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While You Were Gone
by Saima Alvi
26 July 2003 10:08 UTC
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KenRichard2002@aol.com wrote:

From: KenRichard2002@aol.com
Date: Fri, 25 Jul 2003 02:16:33 EDT
Subject: Account of recent events in Hebron
To: Saima_alvi2004@yahoo.co.uk

Jerry Levin
Christian Peacemaker Teams
Hebron, West Bank
Phone: 011 972 2 222 8485
Cell PhoneL: 011 972 67 429 873

From The Inside Looking Out: Report-23
"While You Were Gone."

(Hebron, West Bank, Palestine, July 5, 2002) Every time my wife and I leave Palestine and Israel and head for home--when our visas are about to run out--we hope that things won't get worse here while we are back in the States; but sadly we know they will.

And, sure enough, they do.

Similarly, when we come back from the U. S. after traveling to
cities and towns talking and writing about the seriously
deteriorating security situation in Palestine, we hope that things won't get worse once we get back to the territories; but sadly we know they will.

And they do.

Trying to characterize what happened here this past winter and
spring, a Palestinian friend said, "While you were gone, this was a time of sadness."

We were surprised that she could term the situation in such a
relatively mild fashion. That's because despite "roadmap" calls for ending provocative settlement and other confiscatory activities in the West Bank, which might--just might--discourage violent extreme Palestinian reprisals, there have been a glut of discouraging events. They indicate that what has actually been happening is the acceleration of an Israeli nonstop decades long coercive campaign to convince Arab residents--Muslim and Christian--that Palestine is no
longer a safe or welcome place for them to live.

From afar, we knew that while we were gone, Palestinian patience, as always, had been sorely tried. Now in just one tiny but typical portion of the West Bank--Hebron's Old City--I was experiencing once again first hand the many manifestations of this colossal truth.

I will explain a little later why I was not surprised to learn that
since we left Palestine last January, the Israeli Army had extended its control over H2 by appropriating a piece of H1. The not so surprising absorbtion quickly stifled a once vital H1 commercial neighborhood of hard-pressed Palestinian small shop proprietors and street venders, whose businesses had the misfortune of lying just a few hundred yards up from the de jure dividing line between the two zones.

H2, the area of Hebron consigned to Israel after Oslo II, includes an enclave of small Orthodox Jewish settlements whose militant residents, backed by the Israeli Army have over the years been stunningly successful at stifling and closing down most Palestinian business inside the Old City, as well as spooking more than half the population into moving away. H1 is the area of Hebron granted by Oslo II to the Palestinian National Authority but which was totally reoccupied by Israel last summer.

The perimeter of the extended H2 engulfs the now almost dead but once boisterous, lively, exhilarating major Hebron marketplace known as Bab iZaweyya. Before the Israeli Army blocked access to Bab iZaweyya by setting down huge cement block barricades in the streets feeding into it, the market was characterized by tightly packed throngs of chattering but slow moving shoppers on foot, who overflowed into the even more crowded streets.

Already stuffed full of gridlocked taxis, jitneys, and private cars, the streets were also lined with long rows of traffic lane consuming produce and small goods stands, not to mention those spill-over pedestrians. The drivers, as a result of those animate and inanimate interlopers in the street, were most notable for their collective impatient contribution to an already considerable din, because of their reflexive efforts to honk, yell, holler, or scream their way through the throttled intersection at the heart of Bab iZaweyya.

Not that anyone was surprised by this latest land grab. The Israeli Army had been telegraphing its intentions fiercely and meanly for several weeks late last year. During the busiest part of the day, tanks would suddenly come tearing into the intersection crushing or upsetting the portable stands, scattering goods and shoppers as they went. They would knock over and chase off not just those in the streets, but the ones on sidewalks too. At other times squads of Israeli soldiers would come dashing into the area, arbitrarily declaring curfew, gruffly shouting at shoppers to leave, and ordering all business to shut down.

The disruptions went on for several weeks. Then one morning, shortly after the first of the year, the by then expected barricades suddenly appeared. Now, except for a few stands still operating on the sidewalks, the area is relatively subdued, very calm, and much quieter than before. The only traffic through it is people mostly on their way to somewhere else. Businesses and the consumer traffic they attract are moving uptown further and further away from H2 and its hand full of demanding tail wagging the dog settlers.

The two or three blocks lining the street between the former
boundary of the two zones marked by the Beit Romano checkpoint at one end and Bab iZaweyya at the other are distinguished by a dwindling number of shops that are still staying open. Of the approximately one hundred I counted last week, sixty were closed. Only forty were open. Six months ago it was the other way around. As hard hit as that stretch of street has been, the shops lining the principal market street inside H2's the Old City as always have suffered far worse.

That's because the further away from the Old City consumer traffic is inclined to move--because of Israeli Army harassment and closures--the more its proprietors can be expected to throw in the towel and close down. As proof of this contention, of the approximately one hundred shops lining the streets between the CPT apartment in the Old City and the Beit Romano checkpoint, only ten are operating these days. Six months ago three times that number were still open for business.

"Why do I stay open?" one shop keeper friend reflected
rhetorically. "What else is there to do?" he finally answered.

But then to me he declared, "I will not leave."

Meanwhile, at the other end of the Old City in the very center of H2, the Border Police have severely restricted foot traffic through the special security zone surrounding the Ibrahimi Mosque. Now Palestinians who need to pass through the western half of the zone to the eastern half can't. That's because to do that they must cross Shuhada Street, which bisects it.

Those tightened access rules apply for the first time to CPT too. Not only that, we are subject to more frequent ID checks than ever before, even by soldiers and Border Police who know us by sight. Also, in the past our CPT identification cards would suffice to answer such challenges. Now only our passports will do.

Of course, a major stretch of Shuhada Street had long been closed to Palestinians. That's the part that runs downhill from Tel Rumeida, the amall Israeli settlement at the western edge of H2, eastward to the special security zone, a few yards from the Ibrahimi Mosque. Now the rest of Shuhada street, the part running northward from the mosque through the rest of the special security zone, has been ruled off limits to all of us too. So what should be an easy fine minute walk across the zone is instead a frustrating thirty or so minute steep detour around the Mosque. Or if one doesn't want to walk, getting from one side of the zone to the other will require a twenty minute cab ride clear around Hebron.

"The cost can add up," I mentioned to a Palestinian acquaintance. "We don't count the cost," she said. "We count the time."

Another friend mentioned off handedly, "If we apply, we can get a permit to walk through."

"Has anyone got one yet?"

"No, one will even try," he said proudly and passionately. "What Palestinian man or woman would ever ask for a permit to walk on their street to their home?"

This is the twenty third in a series of micro-reports, commentaries, and or analyses that I will be sending routinely from the Occupied Territories. If the information or ideas seems helpful, please feel free to forward them to others. It would be a privilege to add their names to this mailing list, if so requested to me at: jlevin0320@yahoo.com. As always I will be grateful for feedbackóJerry Levin.

To receive CPT Hebron's weekly reports, news alerts and other
messages concerning its violence reduction activities, send your request to be added to its E-mail list to cptheb@palnet.com.

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