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Settlers take over in Hebron: The Rajabi building becomes a hornets' nest

The recent decision of the Israeli Supreme Court on 11 March 2014, authorising the purchase of the Rajabi building in the H2 area of the city of Hebron to a group of settlers, has been described by some Palestinians as a clear political move, one which explicitly promotes dangerous settlement expansion in the heart of Hebron.

According to an agreement reached in 1997 between the Palestine Liberation Organisation and Israel, Hebron was divided into two parts: H1 and H2. The H1 area, home to around 140,000 Palestinians, was placed under the control of the Palestinian authorities. The H2 area, which is inhabited by around 30,000 Palestinians and contains significant parts of the commercial centre, as well as Israeli settlements, remained under Israeli military control.

The Rajabi building is located just east of the Ibrahimi Mosque, also known as the Cave of the Patriarchs, in the H2 area of Hebron and serves as a strategic connection point between the Jewish settlement blocks. Hebron is a city that is a powder keg, a city at the core of an on-going ideological and emotional conflict, characterised by recurrent bouts of violence.

The city is home to Majdi Al-Ja'bari, who constructed the home of Fayez Al-Rajabi, which settlers occupied in 2007 before it was evacuated at the end of 2008.

According to Al-Ja'abari, who lives only metres away from the Rajabi building, if settlers return to this area of Hebron the neighbourhood will become a living hell to all of its inhabitants, due to the endless attacks by settlers, who have notoriously terrorised Hebron's Palestinian residents in the past. Bassam Al-Ja'abari, who earns his living as a shoemaker and also lives a few meters' distance from the Rajabi building, describes how settlers have attacked neighbouring Palestinian homes with stones and staged demonstrations full of incitement against Arabs, demanding their expulsion from the area.

Al-Ja'abari further explains how even when he was building the neighbouring house, he was forced to suspend the construction due to pressure from the settlers and their mounting presence in the region, which was furthermore compounded by the backing of the occupation army and police. Al-Ja'abari was then informed by The Civil Administration authority to halt the nearby construction on May 28 2012, in spite of his possession of a building license from the municipality of Hebron. The authorities eventually allowed Al-Ja'abari to proceed with the construction, but only after the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha; the decision to allow him to build was in no small part due to the active intervention of many human rights organisations, local and international media, the Palestinian Coordination Office and Bassam Al-Ja'bri's neighbour, who sighs with exasperation: "it is the settlers who are the law in these parts, and not the Israeli army."

As mentioned above, the seizure of the home of Rajabi is part of a settler campaign to link the settlement of Kiryat Arba to Jewish settlements in the heart of the city of Hebron. The Rajabi building will undoubtedly be transformed into a base for organising settler attacks on, and provocations against, Palestinians.

Consequently, Hebron's historic centre will be entirely under the control of the settlers and the Israeli occupation, splintering the Palestinian social fabric of the area into sandwich-like enclaves. Palestinian families, traditionally large and cohesive relations, will become completely separated from one another among the Jewish settlements.

This will also lead to the destruction of the local Palestinian economy, due to the ensuing closure of many shops and markets—an already-alarming trend that has been witnessed by many visitors in recent years. In fact, the Palestinian commercial centre of the H2 neighbourhood has long been rendered into a ghost town, with the ensuing closure of dozens of Palestinian businesses. With the imminent return of the settlers to this controversial piece of Palestinian land, Israel has managed to convert the city of Hebron into a virtual museum of apartheid.

A very basic reading of this scenario does not bode anything but increased suffering for local residents of the neighbourhood and continuing settlement expansion. Furthermore, it indicates that Israel has plans to escalate the situation on the ground through more killings, violence and the other aggressive Israeli policies that constitute Israel's modus operandi in the region.

For the Palestinians, they have nothing else to lose—they will certainly confront the Israeli occupation and will respond with the strongest measures possible. They will unite their factions in popular action and develop a strategy for waging a struggle in the face of the occupation, including peaceful resistance as well as a campaign to expand the international boycott against the government of Israel and its racist policies. Local organisations will be formed to pursue and follow-up on all these actions via a unified national leadership, as in the time of the first intifada.

Herewith, it is important to note that the third intifada was also a Palestinian grassroots response, which was unfortunately sabotaged by violence due to the Palestinian leadership's fragmentation and Israel's policy of escalation—where the goal is to increase bloodshed and prolong the lifespan of the occupation of Palestine.

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

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