by the Hebron Team
Hebron is a contested city. The settlements are located in the middle of the city’s center and there are few other places were Palestinians and settlers are living so close to each other. Because of the proximity, tensions frequently arise between the two sides.
Hebron, therefore, is often said to represent a microcosm of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The city is divided into one Israeli and one Palestinian zone. Normally the Old City is off limits for the settlers, but every Saturday afternoon a group of settlers and supporting tourists go on a “tour” around the Old City.
The group is accompanied by some 30-40 soldiers, including a troop of snipers that go ahead to secure the area. In some cases this means entering Palestinian homes. For approximately one hour the group makes its way through the Old City of Hebron protected by heavily armed soldiers. Some of the settlers participating in the tour are also armed.
The tour guide is one of the ideological hardliners from the settlement community in Hebron. He presents the settlers’ narrative of the history of the Jewish community in the city. However, from what EAs have observed the audience rarely pays attention to what is being said. Instead they tend to hang out and chat with each other, the soldiers, or they concentrate on their phones. The Settler’s Tour has become a renowned attraction in Hebron. Also regular tourists come to Hebron to watch this spectacle of settlers, soldiers and members of international organisations.
The Palestinians living and working in the Old City regards the settlers tour as way of “showing who’s in power” and to “intimidate the population”. EAPPI, is always present during the tours to provide protective presence to the inhabitants of the Old City.
We, as Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs), do our best to ensure that Palestinians do not face restrictions on their freedom of movement and that they are allowed to pass the group of settlers and soldiers without problems.
However, the tour is affecting the locals’ ability and willingness to move around the Old City. On one occasion we met two women with their daughters, who said they were too afraid to walk past the tour and decided to wait until it had passed.
In addition to affecting the number of customers in the Old City, the Settler’s Tour has further consequences for local commerce and trade. A shopkeeper in the Old City says about the tour:
“Sometimes the settlers break my things and throw my products on the ground and trample on them, other times the settlers buy things, you never know with these groups”
Nevertheless, the shopkeepers in the Old City staunchly open their shops and refuse to let the “tour” control their opening hours.