Israel’s encroachment on Hebron is devastating to Palestinians

First published by the Arab Weekly on 11/3/2018

Apart from the economic effects of the occupation of Hebron, the settlers make the lives of Palestinians miserable and often violently attack them.
Worsening toll. Palestinian men walk past closed shops in the West Bank city of Hebron, last December. (AFP)
Worsening toll. Palestinian men walk past closed shops in the West Bank city of Hebron, last December. (AFP)

It has been 24 years since Jewish Israeli terrorist Baruch Goldstein killed 29 Muslim worshipers in Alkhalil Hebron’s Ibrahimi mosque, known to Jews as Cave of the Patriarchs. The attack happened during dawn prayers in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Goldstein was an immigrant from New York to Israel who was active in the extremist Kach political movement in the nearby Israeli settlement of Kiryat Arba and he was known to Israeli intelligence. He was found and beaten to death by a crowd soon after the massacre.

Unlike attacks by Palestinians against Israelis, Israeli authorities did not demolish the home of the perpetrator. Rather, his grave has become a shrine for the Jewish extremists and the inscription on his tomb reads: “He gave his life for the people of Israel, its Torah and land.”

The city has never been the same since.

Following the massacre, the Israeli government enhanced security for settlers across occupied Hebron. In addition, the Ibrahimi mosque was divided, with Muslim access reduced to approximately 40% of the site. The other 60% was allocated to Jewish worshippers, who entered the site from a separate entrance. The Palestinians saw this as a reward for Israeli terrorism.

The security measures, which prevail to this day, saw parts of the city near illegal Israeli settlements closed to Palestinian residents.

Hebron is the largest city in the West Bank, which the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics said is home to more than 200,000 Palestinians and some 800 illegal Jewish settlers, which Israel moved into the old quarter of the city after its occupation in 1967. The settlers are protected by an entire military brigade.

The Hebron Protocol, signed by Binyamin Netanyahu in January 1997, during his first term as Israeli prime minister divided the city into two sections: H1, 80% of the city under full Palestinian control; H2, where four Jewish neighbourhoods are located under full Israeli control but includes 40,000 Palestinian residents.

Since 2015, Israel has declared various parts of the old city “closed military zones,” forcing Palestinian shops to close. Up to 18 military checkpoints have been set up around the entrance to the mosque and to control access to Palestinians and visitors to the old quarter.

The security arrangements bring continuous misery to the Palestinian residents who face daily oppression through the need for permits to enter their homes, restrictions on vehicle movement causing them difficulties in bringing in goods and materials to homes and businesses.

Hebron makes a major contribution to the Palestinian economy, including 40% of its GDP and 40% of its exports, the Palestine Economy Portal stated. Hebron contributes one-third of animal production in the West Bank. However, Israel’s repeated closures and restrictions on economic activity have restricted the city’s potential to lead Palestine’s economic development and is heavily affected by the occupation.

Its centre has been devastated through the forced closure of businesses, including those on the famous Shuhada Street, the main thoroughfare and commercial hub of Hebron (next to which three of the four Jewish neighbourhoods are located). The street, which is closed to Palestinian traffic, looks like a scene from a ghost town.

Apart from the economic effects of the occupation of Hebron, the settlers make the lives of Palestinians miserable and often violently attack them. Children in the centre of the city often need to be accompanied to school to protect them from settler abuse and violence. Rather than the Israeli military protecting the children, they protect the settlers.

Since the Palestinian uprising in 2015, the Israeli military has carried out several extrajudicial killings in Hebron, alleging potential knife attacks by Palestinians. This includes the Elor Azaria’s infamous killing of Abdul Fattah al-Sharif, who was lying on the ground heavily injured. The shooting was captured on camera and outraged Palestinians and their supporters.

Israel’s providing full protection and access to Jewish settlers in the city and designating roads as settler-only have brought accusations that it implements discriminating policies in the city.

The city’s future is likely to see further restrictions on the lives of Palestinians and an embodiment of the settlers, particularly following the naked bias of the US administration in favour of Israel through its recent decisions that culminated in its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Israel is likely to reinforce its grip on the city, making the lives of Palestinians in its centre so miserable that they will move out to escape the terror of the settlers and the military.

Israel may expand the presence of the settlers, helping to take more Palestinian homes and to build new illegal housing units as it did in 2017 following the UNESCO decision to list Hebron’s old city as an endangered Palestinian world heritage site.

The Palestinians face a battle with Israel not only over Jerusalem but also over Hebron.


Bedouins’ endless suffering in Israel

First published by the Arab Weekly on 25/2/2018

How else does one explain replacing Bedouin villages with Jewish-only settlements?

Unabated onslaught. Bedouin children stand on the rubble of two classrooms destroyed by the Israeli Army in the village of Abu Nuwar in the West Bank, on February 4. (AP)

Descendants of the Bedouins who inhabited historic Palestine when Israel was created in 1948 live on either side of the Green Line that defines the internationally recognised border between Israel and a future Palestinian state.

Once nomads, tens of thousands of Bedouins live in villages across the desert region of southern Israel and in the West Bank. Those living in Israel have Israeli citizenship. Those in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have Palestinian Authority passports.

On February 4, Israeli forces closed off an area around a school for Bedouins in the West Bank village of Abu Nuwar and demolished two EU-funded classrooms in the school. A statement from Israel’s coordinator of government activities in the territories said: “The building was built illegally and without the necessary permits. In addition, the enforcement was approved by the Supreme Court.” This was the fifth time the school had been demolished since 2016.

Another area where whole communities are under threat of expulsion is Khan al-Ahmar where 12 communities are at risk. The area east of Jerusalem has about 1,400 residents. The communities are scattered on either side of the Jerusalem-Jericho road and on either side of Route 437, which connects the village of Hizma with the main road.

Importantly, the area is east of the industrial zone of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement, making it strategic for Israel’s expansionist policies and its plans to annex more Palestinian land.

Palestinian Bedouins have suffered severely at the hands of the occupying forces in the West Bank but the situation for Bedouins on the other side of the Green Line, where they settled in villages in the Negev, is no different. They, too, face discrimination and oppression, including property demolition, from the Israeli authorities.

Members of the Bedouin community in the Negev have been under threat of eviction from their villages for years. Their plight was sealed in 2013 when the Prawer-Begin Bill was approved by the Knesset by a 43-40 vote. The Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adalah) called the plan “discriminatory” and said it would end with the mass expulsion of the Arab Bedouin community in the Naqab (Negev) in southern Israel.

It argued that, if fully implemented, “it will result in the destruction of 46 ‘unrecognised’ Arab Bedouin villages, the forced displacement of up to 70,000 Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel and the dispossession of their historical lands in the Naqab.”

Israel claimed the plan would provide the Bedouins with economic development and they would be better integrated into Israeli society.

The Prawer-Begin plan was halted when one of its architects, Benny Begin, announced that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had accepted his recommendation to stop progress on the legislation just before the end of 2013. Significantly, Begin admitted that, contrary to reports, he had never approached the Bedouins with the plan and thus did not have their approval on the matter. One could not imagine the fate of a Jewish Israeli community being decided without its consultation.

Two villages in particular gained prominence in recent years because of Israel’s actions against them. Al-Araqib attracted attention after Israel repeatedly destroyed it. Its inhabitants refused to leave and rebuilt it after each demolition. Last October, it was demolished for the 120th time.

The other village is Umm al-Hiran. Israel wants to expel the whole community from the village and build a settlement for Jews. At a protest against the demolitions in January 2017, Yaakub Abu al-Qian, a 50-year-old teacher, was killed by Israeli police while driving his car. Locals denied police claims that Qian had been shot after ploughing his car into police officers, saying his car accelerated only after he was shot and lost control. An Israeli police officer died in the incident.

It seems that by targeting individual villages for demolition, Israel is continuing its plan on a village-by-village basis. It is also continuing with its plan to populate the Negev with Jewish-only communities, including five new settlements that will be constructed on the sites of the “unrecognised” Bir Hadaj and Katama villages.

Whether as the state in which they have citizenship in the Negev (85,000) or as their illegal occupier in the West Bank (50,000), Israel treats Bedouins with contempt, making arbitrary decisions about them to suit Israel’s colonialist agenda. How else does one explain replacing Bedouin villages with Jewish-only settlements?

Interview on Voice of the Cape radio

23 May 2016

I was interviewed by Voice of the Cape radio about my my article in the Middle East Eye ‘It just ain’t cricket: how Israel transfers Palestinian land to settlers

Here is the link to the interview 

It just ain’t cricket: How Israel ‘transfers’ land from Palestinians to settlers

This was first published by the Middle East Eye on 21 May, 2016

It just ain’t cricket: How Israel ‘transfers’ land from Palestinians to settlers

image from Middle East Eye

The cricket season is in full swing in England and this was possibly playing on my mind when I read this headline in Haaretz “Israel seized Palestinian family’s East Jerusalem land behind Its back, gave it to settler NGO.”

My immediate reaction was this is simply not cricket, a British term used to describe an act that is unfair, not honest or immoral. Israel should know all about this as it has a cricket team and one that is a member of the European Cricket Council. In fact, Israel expropriated the land from the Abu Ta’ah family in East Jerusalem without a tender and against the rules, then handed it over to Amana, an organisation that works to establish settlements and outposts for Jews. A double whammy! Not only was the land taken from the family, it was given to an organisation that exists to take over as much Palestinian land as possible through any means, especially in occupied East Jerusalem, but worse was that – it will use it to establish its headquarters in the heart of Palestinian East Jerusalem.

Amana was formed as an offshoot of the messianic Zionist movement Gush Emunim, and is run by Ze’ev Hever, a convicted terrorist. It has a long and chequered history of fabricating documents to take Palestinian land and property under the pretence that it once belonged to Jews or that it had been bought legally from previous owners. It was formed in 1976 with the goal of “establishing communities” only for Jews in the occupied territories. An investigation into its subsidiary Al-Watan (Arabic name for homeland), a company run by Hever, revealed that 14 out of 15 supposed real estate acquisitions it made were forged. That isn’t cricket.

Elad is another group which works to takeover Palestinian property and land in East Jerusalem and settle it with Jews. It received $115 million in donations between 2006 and 2013 which according to a Haaretz investigation, came mostly from companies registered in global tax shelters like the Bahamas, the Virgin Islands and the Seychelles, and it is unclear who controls them. Another group which benefits from these donations is Ateret Cohanim, an Israeli Jewish organisation which works for the creation of a Jewish majority in the Old City and Arab neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem.

One of its main funders is American Jewish businessman Irving Moskowitz and his wife Cherna Moskowitz. In around 2000, Ateret Cohanim and Elad began to acquire land in Palestinian neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem outside the Old City and particularly around what they call the “City of David” area, which is part of the Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan. Stories abound of Palestinian families in Silwan waking up to find Jewish settlers moving into homes in Silwan protected by Israeli security forces.

The methods used to take over land or property belonging to, or rented for decades by Palestinians are many. One is to claim that Jews owned them prior to the establishment of the state of Israel and that they should revert to the state. The Palestinian families are evicted and the property turned over to settler organisations that would move Jewish settlers into them, despite not being descendants of the supposed original Jewish owners. Appeals to the Israeli courts usually fail to reverse the takeover and the “transfer” stands. Palestinians not only see this as a deliberate policy to replace them with Jews with no connection to the properties but a form of incitement. That isn’t cricket.

Another hotspot and focus for settler takeover of Palestinian homes is the Palestinian city of Alkhalil (Hebron). Ever since the first settlement was created there shortly after the Six Day War, and the planting of settlers in the centre of the city, settler groups and organisations have been working to occupy buildings to gently change the “demographics” in its centre.

An example of this was the takeover by dozens of settlers of parts of a Palestinian property on the sensitive Shuhada street, which they claimed they had bought legally. Protected by the Israeli army, the settlers are known to terrorise the local population of 200,000 inhabitants in order to push as many of them as possible to leave. Israel has also divided the Ibrahimi mosque which it claims as the Cave of the Patriarch against the will of the almost wholly Muslim population of the city. That isn’t cricket.

The practice of enticing Palestinians with substantial amounts of money to sell their properties to settler organisations is well established and where the direct approach fails, attempts to achieve this through devious and backhanded means are well known to Palestinians. This normally involves using Palestinians as front men to a sale to gain trust but in reality the sale was always to settler organisations or individuals. Palestinians deal harshly with those who sell their property to settlers and when found the rogues who facilitate these shady deals are also targeted.

Another means of taking over Palestinian property and transferring it to Jewish settlers is the use of what is called the absentee property law. This framework allows Israel to confiscate Palestinian property where the owners had left or was forced to flee as a result of the establishment of the state of Israel and had not been able to (that is not allowed) to return. Initially, Israel had not applied this to East Jerusalem, but this changed in 2015 when the Supreme Court ruled that it could be applied to East Jerusalem, thus making it “legal” for homes to be taken and essentially handed over to settlers by the state. This is in defiance of international law, which is clear that East Jerusalem is illegally occupied.

Estimates of how much of Israel’s territory is confiscated under the Absentee Law is uncertain. However, the Independent’s Robert Fisk reported that when he interviewed the Israeli Custodian of Absentee Property, he estimated this to be up to 70 percent of the territory of Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

What the above demonstrates is that Israel as a state and those organisations setup to increase the population of Jews living in the occupied Palestinian territories together use a combination of laws, forgeries, deception and outright brute force to take over Palestinian property to increase the presence of Jews especially in East Jerusalem and Hebron. The case of the Abu Ta’ah land in Sheikh Jarrah takes this a step further. The state itself was alleged to have used every trick in the book to complete this transfer which the Palestinians see as blatant fabrication and theft.

As the French work to convene an international peace conference to restart another round of futile talks between Palestinians and Israelis, there will be talk of confidence and trust building measures to create an atmosphere that helps both sides make the “necessary concessions”.  Israel could start with ending its determined effort to replace Palestinians with settlers, suspend the absentee property law and return the Abu Ta’ah land to its rightful owners. That would be cricket.

– Kamel Hawwash is a British/Palestinian engineering professor based at the University of Birmingham and a long-standing campaigner for justice, especially for the Palestinian people. He is Vice Chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and appears regularly in the media as commentator on Middle East issues. He runs a blog at He writes here in a personal capacity.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

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My statement on discovery of bodies of Israelis near Hebron

Saddened to hear of the death of the three missing #Israelis whose bodies were found near Hebron. It is time violence ended and a genuine drive for a just peace started.

Over 1,500 Palestinian children have been killed by Israel since 2000.

Israel regularly abducts Palestinian children, beats them, humiliates them and brings them to military courts in shackles. In 2012 Foreign-Office commissioned report confirmed that Israel treated Palestinian children adults at 16 while Jewish Israelis were legally not considered as adults until 18.

Israel missed the opportunity to show a genuine desire for peace in the recent peace talks, choosing to build illegal settlements instead. I fear that rather than conduct a proper investigation into the deaths, Israel will collectively punish Palestinians. It has done this since the three went missing, arresting hundreds and killing at least five Palestinians. An enlightened Israeli leadership will want to end the conflict and move to end the occupation of Palestine. I fear it will choose violence.

Professor Kamel Hawwash
Vice Chair
Palestine Solidarity Campaign