Curfews and closed schools war suffocates the Palestinians of Hebron

Curfews and closed schools: war suffocates the Palestinians of Hebron | International

Four young Palestinians, kneeling against a wall and tied behind their backs with white cable ties, are watched by an Israeli soldier with a drawn rifle. There is no shouting, no running and no fighting. In the orange light of a receding afternoon, there is an eerie silence and calm that settles around a scene that has become an everyday anomaly. The Old City of Hebron (West Bank), under constant military siege, continues to represent one of the paradigms of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

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

When Hamas murdered around 1,200 Israelis on October 7, the shock wave of the war also shook Hebron in the form of a military response against Gaza. The army imposed a curfew, which residents were only able to partially lift by going to court two months later. “For the first 18 days they kept us locked up without leaving the house. “We couldn't go to the store to get milk, flour or vegetables… We didn't even have a gas cylinder,” said Yaser Abu Marhia, 52, one of those who lodged a complaint with the help of a lawyer.

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

There are four schools that once served a thousand students and that 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 from the Spanish cooperation agency, which is directly involved in the rehabilitation of the Old town of Hebron. In other cases, such as at a daycare center in the Tel Rumeida district, only nine of the 40 students arrive due to the blockade. “They use the curfew every day as they wish. The restriction of movement affects teachers coming from outside, who are in the majority. “The education system is collapsing,” he says.

View of the old town of Hebron. View of the old town of Hebron. Luis de Vega

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On January 16, Haya Tanineh made her way to the school where she teaches. He left his car as far as it was allowed, went to one of the military bases and a few meters before he got the idea to take out his cell phone and record a video. “They kept me for three hours,” she explains, because she was tired of spending two hours a day going to work, whereas before the war it took 30 minutes.

In 1997, Hebron was divided into two zones. The majority of the approximately 200,000 residents live in the H1 area (85% of the city), whose security depends on the Palestinian 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 the hands of Israel. His life takes place surrounded by a network of military checkpoints, barriers, barbed wire, concrete blocks, surveillance cameras…

Houses taken over from Jewish settlements

One of the checkpoints closed to residents during the war is Shfila, overlooking a headland between areas H1 and H2 where the graves of a Jewish cemetery are located. There, in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood, in H2, Yaser Abu Marhia and his neighbor Sheher Abu Aisha, 64, point out the pole from which an Israeli flag flies to explain the location of their house, which is almost surrounded by several Jewish settlements was acquired. Both observe and give explanations from behind a fence and two military checkpoints, Shfila and Tamar, the latter of which is operational. These are fortresses made of bars and concrete, equipped with metal detectors and surveillance cameras. As more than 300,000 Israeli reservists were drafted into the war, Abu Marhia said some of those controls remained in the hands of radical settlers who now wear uniforms.

These two men have not been able to get home by car for two decades, like the other residents of H2, unlike the Jews. Yaser Abu Marhia shows photos on his cell phone of how soldiers and settlers use the land in his parking garage. “This is how we live,” he emphasizes. As he speaks, a man's voices can be 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, runs the index finger of his right hand over an aerial photo of the city that serves as a map in the city hall. Its yolk navigates from one red dot to another. And he counts until he reaches 25. “These are the military checkpoints around H2,” he concludes. This madness, which has been going on for more than two decades, has only intensified in the shadow of the conflict in Gaza. “Since October 7, we have suffered more humiliations, more restrictions and more curfews… The military's behavior is more aggressive. We live under a settler government,” says Badee Dwaik, a local human rights activist.

Painted with the Star of David

To get to H2, the car has to take a detour of about twenty kilometers through the occupied West Bank. After crossing the settlement of Kyriat Arba, the asphalt leads through several military barriers into the old town of Hebron. “In Gaza we will win,” reads one of the graffiti next to the Star of David, a symbol of Judaism, which appears on the walls of this historic center, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

According to Badee Dwaik's estimates, around 800 Jewish settlers live here, penned in and protected by around 2,500 soldiers. Israelis can move freely in the area, with or without uniform. Some visitors, including Jews, visit the Tomb of the Patriarchs (Ibrahim Mosque for Muslims), a holy site for the three monotheistic religions but, like the entire Old City, controlled by Israel. EL PAÍS agrees after the soldiers ask the reporter what religion he follows and it becomes clear that he is not Muslim.

“I just came to help my holy nation,” explains Yusef, 60, a Jew and former soldier in the USSR Red Army who was eventually naturalized in the United States, from where he first came to Israel as a soldier traveled volunteer. When asked about the tense coexistence created by the occupation of Hebron, he replied: “In every generation someone tries to kill us. The Spanish Inquisition, Hitler, Stalin… They will all fail.”

Palestinian children play in the Old City of Hebron.  Palestinian children play in the Old City of Hebron. Luis de Vega

Israel took advantage of the war in Gaza “to implement its settlement and Judaization plan by imposing a curfew and isolating the population of the blockaded areas,” denounced Emad Hamdan, director of the Committee for Rehabilitation, in the first days of the conflict Hebron (HRC), a Palestinian institution that is particularly concerned with protecting the Old City.

The residents of H2 live at the expense of “violence, night military attacks on their homes, harassment, delays at checkpoints and various forms of degrading treatment.” The violent behavior of the settlers has also become routine,” describes the Israeli aid organization BTselem on its website. Israel is using facial recognition technology to reinforce “apartheid” against Palestinians, as Amnesty International denounced last May, which has been in practice for at least two years.

In the area, yarmulke-wearing children walk around with their backpacks on their swords as they leave school, leaving an image of false normality. A few buses and cars come and go on the roads leading to Kyriat Arba. The presence of Muslims who always travel on foot is a testimony. You can see them entering and exiting through the metal turnstiles that communicate with Zone H1. The shops are tightly closed. Above, a handful of Palestinian children playing soccer give an impression of everyday life.

Yaser Abu Marhia regrets the harsh conditions in which they live, but he is in no way thinking of leaving Hebron, as some residents end up doing, driven by Israeli harassment that does not stop. And he repeats twice the sentence that his 90-year-old mother reminds him of and which he makes his own: “I will die here.”

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