What fuels the clashes in Hebron?

For several months, daily clashes between Palestinian teenage boys and Israeli soldiers around two crucial checkpoints have occurred in Hebron. Due to the frequency of these clashes they are referred to by locals as “a phenomenon”. But we are also reminded that the context in which these clashes occur are tied to the social impact of life in a separated city.

by Marcos, Sarah, Bertrand, and Maria, Hebron team

Where do the clashes occur?

Each morning and afternoon, as the boys make their way to and from school, clashes occur. A few boys gather. A military jeep, filled with soldiers, rolls up. One stone is thrown toward checkpoint 29 or 209. More boys arrive and chanting starts. Soldiers begin to shift uneasily in their boots. A shower of stones reaches the military men. A tear gas canister is fired toward the boys. White smoke fills the tense air as people pull their shirts over their mouths and run to escape the gas. There are a few minutes of calm. Then it starts again. Stones met with stun grenades and tear gas; unequal weapons in a complicated clash.

Images of everyday life at checkpoints 209 and 29 where clashes occur daily. Photo EAPPI/M. Knoblauch.

Images of everyday life at checkpoints 209 and 29 where clashes occur daily. Photo EAPPI/M. Knoblauch.

This is Hebron, a microcosm of the occupation. Palestinians, Israeli settlers, soldiers, police, and border police converge in a split city. After the Oslo Accords, the city of Hebron was divided into the Palestinian controlled H1 and the Israeli controlled H2. 18 permanently staffed military checkpoints and 120 physical obstacles are strategically placed around the H2 area; monitoring, restricting, and checking the Palestinian people.

Two such checkpoints are 29 and 209. These checkpoints are approximately 300m apart and are manned by the Israeli border police with assistance from the Israeli military. In recent months, the area between these checkpoints has experienced what has been described by local Palestinians as a “phenomenon”; violent clashes occurring sometimes twice a day between school boys and soldiers. 


What fuels the tension?

1.  Lack of civil or military authority creates a void

The zone wedged between these checkpoints is home to four schools, two of which are exclusively for boys between the ages of 11 and 16. Technically this area is H2 and Israel is therefore, as the occupying power, obligated to protect not only the humanitarian needs of the Palestinians living in the area, but also to ensure their human rights and law enforcement. But on the other side of checkpoints 29 and 209 there is no Israeli military or police presence. The military emerge only at the onset of a clash. At that point, soldiers move down the respective streets from the checkpoints into this no man’s land. At any other time, there is no law and order, very little control, and extensive tension.

In this calculated occupation, each action is carefully considered and implemented. The location of checkpoints 209 and 29 and lack of authoritative presence in this volatile zone is clearly strategic. Behind the checkpoints are several Israeli settlements and the shared Ibrahimi Mosque / Tomb of the Patriarchs. The checkpoints allow secure and controlled access to these sites for Israelis and link the settlements. It is not beneficial to the Israeli military to go beyond these checkpoints even though the area is H2 and Israel is required to protect and monitor the people and the place. This absence further fuels the tension.

2. Occupation; the root of frustration

The existence of checkpoints 29 and 209 create a sense of imprisonment. Metal detectors, turnstiles, and armed soldiers control who goes where and when. The restrictions on the natural movement of the Palestinian people socially suffocate normality and reinforce the reality of the occupation. This breeds frustration and fuels the clashes.

Palestinians and soldiers are responsible for provocation and violence; when Palestinians throw stones they encourage the soldiers to move away from the checkpoint. And the checkpoint itself provokes the Palestinians to throw stones in the first place. The only civil and military authority allowed on both sides of the checkpoints is the Israeli authority as Palestinian authorities are not allowed to enter H2. Israeli police, responsible for civil security in the occupied territories, are not present beyond checkpoints 209 and 29 thus leaving an open space for crime and unrest.

Clashes are a form of resistance led by teenage boys searching as a way to express their unhappiness and frustration with the occupation. Stone throwing has developed into a symbol of struggle and a demonstration of dissatisfaction all over the occupied Palestinian territory, but in this area it has become an almost every day occurrence.

3. Teacher’s cannot fill the void amidst strikes

Where Palestinian law enforcement is prevented from acting as a civil authority, the Israeli police are not present to fill that gap. Teachers and residents are left with the responsibility to act as the societal authority in an attempt to restore order and achieve a school day in an extremely volatile situation.

Right before school begins in the morning, teachers and residents take to the streets in an attempt to dissipate the boy’s intentions, bring them into the classrooms before the first stone is thrown. Sometimes teachers succeed, but sometimes tension escalates too fast, a stone flies and the violent unequal force demonstration begins.

A teacher in one of the schools explained that the main problem is the Israeli soldiers approaching the entrance of the schools and he believes the clashes could be avoided if the army stayed behind the checkpoints.

Several times, during the last month, Palestinian teachers were on total or partial strikes, requesting better working conditions and salaries, a scenario that replicates the educational situation in many countries in the world. Negotiations between the teachers’ union and the Palestinian Authority occur during afternoons leaving no time to communicate to the students that schools will be closed.

Unlike most countries, in Palestine, particularly in Hebron, a teacher’s strike has two consequences: a lost school day and unbounded tension in the vicinity of the checkpoints.

Who will win?

Clashes never result in a winner. Neither the soldiers nor the boys gain territory, power, control, or respect. But they continue, in the same manner, with the same result. A tipping point is inevitable but what that tipping point may be remains a mystery.

9 thoughts on “What fuels the clashes in Hebron?

  1. Pingback: The Context of Clashes | be the change

  2. “A teacher in one of the schools explained that the main problem is the Israeli soldiers approaching the entrance of the schools and he believes the clashes could be avoided if the army stayed behind the checkpoints.”

    “But on the other side of checkpoints 29 and 209 there is no Israeli military or police presence.”

    The two claims are obviously contradictory. So what really happens? Do the soldiers go behind the checkpoints and clashes start as the teacher says, or is there no Israeli military presence behind the checkpoints, and clashes start? Can the EEAPPI international observers observe and report – what comes first – the chicken or the egg?

    • Here’s some clarity on your questions:

      Behind the checkpoint refers to the area closer to the settlements and the mosque, whereas beyond the checkpoint refers to the lawless area.

      We meant that there is no law enforcement, Israeli nor Palestinian, in the area beyond the checkpoints and we suggest that a careful protective strategy for the settlements is ongoing in the Old City and the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs. However, according to the Hebron Protocol, the area beyond those two checkpoints is still H2 area under Israeli military control.

      As it stands, the military emerges only at the onset of a clash.

      The teachers explained that the problem of the clashes is the checkpoint itself, the presence of border police standing by the checkpoint. The problem is the occupation. However, the teachers also understand that children react when they see soldiers and the escalation is inevitable if the soldiers come downhill beyond the checkpoint aiming to control the crowd. The teachers that EAPPI observers talked to think that clashes could be avoided (or at least reduced) if the soldiers stayed behind the checkpoint, where they usually are, far from the sight of the children.

      • Problem is the hate filled arab media. Jews were massacred in Hebron before there was an Israel or an occupation. Arab snipers have killed Israelis in Hebron during the occupation. No arabs have been killed by soldiers or “settlers”. While “believers in the religion of peace” kill 600+ people and maim 3000 every month European “do gooders”
        champion their cause.

      • One cannot label all Arab media as hate-filled. What you say is true that Israelis and Jews have been killed during and before the Israeli occupation. However, what you say about no Palestinians being killed by Israeli soldiers is not true. According to the UN, so far in 2014, Israeli forces killed 1 Palestinian. In 2013, Israeli forces killed 27 Palestinians.(Source: http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_protection_of_civilians_weekly_report_2014_01_30_english.pdf). We condemn all violence, whether against Israelis or Palestinians.

      • If the soldiers stay behind the checkpoint – they fail to enforce law and order. If they enter the area they “provoke violence”. Sounds like you would blame the soldiers whatever they do.

        What is it that you think the soldiers should do – enter the area and enforce law and order, as stipulated by the Hebron agreement signed by the Palestinian Authority, or stay behind the checkpoint and endure stone-throwing?

  3. Pingback: What fuels the clashes in Hebron? | Resisto luego insisto

  4. Pingback: December Resources of the Month | EAPPI Blog

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