The Settler’s Tour in Hebron

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.

Photo EAPPI/ M. Guntern Settlers entering into the old city.  06.04.2015

Settlers entering into the old city, Hebron. Photo EAPPI/ M. Guntern 06.04.2015

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.

Photo EAPPI/M. Guntern  Soldiers protecting the settlers during the tour.06.04.2015

Soldiers protecting the settlers during the tour, Hebron. Photo EAPPI/M. Guntern 06.04.2015

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.

Internationals and tourists waiting for the tour. Photo EAPPI/M. Guntern 06.04.2015

Internationals and tourists waiting for the tour. Photo EAPPI/M. Guntern 06.04.2015

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.

Photo EAPPI/M. Guntern  EA monitoring the tour. 06.04.2015

EA monitoring the Settler’s tour Hebron. Photo EAPPI/M. Guntern 06.04.2015

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.

A Tractor Arrested

Confiscation of a tractor is just one example of the daily grinding reality of living in susiya; a village in Area C in the south Hebron Hills.

Tractor being taken

The tractor as it was being taken away. Photo EAPPI/I. Medcalf.

by Ineke, South Hebron Hills team

On 19 November 2014, the Israeli military stopped a villager from Susiya who was ploughing. His tractor was under arrest for aiding in the installation of water tanks the previous day. Apparently one of the water tanks was carried on the trailer attached to the tractor.

Why is this a crime you may ask?

Susiya lies in Area C. This means that the village and its residents are under full Israeli administrative and military control. Residents need a building permit for any new structure – toilet, animal pen, house addition and also a water tank. If there is no permit, the it gets demolished or confiscated. Permits though are almost always refused for those living in Area C villages. Over 94% of Palestinian applications for building permits in Area C have been rejected in recent years.

Since 1985, the village of Susiya, located in the South Hebron Hills, has been destroyed or relocated at least 5 times. Their olive trees have been uprooted. They are watched and harassed by Israeli settlers and closely observed by the Israeli army.

Thus when Susiya received new water tanks donated by COMET ME, it was not surprising that the Israeli authorities became aware of it. They even knew the tractor was used in transporting the water tanks.

Now soldiers stood guard around the tractor. A lady, sowing seeds in the field came to see what was happening and was clearly upset. A tractor is vital in the ploughing season and the seeds need to be sown. Of course, the Israeli authorities know this and it is not a coincidence that they targeted the tractor. It would make life more difficult for the villagers.

Water tanks too are vital for the community. With the rainy season, it is important to collect as much water as possible in the cisterns and fill the tanks. To buy water is very costly especially for Palestinians who pay five times more than Israeli settlers.

The tractor was taken into the village where the trailer was located and attached. Then both were driven onto a truck along with one of the frames holding a water tank. Another truck came and took four water tanks and another frame.

After the initial anger and distress displayed by the villagers, there was a quiet acceptance. The residents from Susiya were powerless to stop what was happening. One lady sat on a rock and cried. I too cried, not for the tractor or tanks, but because what was happening is so mean-spirited.

Yet, I know the people of Susiya will go on. It is their only means of resistance. To refuse to leave their land, to give in and give up. They will continue to have their sheep, to live in makeshift homes which are demolished time and again. And to plough, plant and harvest. Despite the difficulties. They have a strong belief that God will not allow this injustice to continue; that one day it will be better.

I hope and pray they are right and that some day I will visit again when they have the same rights and freedoms we enjoy and the burden of the occupation is but a memory.

“We want to be teachers.” ~Aisha, Nesrin & Manar, Age 12

IN PALESTINE, THE OBSTACLES TO RECEIVING AN EDUCATION ARE NUMEROUS. CHECKPOINTS, MILITARY PRESENCE, SETTLER ATTACKS, TREACHEROUS ROADS, CLOSED MILITARY ZONES, DEMOLITION ORDERS, AND VIOLENT CLASHES ARE ONLY A FEW.  BUT STUDENTS & TEACHERS PERSEVERE DAILY IN THEIR JOURNEY TO RECEIVE QUALITY EDUCATION.  WE BRING THESE FACES TO LIFE AND SHARE THEIR HOPES, CHALLENGES, AND DREAMS.

Aisha (12), Nesrin (12), and Manar (12) go to the Tire school in El Eizariya. Photo EAPPI/M. Fuentes.

Aisha (12), Nesrin (12), and Manar (12) go to the Tire school in Khal al Ahmar. Photo EAPPI/M. Fuentes.

What are you looking forward to this year?

We look forward to studying and to play with our friends at the school

What is the biggest challenge in going to school?

For us the biggest challenge is the settlers, they live just up on the hill and often come down to the village. We are scared of them.

What would you like to be in the future?

We want to be teachers.

Their father later explained that the girls have never been outside their community. Teachers are the only profession they know about. 

What is needed to improve education in Palestine?

We need bigger classrooms. We have a very nice school but it was not built for this many students. We also lack electricity and toys to play with.

*Read more testimonies from this year’s Back to School series.
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*Check out last year’s photo essay: Visualizing Back to School in Palestine.