the alleyway is another Palestinian house that Israelis have taken over. The alleyway was bounded on the other side by an army encampment assigned to ensure the safety and security of the lawbreakers.

Having passed through the Jewish cemetery, the tour ended at the top of the hill, where there was a house which has been requisitioned the army. On the top floor were military lookouts that could observe the entire Palestinian city. (Incidentally, the town has grown immensely even including multi-storey buildings – it is far more developed than I recall from thirty years ago.) The lookouts can shoot back at the “source of the firing”whenever a shot emanates from the Palestinian side.

We had a bonus experience as we departed via Kiryat Arba. The guard at the entrance to the town demanded that the passengers on the “Leftist bus” produce their IDs. Our guide’s line of reasoning, that the guard had no authority to demand such an ID, fell on death ears. It was only twenty minutes later when the Hebron police were summoned to the scene that we were allowed to proceed to Jerusalem together with our police jeep escort.

In Hebron itself, in the area known as H2, there are about 500 Israelis. Previously there were about 30,000 Palestinians living there. The best available estimate is that about a half (40-50 per cent) have already left. The settlers are making the life of those remaining utterly miserable with aggressive brutality. (The Yeshiva students, who apparently do not take part in the “disturbances” are an exception.) For this they take advantage of every occasion, happy or sad: weddings and funerals, Jewish holidays and fast days and naturally whenever Palestinians anywhere carry out an attack. Everything gets done under the watchful eye of the Israeli authorities who bankroll the invasive construction on one hand and protect those who directly or indirectly through harassment drive Palestinians from their homes. There are checkpoints at every turn, repeated ID checks and frequent curfews extending for days. The police seem to treat settlers’ violence lightly (more than 75 per cent of cases are closed and not proceeded with.) Then there is the refusal to grant building permits, and most importantly the closure of the commercial parts of the Kasbah. These are some of the tell-tell signs of the kind of governance that takes place in our name.

It’s not difficult to see that these measures have had some success: there is a territorial continuity from Kiryat Arba to the Cave of the Patriarchs and from there to the Jewish streets and the “sterile area” that surrounds them. They all form a wedge inside Palestinian Hebron. This is a fact that simply can’t be ignored.

It must be emphasised that all this is done with the systematic assistance of Israel’s “Civil Administration” which refrains from enforcing the state’s laws or participates in their avoidance. This is in sharp contrast to the value system of a state that respects human beings as they are. It’s not difficult to see that we ourselves have created this abscess that is destroying any attempt to reach accommodation with the Palestinians. The Hebron mirror, distorted as it is, still reflects the face of a diseased Israeli society.

We learnt in history about Cato the Elder, who incorporated the words “Carthage must be destroyed!” into the end of every speech he gave to the Roman Senate, no matter what the subject under discussion was. It seems to me that the time has come to stand up everywhere, but particularly in the Knesset, and end every discussion with the words: “Hebron must be evacuated!”

[The independent Middle East News Service concentrates on providing alternative information chiefly from Israeli sources. It is sponsored by the Australian Jewish Democratic Society. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the AJDS. These are expressed in its own statements]

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