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The Siege on Hebron

As the lockdown on Hebron enters its tenth day, the atmosphere in the city is tense and restless, with people living under a state of erratic checkpoints and military closure for the past week. On the streets of the city, there is only talk of what will happen if the three missing Israeli settlers are not found, or the mystery around their disappearance is not resolved. Every day since their disappearance Israel has imposed ever-increasing restrictions on the West Bank, but residents of Hebron, near the original location of the teens’ disappearance, are feeling the brunt of the crackdown.

The road through Halhul to Hebron is usually a simple route to negotiate, but now the streets of Halhul are besieged with Israeli soldiers, jeeps, and checkpoints making travel through the small city arduous. Halhul is within the Hebron governorate and like the majority of cities and towns in Hebron, the past week has been filled with a series of difficulties and tragedies. Residents face the daily reality of being locked down— restricted to their small area, unable to travel due to imposed Israeli military restrictions, as well as having armed soldiers positioned outside on throughways, often in great numbers. Houses are regularly and unpredictably raided, leaving homes in a state of chaos.

“There are so many soldiers and army jeeps here now, it feels like a thousand are here in Halhul” Mohammed Rabah, a resident of the city told Middle East Monitor. “The soldiers are breaking houses down, raiding them at night, arresting people and kicking people out because they are searching for the three settlers. It has become a very bad situation.”

Over 300 Palestinians in the West Bank have been detained so far this week by Israel, almost all during these night raids. While the majority of those arrested have an affiliation to Hamas, Hamas has denied responsibility for the missing Israeli teens. However three small groups in the occupied West Bank have claimed responsibility, Ahrar al-Khalil, the Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant (ISIL), and Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.

On Friday, these now regular night raids, clashes and arrests in the Hebron area resulted in the death of a 14 year old boy who was shot in the chest by the IDF in the early morning. By the afternoon, clashes were already occurring in Hebron’s city centre, as young men faced off against the IDF near the entrance to the illegal Israeli settlement situated in the along Shuhada Street.

During the demonstration, a 23-year-old Palestinian man was shot in the ankle by the IDF after four hours of clashes, with what his friends and fellow demonstrators said was a live round. Four young men quickly dragged him out of the line of fire and carried him to a car that screeched up to the protest after realizing someone had been shot.

“The bullet is lodged in his ankle for sure,” One of the protestors who helped carry the young man to the car told MEMO. “We are throwing rocks, and they are shooting bullets. Where else in the world is like this?”

A ten-year-old boy was also arrested during the protest. According to protestors and bystanders, this demonstration was more intense than any they’d experienced before, as the recent Israeli crackdown on the city in search for the three missing Israeli settlers continues.

Previously the Israeli government had announced that the IDF was permitted to use “all measures” to help find the missing settlers. MEMO contacted the Ministry of Defense several times for further comment on what all measures may involve, but the Ministry declined to return these phone calls or emails.

Earlier this week Israeli human rights NGO B’Tselem released a press release urging the Israeli government and IDF “to refrain from meting out collective punishment on the local population,” while carrying out their hunt for the missing Israelis.

With the demonstration in the background and speaking to MEMO under terms of anonymity, many of the young men at the protest spoke of increasing aggressive actions by the army and their belief that they had to respond to it.

While clashes continued into the late afternoon, the streets of Hebron’s city centre were deserted, an increasingly common site. Stores were closed and tourist spots were desolate. The Ministry of Tourism’s information office in the heart of the souk didn’t bother opening for business.

“Two weeks ago, it was very good with tourists who came to Hebron, but because of the problems with the Israeli here, there isn’t anything,” Shadi Sider, who runs a tour group and souvenir shop in Hebron said. “There isn’t work here in Hebron now, the work is just enough to take food in the house—no work, no food.”

The head of the Palestinian businessmen forum in Hebron, Mohammad Nafeth al-Herbawi, said the district of Hebron is losing $10 million a day during the siege on the area. While laborers are facing up to $2 million in losses, according to Ma’an News Agency.

While Sider is one of those who is severely impacted by the lack of business prospects during the siege, he says the problems he faces at home are more worrying. Sider’s home, positioned beside Shuhada Street where an illegal Israeli settlement is situated, is surrounded by illegal settlers. His house has been raided, and his roof annexed a number of times throughout the past week. Due to the proximity of the settlement to his home, Sider is rather used to living life surrounded by soldiers, but this week has been more punishing.

“There is more soldiers than there has ever been before. The soldiers come here in my house, and they go on my roof to see, to guard, to make problems,” Sider said. “For the last week since the kidnappings it has been much worse, there are so many soldiers here.”

While Israel’s increased military presence focused on Hebron during the beginning of the search for the missing settlers, it is quickly expanding. Houses have been raided and people arrested through the greater West Bank, and injuries from IDF forces have been reported in almost every district. Already five Palestinians have been shot dead since the search began including the 14 year old in Dura, a 22 year old in Qalandiya refugee camp, a 20 year old in Ramallah’s al-Jalazun refugee camp, and last night a 35 year old in Nablus and a 30 year old in Ramallah’s city center.

 

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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