In Hebron, Palestinians now long for apartheid as it existed before October 7

Life for Palestinians in Hebron hasn't been the same since October 7. After two months of almost total lockdown, they are now confined to their homes from 7 P.M. until 7 A.M. daily. False arrests, violence and humiliation at the hands of Israeli soldiers and settlers are their daily lot

Araj Jabari demonstrates how she is forced to kneel, Hebron, May 2024

Gideon Levy writes in Haaretz on 31 May 2024:

Dozens of video clips document an unbelievable situation, far from the killing fields of Gaza. “Get into the house, I’m telling you,” a soldier barks in one clip, or maybe it’s a uniformed settler from the “defense squad,” saying, “Get into the house or I’ll shoot you,” and the barking soldier jabs his rifle butt into a person decades older than him who stepped out to get some air, and pushes him forcefully back inside.

It’s prohibited to leave the house, by order of the occupier. The violence, the lordly, thuggish manner of speech, the threats and the coarseness – they have always been present. But in the very pulsing heart of Israeli apartheid in the territories – in the Jewish settlement in Hebron – such conduct has become more brutal than ever before.

The settlers have donned uniforms here, as virtually everywhere throughout the West Bank, under the auspices of the so-called defense squads, and they are now even cruder and more violent, if that’s possible, than before October 7. The consequences for the Palestinians are also harsher: First there were two months of almost total lockdown imposed on some 10,000 residents of the neighborhoods that surround the settlers’ quarter in Hebron, and after that a still-ongoing curfew from 7 P.M. until 7 A.M. every day, as well as from Friday evening through Sunday morning each week, and on all the Jewish festivals. All of this is being done, for what is now nearly eight months, to please the Hebron settlers and allow them to go on battering the Palestinians undisturbed – especially on Shabbat and wearing white shirts – the way they like it.

The blood of any decent human being boils when they witness the scenes of apartheid in occupied Hebron. Now Palestinian Hebronites actually long for the situation as it existed before October 7. That’s not necessarily because of the nightmare two young people endured there two weeks ago, including beatings, humiliation and arrest, which we’ll get to later, but because of the cruel routine of life that’s emerged here since the war erupted in distant Gaza.

Two Palestinian social activists are waiting for us in a house in the Jaber neighborhood, adjacent to the so-called Beit Hashalom (“House of Peace”), which the settlers took over some years ago. The house lies on the main road between the Tomb of the Patriarchs and the urban settlement of Kiryat Arba, the “worshippers’ route,” around which live hundreds of other “worshippers,” who are free to run amok at will.

This is the home of Araj Jabari, 40 years old and a mother of five. She’s been an activist and a volunteer with the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem since 2007, working as part of the organization’s video documentation project. With her is Suzanne Jabari, 45. This mother of eight, who lives not far away, is a wedding photographer who runs a snack bar at the local boys school. The windows in Araj’s house, like those in all the homes here, are covered with a dense lattice of bars as protection from the stones the settlers throw nonstop.

During the war’s first two months, Araj relates, they were barely able to go outside. The nearby school and the stores were all closed amid a total lockdown, while naturally the settlers walked about freely, unimpeded. After several weeks, the lockdown was eased a bit, and the Israeli authorities generously permitted residents to go out twice a day for half an hour – the dogs in Tel Aviv are taken out for longer than that. During the month of Ramadan (which ended in early April) the permanent overnight curfew, beginning at 7 P.M., was introduced, even though the prayers after the traditional iftar meal were supposed to be held at 8:30 P.M.

The nearby Ziad Jaber primary school for boys was closed for a number of months. When it reopened, teachers and students had a hard time getting to it in the mornings and an even harder time returning home at the end of the day. Photos documenting children being held up by soldiers next to the barbed-wire fence of the army checkpoint are common. Frequently, it’s necessary to arrange for “coordination” with the army to enable the children to get home.

There have been days on which it has been prohibited to hang out laundry from windows or balconies. Video footage shot by Araj one recent evening shows soldiers standing in the streets and preventing people from leaving home no matter what the reason. Life under siege meant not getting medical treatment, and of course weddings and other family gatherings were out of the question. People would move from rooftop to rooftop with the help of ladders if they wanted to visit relatives or friends. “Sometimes a good soldier lets us pass,” Araj says.

Supplies to the stores ground to an almost complete halt during the full curfew in the weeks after the war broke out; shopkeepers were not even allowed to bring in merchandise on donkeys, so they had to carry it themselves. In any event, stores were shuttered most hours of the day. A bread truck bringing supplies to local groceries was stopped by soldiers who dumped its contents, dozens of cartons of loaves of bread, into the garbage. Some of the soldiers in Araj’s footage wear large kippot – quite clearly local settlers. Drones overhead monitor the movements of residents at all times. Sometimes the streets are also randomly closed for a few hours mid-week because the settlers want to pray or hold some ceremony in the area.

During recent months, soldiers often arrive to conduct violent nighttime searches . They’ve come to Araj’s home twice during this period, once at 10 P.M. and once at 1 A.M. One time they took her into custody. People who have been arrested for leaving their homes at forbidden times were usually taken to one of the many checkpoints in the area, where they were bound and blindfolded, then ordered to get down on their knees or to stand for long hours, before being released. Araj herself was detained like that once with her son, Vasim, who’s 21. She was stopped on the steps of her home when she tried to leave one night after 7, and was released only at 4 A.M., after hours of standing next to the checkpoint, handcuffed. The soldiers hit her son in her presence, she relates.

The academic year has been chaotic for students at Hebron’s Palestine Polytechnic University, since initially they could not attend classes at all; in recent months with the 12-hour curfew, they have not been able to go on Saturdays. People who work on Saturday – a regular day here – have also been confined to their homes. “On Saturday the house becomes a prison,” Araj says.

The plethora of armed settlers in the streets leaves residents fearful of venturing outside even when it is permitted. “Before October 7, life was tough, but we managed,” says Suzanne Jabari, adding that in the early weeks of the war people wouldn’t even approach the windows of their own homes, as the threatening red laser beams of the soldiers’ rifles would start skittering across the house.

“Not only could you not go out, you couldn’t even peek out the window,” Suzanne says. In the first weeks people lay in their rooms scared and terrified, not moving, she relates. “Since the war,” she continues, “it’s no longer possible to speak with the soldiers. They’re a lot more violent and aggressive. They not only don’t want to talk to us, they also don’t want to see us.” If a boy is taken into custody, his mother can’t even ask the arresting soldier where the boy has been taken. Every attempt at speaking generates armed threats.

During the initial period of closure, the locals couldn’t even remove the garbage from their homes, so it piled up in front and caused a stench. On one occasion, Suzanne asked her son to take out the garbage; soldiers arrested the 12-year-old boy and took him with them. He was allowed to go home after a short time, but the fear and panic have remained. “It was a nightmare. The first two months were a nightmare,” Suzanne summed up.

Another video clip scene: “How many times do I have to tell you: If you go outside you’ll be arrested. Seven in the evening, no one passes here. Period. It doesn’t interest me who lives here and who doesn’t live here. Period. No one passes through here. It doesn’t interest me who lives here and who doesn’t live here. I’m speaking to you nicely. I don’t want to arrest you. I pity you. I’m a person. But if you go outside, you’ll be arrested.” An Israeli soldier performing “meaningful service.”

And another clip: Araj is standing at the entrance to her house and trying to persuade soldiers who are standing with their backs to the house to allow neighbors whom she hosted to return to their home across the way. “Call the captain,” she urges. “These people want to go home. They live across the way.” The soldiers’ response: “Go, go, go away, go away. Yallah, beat it. Don’t you understand what I’m telling you?”

Mohammed Jaber, 21, enters the room. He is good-looking and tall, a construction worker in the city. At 11 P.M., on Friday two weeks ago, he was hanging out with a few friends in the backyard of his house, which is nearby. There’s a checkpoint 100 meters from his home. The soldiers turned around and headed toward the yard. One of them suddenly ordered Mohammed to take the friend standing closest to him, Mohammed Abu Ramaila, and to come over to them. So began the nightmare for them both.

“I caught them,” the soldier says into his phone. Another soldier says, “It’s not them.” The soldiers, it turns out, were looking for two young people who had got away from them earlier. Mohammed J. and Mohammed A.R. were taken to the checkpoint on the “worshippers’ route,” to an area behind some concrete cubes. The soldiers said they would wait 20 minutes to see whether Jaber and his friend were indeed the young men who had escaped. If the soldiers couldn’t find anyone else, they would decide that it was these two.

About 20 minutes later, the soldiers started to beat the two young men, who were shackled with plastic handcuffs. Over and over, they pushed them against the concrete cubes. They demanded to see their phones, to which Jaber replied that they had no legal authorization to do that. “The law and the courts are things of the past,” the soldier said, accurately. An army jeep appeared. Jaber says the soldiers hit him over and over, filming the action on their phones and sharing it with their buddies in the social media.

“These are terrorists,” said one of the soldiers who proudly filmed the event and posted it online. Afterward they took the two up into the guard tower and ordered them to kneel on the rough metal floor, their faces pressed into the ground. They were left there for many hours. When they asked to relieve themselves, they were told to do it in their pants. The soldiers forced them to keep saying, “I’m a son of a bitch,” and to use curses that Jaber is embarrassed to repeat. The soldiers also gave them water to drink after spitting into it and tried to force them to smoke weed that some of the soldiers had on hand.

The two men were released at 5 A.M., and were told not to remove their blindfolds until they were 100 meters from the checkpoint. “If you take them off, we’ll shoot you.”

This statement was received from the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit: “After a check it emerges that no incident has been identified as having involved said Palestinians, or as taking place on the date or at the location of the incident as conveyed [to the IDF]. Should more details come to light, the incident will be checked and addressed accordingly. Limitations on movement at specific times are imposed in accordance with an appraisal of the circumstances and operational needs. At this time the limitations have been revoked.”

The comments about the lifting of limitations on movement are untrue. Residents say they are still forbidden to leave their homes for 12-hour periods beginning every evening at 7 P.M. In fact this week, Manal Jabari, a B’Tselem field researcher, reported that a local woman was detained Tuesday evening after that time, was forced to wait at a checkpoint for six hours and was released only after being taken to the Kiryat Arba police station.

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