JPRS 4th Ed: Hebron; The small Nakba

JPRS 4th Ed: Hebron; The small Nakba

Ever since Israel first occupied the West Bank and Gaza, military rule has been applied throughout the occupied territories. In addition, occupation forces have worked out special policies for each area in order to implement settlement projects.

Hebron is located in South of West Bank. Like Jerusalem, it was given special status relating to settlement policy because of its religious and historical symbolism.

Over time, settlements sprang up like mushrooms around Palestinian villages and towns all over the West Bank. However, the situation in Hebron was more problematic. Instead of being constructed in the surrounding neighborhood, they were constructed in the heart of the city, with many adverse affects on the structure of the city. The city has been reshaped according to the settlement projects.

Hebron is subject to a special agreement, known as the Hebron Agreement, which has divided the city was into two parts. The first, H1, came partially under the control of Palestinian security forces and mainly comprises the suburbs of the city. The other, H2, came under full Israeli control. This includes the city center, the market and the Old City. Together with the settlement of Kiryat Arba', located in the Eastern part of the city, there are currently present five settlement outposts in the area.[1]

Currently Hebron's city center and its market are closed to Palestinians, who are prohibited from entering the area, especially those adjacent to the settlements. In these zones Palestinians are strictly forbidden from practicing any social and economic activity and passing through streets like “Shuhada Street” or the Old al-Khudar Market (Vegetable Market). Hundreds of Palestinian homes have been cleared. At least 1,014 Palestinian housing units had been vacated by their occupants. This number represents 41.9 percent of the housing units[2] and those who still live in the area are subject to a rigid policy of racial separation.

Walking through the Old City of Hebron reminds one of walking through one of the destroyed villages of Palestine in 1948. What is happening in Hebron is a small-scale Nakba, which took place in Palestine in 1947/48 causing the forceful displacement of nearly a million Palestinians. However, the Nakba of Hebron takes place in the heart of the city itself. Palestinians have been relocated from the center to the suburbs in order to make way for Judaization plans for the city, which has become part of the settlement of Kiryat Arba'.

I don’t want to elaborate the formal definition of “Nakba” or its cultural concept here. Instead I will stick with the definition given by Salman Abu Sitta who described it as The separation of the people from their lands"[3]. What is happening in Hebron now is in fact a separation of Palestinians from their land through methods and techniques not much different from those employed in 1948, be it in terms of the underlying motivation for the settlements or the resulting cultural, social, political, and economic impacts.

The Settlers in Hebron hold an ideology adopted by the new Zionist movement, which is an exclusive, fundamentalist, and religious movement that believes in the intrinsic holiness of the land as source of identity.[4] These settlers believe that Zionism has to continue until the whole West Bank is occupied and all of its former inhabitants expelled. Hebron is one of the most sacred and holy places in Judaism, therefore, according to this view, Israel must complete the occupation of the entire West Bank through ethnic cleansing of the region, they state. Zionists justify the settlement enterprise in Hebron with biblical texts like, „Then Abraham removed his tent, and came and dwelled in the plain of Mamre, which is in Hebron, and built there an altar to the LORD ".[5]

Based on such myths, the occupation policies towards the city of Hebron reflect the goal of emptying the city from its inhabitants and replacing them with Jewish settlers, who usually display a hostile and aggressive attitude towards the Palestinian residents. The implementation of these policies shines through in the different policies adopted in the city. These strategies include:

Settlers violence and military actions from side of the occupation forces

Since the beginning of the settlement movement, settlers have proven to be extremely aggressive towards the local population. Most of them are members of the Kakh and Gush Emunim movement (The Block of Faithful) established in 1973, based on the teachings of the rabbi „Zvi Yehuda Kook". This movement represents the national and religious base of the settlement movement and relies on extremist Zionist ideas.

This movement is also responsible for most of the condemnable acts of violence undertaken by settlers against Palestinians. Between 1980 and 1983 the movement has carried out several attacks, including the planting of explosives in Hebron’s football stadium and a neighboring mosque, in which more than ten Palestinians were injured. In 1983 the Islamic College in Hebron was attacked. Three Arabs were killed and another 33 injured.[6]

Violence against Palestinians concerns all social classes, children included. A report released by Defence for Children International mentions the case of Cordoba school, located in Shuhada Street and other incidents where children routinely had to face attack and intimidation while passing through checkpoints.

At the end of the report, it states that the occupation forces work in collusion and are unwilling to uphold any law and order against the settlers, a fact that creates a climate of fear for the Palestinian residents and sends a clear message of impunity to the settlers. [7]

Violence is used to scare away Palestinians from Hebron and make the city free for Judaization. This has allowed thousands of Jewish families to move into the city from their houses near the settlements.

Killing of Palestinians and massacres (Hebron massacre)

What is happening now is a copy of what happened between 1947 and 1948. On 25/02/1994, during prayer, a massacre was carried out in Ibrahimi mosque duringwhich 29 Muslims were killed. Ibrahimi Mosque is believed to contain the grave of the patriarch Abraham.

The massacre marked a watershed in the history of Hebron and the beginning of the Nakba of Hebron. A new wave of Judaization began. It is reminiscent of 14/05/1948 in Palestinian history. Shortly after the massacre, the occupation forces adopted measures that made the Judiaization of the city a fait accompli. These measures included the division of Ibrahimi mosque between settlers and Palestinians.

Shuhada street, which connects the southern and northern part of the city as well as the market, were closed. The presence of settlers was legitimized and made the life of the Palestinians more difficult than ever. These developments heavily impacted Palestinian families who had no other choice but to leave their homes in the Old City in order to escape threats and intimidation and even death.


This strategy is an intrinsic part of the expulsion of Palestinians from the heart of the city into other areas. There now exists as many as 123 obstacles surrounding the restricted areas and another 18 checkpoints continuously guarded by soldiers. 12 additional checkpoints are placed along with 57 barricades. 512 Palestinian shops inside the restricted area have been closed due to Israeli military orders. Another 1100 shops have been closed due to heavy measures imposed on customers and suppliers[8].

As we have seen this discriminatory policy has led to the displacement of many families, who found it extremely hard to reach their homes, especially as they are forced to pass through humiliating checkpoints on daily basis or sometimes have no other option but to pass through their neighbors' houses in order to reach their home.


Renaming of landmarks, streets and other public places into Jewish names. This includes declaring Ibrahimi mosque as a Jewish heritage.

The following examples demonstrate name changes in the city:

Shuhada' Street => King David Street Ibrahimi Mosque => The cave of Macvilla Tel Rumeida => Ramat Yashai Osama School => Beit Rumano Al-Dabouya => Beit Hadassa Central vegetable market (al-Hisbe) => Ibrahim Abino Jabir's neighborhood => Prayers' alley

These name changes represent another aspect of the Judization of Hebron. Similar ruination of history also took place in the aftermath of the Nakba. All of these cities were given Hebrew names instead of their original Arabic names in accordance with Judaization plans.

On 21st February 2010 the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, declared the Ibrahimi mosque as Jewish heritage and thereby gave green light to the implementation of a number of Judaization projects inside and around the area of Ibrahimi mosque.

These Israeli measures had a huge impact on the city and affected all aspects of life – all equally important. Many international reports have been filed which outline these impacts.

Economic Aspects

The economic aspect is certainly one of the most disastrous in the life of the city. As mentioned earlier, there are at present 1500 closed shops, a number that clearly illustrates a huge economic loss. What makes it worse is the fact that the now closed areas have always been the commercial center of Hebron and its surrounding areas in South West Bank. In addition to these losses the last remaining shops have turned from grocery shops into ticket and souvenir shops for tourists visiting the Ibrahimi mosque.

Cultural and Social Aspects

The occupation measures also have serious cultural and social impacts. Numerous festivals and religious ceremonies have disappeared. Funeral processions that used to pass through Ibrahimi mosque have stopped due to the Israeli measures in the aftermath of the massacre.

The former cultural and social center of the city, Ibrahimi mosque together with the Old City, has become an isolated area. The area is impoverished and most of the remaining families are from a poor family background. The social texture has enormously changed with new families entering and long established families leaving the area.

Political Aspects

Following the settler movement, a special agreement was made, known as the Hebron Agreement. This agreement, signed in 1997, provides the political basis for the present state and has reinforced the current situation. According to the agreement the city is divided into two parts, the first part is under the control of the Palestinian Authority, the other under falls fully under Israeli control. Many of the families that live in the Palestinian controlledpart H1 haveleftthe Old City due to Israeli repression and policies.



Daily Suffering

Daily suffering concerns all, not only on the citizens of Hebron, but also those living in the areas threatened from Judization. The closure has restricted the movement between the different areas of the city. Shuhada Street and checkpoints are located in the heart of the city and hinder movement between the northern and southern part as well as those parts portioned off for new settlements. The combination of barriers and hundreds of Israeli soldiers in the area in addition to continuous settler assaults render the situation unbearable.

Until now no international party has decisively interfered. The displaced inhabitants are not given the status of refugees, despite the fact that many among them are not able to return to their homes. The issue of emigration has been widely observed, without the occupation methods being denounced. Emigration flows from the Old City into the suburbs were explained as “natural emigration” due to the expansion of the city and increasing number of residents. Therefore, the issue has only been dealt with through humanitarian aid to some of the most affected families.

The only international party that has addressed the issue is the International Temporary Presence in Hebron, TIPH, which is a Hebron-based observer mission. The tasks of the mission was outlined in 1997 by Palestinian and Israeli authorities in order to support them in their efforts to improve the situation in Hebron. The mission’s aim is to develop security for the Palestinians and to promote stability. The mission produces reports on breaches of the agreements between Israelis and the Palestinians. In addition, the mission reports on breaches of international humanitarian law and international human rights. However, reports are not made public.[9]

Palestinians have been resisting the ongoing displacement through two different ways: official and popular. The official way is to work out a legal basis through which Palestinians can defend violations of their rights and stop demolitions of their homes. The second is popular resistance through non-violent means in the areas that are under the threat of occupation. Both methods aim to stop the displacement of residents.

Hebron Rehabilitation Committee is the main official body that tries to protect the city from Judaization. The committee was established in 1996 in order to protect the Old City through the restoration of buildings and the rehabitation of former abandoned houses. It also rehabilitates the infrastructure, preserves cultural heritage and urban texture and improves living conditions through the restoration of houses. It also offers economic incentives for business in the city.[10]

Since its establishment, the committee has managed to restore hundreds of houses and return its residents. According the director of the HIRN, the number of residents in the Old City has risen from 500 in 1996 to 5500 people –the same Old City that was once inhabited by more than 10 thousand people with a similar number of customers visiting its markets. [11]

However, the committee’s work is still controlled by the Israelis, who frequently prevent HRC from restoring houses especially in Shuhada Street and the surrounding settlement outposts.

A key development was to include plans to include the Old City of Hebron to the UNESCO heritage list. After the admission of Palestine as full member to UNESCO it is possible for international authorities to put pressure on the Israelis and prevent the systemized Judization process that’s taking place.

On the popular level, youth and voluntary organizations work hand in hand. Youth against settlement is one of the main organizations and follows several strategies. The first one is to put pressure on the occupation forces to reopen Shuhada Street. An Open Shuhada Street campaign was launched three years ago and more than 10 organizations from different countries participated. Since last year, Youth against Settlement organized 35 campaigns around the world and protest actions and demonstrations in Hebron. They have often been violently met by Israeli soldiers.[12]

Activists from Youth Against settlement also support people living in the targeted areas. They organize olive harvest concerts and restore places that are difficult to reach by official bodies.

Most of the human rights organizations in Palestine have their office in Hebron. They document daily violations against residents in the area. Recently human rights organizations distributed cameras to residents under threat in the area to better monitor human rights abuse and other violations[13].

Activists and residents are working hand in hand when it comes to defending houses against settler attacks. During attacks they stay with the families. The solidary with people inside the targeted homes, together with the presence of visitors, remains the most important method to protect the city from Judaization as well as from the harsh measures undertaken by Israeli authorities.

Conclusion: The Israeli measures in Hebron have created a situation similar to the Palestinian Nakba. Palestinians have been dispossessed from their lands. They are neither allowed to enter or inhabit the Old City, nor are they able to follow their social and economic activities. The heart of Hebron has been emptied and transferred from the Old City to the suburbs due to settlement projects. Hebron’s history and former characteristics have become nothing more than a memory.


[1] Hebron Protocol. 17 \ 12 \ 1996.

[2] Israel’s Separation Policy and Forced Eviction of Palestinians from the Center of Hebron. B’Tselem the Association for Civil Rights in Israel report. May 2007.

Abu sitta Sulaiman . Palestinian nakba does not go away without disappearance of the impact. The land of Palestine organization website. February 2000.

[4] Nimny Ephraim. Challenges of post-Zionism. Cairo: Supreme Council of Culture. P 26

[5] Abu Alrub Salah. Zionist Settelment in the Hebron area, 1967-2000. Master thesis. Najah University 2005. P.46

[6] Settler violence and the Israeli government inaction. Arabian Group for Human Rights.Alrakeeb Magazine. April 2001. Electronic copy loaded from

[7]Under attack settlers violence against Palestinian children in the occupied territories. Report issued by the Defense for Children International movement. October 2008.

[11] Interview with Imad Hamdan. Hebron Rehabilitation Committee. 15/9/2012.

[12] Interview with Mohamad zogayer.Youth against settlement group speaker. 20/9/2001

[13] Interview with Hisham Sharabati. Alhaq organization. 1/10/2010.


Journal of Palestinian Refugee Studies, Valume 2, Issue 2, Autumn 2012

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