Curfews and closed schools: war suffocates Palestinians in Hebron |  International

Curfews and closed schools: war suffocates Palestinians in Hebron | International

Four young Palestinians kneeling against a wall and tied behind their backs with white ties are observed by an Israeli soldier with a rifle in his hand. There is no shouting, running or altercations. In the orange light of a retreating afternoon, there reigns a ghostly silence and a calm that collapses around a scene that has become a daily anomaly. The old city of Hebron (West Bank), permanently militarily besieged, continues to represent one of the paradigms of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

The situation is described as “apartheid” by Amnesty International and systematically denounced by countless humanitarian organizations. The war that broke out on October 7 only deepened this eternal spiral of hatred, humiliation and restrictions, according to testimonies collected from neighbors. His life was marked by the presence of some 800 Jewish settlers, some very violent, protected by 2,500 soldiers.

On October 7, when Hamas murdered some 1,200 Israelis, the shockwave of war, in the form of a military reaction against Gaza, also shook Hebron. The army decreed a curfew which residents only managed to partially lift two months later by going to court. “The first 18 days, they kept us locked up, without leaving the house. We couldn’t go to the store to buy milk, flour or vegetables… We didn’t even have a gas bottle,” said Yaser Abu Marhia, 52, one of those who filed a complaint with the help of a lawyer.

But Israel, he explains, did not recognize what he calls “collective punishment” – several of those interviewed repeat it this way – and for days it only opened parts of the city for a certain time, at seven in the morning and seven in the afternoon. . “You had to stay away from home for those 12 hours, even if you went out to get something in five minutes,” he complains. Today, as the war enters its fifth month, there are still military checkpoints that remain closed 24 hours a day.

There are four schools where a thousand students attended and which have remained closed since October 7, denounces the official Anan Dana in his office at the headquarters of the Palestinian Ministry of Education, on the wall of which hangs a poster of the Spanish cooperation, directly involved. in the rehabilitation of the old city of Hebron. In other cases, like that of a daycare in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood, only nine of the 40 students arrive because of the blockade. “They use the curfew as they wish on a daily basis. The movement restriction affects teachers from outside, who are the majority. “The education system is collapsing,” he says.

View of the old city of Hebron. Luis de Vega

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On January 16, Haya Tanineh went to the school where she teaches. He left his car as far away as possible, headed towards one of the military points and, a few meters before, he had the idea to take out his cell phone and record a video. “They held me for three hours,” she explains, tired of spending two hours a day getting to work when before the war it took 30 minutes.

In 1997, Hebron was divided into two zones. The majority of a population of around 200,000 lives in zone H1 (85% of the city), whose security depends on the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). The direct victims of most of the restrictions are the 35,000 residents of H2 (15%), where the Old City is located and whose security is in Israel’s hands. His life takes place surrounded by a network of military checkpoints, barriers, barbed wire, concrete blocks, surveillance cameras…

Houses absorbed by Jewish colonies

One of the checkpoints closed to residents during the war is Shfila, overlooking a promontory between zones H1 and H2, onto which the graves of a Jewish cemetery descend. There, Yaser Abu Marhia and his neighbor Sheher Abu Aisha, 64, show the pole on which an Israeli flag flies in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood of H2 to explain where their house is located, almost absorbed by several Jewish settlements. Both observe and give explanations behind a fence and two military checkpoints, Shfila and Tamar, the latter in operation. These are fortresses made of bars and concrete equipped with metal detectors and surveillance cameras. With more than 300,000 Israeli reservists called up for war, some of these controls, Abu Marhia claims, have been left in the hands of radical settlers who now wear uniforms.

These two men have not been able to drive home for two decades, like the rest of the residents of H2, unlike the Jews. Yaser Abu Marhia shows photos on his phone of how soldiers and settlers use his parking lot. “This is how we live,” he emphasizes. As he speaks, a man’s voices are heard behind one of the controls. “I’ve been here for two hours,” he shouts without anyone listening.

Fawaz Abu Aisha, Sheher’s brother and a 40-year-old civil servant, slides the index finger of his right hand over an aerial photograph of the city that serves as a map of the city hall. Its yellow sails from one red dot to another. And he counts down to 25. “These are the military checkpoints around H2,” he concludes. This madness established for more than two decades has worsened in the shadow of the conflict in Gaza. “Since October 7, we have suffered more humiliation, more restrictions and more curfews… The behavior of the soldiers is more aggressive. We live under a settler government,” says Badee Dwaik, a local human rights activist.

Painted with the Star of David

The car must make a detour of around twenty kilometers through the occupied West Bank to enter H2. After passing through the Kyriat Arba settlement, the asphalt passes through several military barriers to the Old City of Hebron. “In Gaza we will win,” reads one of the graffiti next to the Star of David, symbol of Judaism, which appears on the walls of this historic center declared a world heritage site by UNESCO.

Here, some 800 Jewish settlers live isolated and protected by some 2,500 soldiers, according to Badee Dwaik estimates. Israelis can move freely in the area, with or without uniform. Some visitors, also Jewish, come to visit the Tomb of the Patriarchs (Ibrahim Mosque for Muslims), a sacred place for the three monotheistic religions, but controlled by Israel, like the entire old city. EL PAÍS acquiesces after the soldiers ask the journalist what religion he professes and it becomes clear that he is not Muslim.

“I only came to help my sacred nation,” says Yusef, 60, a Jew and former soldier in the USSR Red Army who eventually naturalized in the United States, where he went from for the first time in Israel as a soldier. volunteer. Asked about the tense coexistence generated by the occupation of Hebron, he replied: “In every generation, someone always tries to kill us. The Spanish Inquisition, Hitler, Stalin… They will all fail.

Palestinian children play in the old quarter of Hebron. Luis de Vega

Israel took advantage of the war in Gaza “to carry out its plan of colonization and Judaization, by imposing a curfew on the population of the blocked areas and isolating them”, denounced from the first days of the conflict Emad Hamdan, director of Committee for Rehabilitation. of Hebron (HRC), a Palestinian institution which tries to save the old city in particular.

The residents of H2 live at the expense of “violence, nighttime military raids on their homes, harassment, delays at checkpoints and various forms of degrading treatment. Violent behavior by settlers has also become common,” describes the Israeli humanitarian organization BTselem on its website. Israel uses facial recognition technology to consolidate “apartheid” against the PalestiniansAmnesty International reported last May on something that has been going on for at least two years.

In the surrounding area, children wearing kippahs run with their backpacks on their swords out of school, leaving behind an image of false normality. A few buses and cars come and go on the streets leading to Kyriat Arba. The presence of Muslims, always on foot, is testimony to this. We see them entering and exiting through the metal turnstiles which communicate with zone H1. The stores are closed. At the top, a handful of Palestinian children playing soccer provide an impression of everyday life.

Yaser Abu Marhia regrets the harsh conditions in which they live, but he does not in any case plan to leave Hebron, as some residents end up doing in dribs and drabs who are constantly pushed by Israeli harassment. And he repeats twice the phrase that his 90-year-old mother reminds him of, and that he makes his own: “I’m going to die here.”

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