Background on Al-Khalil/Hebron (last updated 19/07/2018)
Al-Khalil (Hebron) is a city of about 200,000 Palestinians located in the West Bank, 30km south of Jerusalem. The Old City of al-Khalil is one of the oldest historically populated areas in the region and home to the Ibrahimi mosque, an important religious site for Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. Throughout history, al-Khalil has been home to a small Jewish population that grew as a result of Zionism in the early 1900s and then was evacuated after a massacre by Islamic extremists in 1929 where 67 Jews were killed and several hundred were protected by the Palestinian community.[note]The Temporary International Presence in Hebron[/note]
In the late 1970s, a few Israelis came to al-Khalil under the pretext of spending Passover at a hotel in the holy city and refused to leave. With the support of several Israeli political leaders, the settlers remained; this began the establishment of several illegal Israeli settlements within the Old City of al-Khalil.
Christian Peacemaker Teams – Palestine was invited to al-Khalil in 1995 by the mayor of the local municipality to accompany the Palestinian people living under Israeli occupation. This invitation came a year after Baruch Goldstein carried out a deadly massacre in the Ibrahimi mosque, killing 29 Palestinians who were worshipping during Ramadan and injuring over 100 more. [note]Forced Population Transfer: Badil Resource Center[/note] In response to this violence by an Israeli settler, the Israeli military began to heavily restrict Palestinian movement in al-Khalil, in a display of collective punishment. They imposed a curfew on Palestinians and expropriated a large part of the mosque for use as a synagogue.[note] Ibid[/note] Over the next few years, the military slowly increased restrictions on Palestinians, closing down Palestinian shops, stationing soldiers and later installing fortified checkpoints, banning Palestinian vehicular and then even pedestrian access on several roads in proximity to settlements.
In 1997 Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) signed the Hebron Protocol, as a subsection of the Oslo Accords, in an attempt to create a mechanism to address security arrangements within the city and pull back restrictions, as article 9 states:
“Both sides reiterate their commitment to the unity of the City of Hebron, and their understanding that the division of security responsibility will not divide the city. In this context, and without derogating from the security powers and responsibilities of either side, both sides share the mutual goal that movement of people, goods and vehicles within and in and out of the city will be smooth and normal, without obstacles or barriers.”[note]The Hebron Rehabilitation Committee[/note]
The protocol effectively divided al-Khalil into two sectors which remain today: H1, made up of 80% of the Palestinian population, is supposedly under complete Palestinian Authority control; and H2, encompassing about 40,000 Palestinians and approximately 600 Israeli settlers in 5 illegal settlements[note]Israeli Settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory: UN Office of the High Commissioner[/note] within the historical Old City is under Israeli military control.
Following the signing of the Hebron protocol (1997) and the Second Intifada (2000-2005), restrictions on Palestinians only increased, including the complete closure of Shuhada Street to Palestinian vehicular and foot traffic by the Israeli military, effectively creating a “ghost town” by welding shut hundreds of shops and houses.
Today, al-Khalil is a microcosm of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and a source of much tension as it is the only city in Palestine where Israeli settlements, illegal under international law, are found within the city itself. Palestinians in al-Khalil face ever-increasing obstacles and blockades and are subject to arbitrary searches, detention and arrest. The Palestinian population has steadily decreased in H2 since the division of the city because of the violence and human rights violations that Palestinians experience daily by the Israeli forces and settlers.[note]The Hebron Rehabilitation Committee[/note] This phenomenon is also known as “forcible transfer” and is considered a crime against humanity as the Israeli policies and practices of segregation, denial of property use, and permit regime constitute a systematic attack against a civilian population.[note]Forced Population Transfer: Badil Resource Center[/note]
As seen in the OCHA map, as of February 2018 Palestinians face 111 physical obstacles in H2, with 20 permanent checkpoints as well as arbitrary body searches, bag searches, and ID checks from military patrols throughout the neighbourhoods.
This systematic and structural oppression of the Palestinian people by Israel is in direct violation of the Hebron Protocol as cited above and at least five basic rights outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
Article 3: Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
Article 5: No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Article 9: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.
Article 13: Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State.
Article 17: Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of [their] property.
There are six illegal settlements in the H2 area of al-Khalil, five of which are in the city center:
- Beit Hadassah: Established as a settlement in 1979. It is comprised of several buildings located along Shuhada Street, including a Jewish museum.
- Beit Romano: This settlement was established in 1983 and contains a Yeshiva (a Jewish religious) school. The Yeshiva school was built on-top of a Palestinian boys’ school, causing the closure of the Palestinian school. The Yeshiva and Beit Romano are situated within an Israeli military base, which was the central Palestinian bus station before the early 2000s.
- Tel Rumeida: Located on an archaeological site and within a Palestinian neighborhood, the settlement was established in 1984 on a hilltop that overlooks the Old City. The area was declared a closed military zone in November 2015; all Palestinians residing in this neighborhood are forced to register with the Israeli military and pass through fortified checkpoints when entering and leaving their neighbourhood. Palestinians not registered as residents are not allowed to enter. This restriction was removed in July 2018 after peaceful protests and sit-ins by the Palestinian community.
- Avraham Avinu: This is the largest settlement within the Old City and was established in the early 1980s with the support of the Israeli government. The illegal settlers consider it Jewish property as it is built in the old Jewish quarter of al-Khalil, and have now begun to occupy parts of the adjacent marketplace that was restricted from Palestinian access in 1994.
- Al-Rajabi building: Located between Kiryat Arba and the Old City, settlers moved into this Palestinian building in 2014. It is unknown how many settlers reside in this building. It also houses Israeli forces.
- Kiryat Arba: Located on the outskirts of al-Khalil, this illegal settlement was founded in 1968 and has approximately 7000 settlers[note]Israeli Settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory: UN Office of the High Commissioner[/note] residing there.
In addition to these settlements, the Za’atari building was illegally occupied by settlers on 26 March 2018. A new checkpoint has been created outside the building and Palestinian access to the street has been significantly restricted.
The close proximity of illegal Israeli settlements to Palestinian neighborhoods means settler attacks are common. Settlers commit verbal, physical and violent attacks against Palestinians.
Settlements in al-Khalil are home to radical fundamentalists who promote anti-Palestinian ideologies – these circumstances contribute substantially to the high level of settler-violence in the city.