By the Hebron team,
Saturday, 5 March 2016:
It is a sunny spring morning and Mr Jabari is bringing his sheep and goats out to graze on his property on the outskirts of Hebron. He tries to do this every day but on many days, especially on Fridays and Saturdays, he is forced to leave. On this particular Saturday, Israeli soldiers from the nearby checkpoint approach and threaten to shoot his animals if he does not leave immediately.
The land has belonged to the Jabari family for generations, but for many years they have not been able to use it in peace. The reason for this is that their land is now sandwiched between two Israeli settlements. The settlement of Kiryat Arba was established soon after Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967. It began as a few caravans; it is now a large housing development with a population of about 7000. A settler-built path across Al Jabari’s land links Kiryat Arba to settlement of Giva’at Havot, in which another 1000 settlers live. In 2001, settlers erected a synagogue structure on Jabari’s land. Since then, the Jabari family have been engaged in a legal battle to have the structure removed. Despite a ruling in 2015 by the Israeli high court declaring the structure illegal, it has been demolished and rebuilt twice since then. Significantly, the seizure of the Jabari family land could facilitate the linking of the settlements of Kiryat Arba and Givat Ha’avot
Protection of the settlers attending Shabbat prayers at this synagogue tent is the reason, on this occasion, that the soldiers give for preventing Al Jabari from bringing his animals to graze. Ironically, it is the Jabari family whose security has been threatened. ‘The settlers stabbed my little brother in the stomach, then punched another of my brothers in the eyes. Another time they pushed my father from the hill and he broke his shoulder’ Ayat, Mr Jabari’s daughter, told EAs.
All Israeli settlements are illegal under international law. The 4th Geneva convention prohibits an occupying power from making permanent changes to or transferring its civilian population to the territory it occupies. There are now approximately 125-130 settlements and 100 settlement outposts – outpost are also considered illegal by the Israeli government- across the occupied West Bank. Despite a commitment by the Israeli government to freeze settlement construction, in order to preserve the hope of a two-state solution, the expansion of settlements continues apace. Israeli NGO peace now reports that in 2015, construction of 1800 new housing units began in the settlements, including 28 in Kiryat Arba.
Hebron is the only city in the West Bank, apart from East Jerusalem, that has Israeli settlements in the heart of the city centre. Settlements are accompanied by practical and security measures that restrict the rights of Palestinian residents and create a system of segregation that was strongly condemned in a 2014 report by the UN special rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian territories.
A series of military checkpoints and closed zones across Hebron’s old city prevents local Palestinians from accessing many areas. Palestinians who live near settlements can only access their houses on foot, while Israeli settlers are permitted to drive along the same roads. ‘We live in a jail… I imagine Palestine from a jail’ says Ayat Al Jabari. Settlers are also permitted to carry guns and it is not unusual to see heavily armed settlers walking to the synagogue.
On the night of 8 – 9 March the synagogue structure on Al Jabari land was demolished by the Israeli military following the Israeli court orders. But since then settlers have continued to gather there, and no-one knows how long until the cycle repeats itself.
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