Trump’s «Deal of the Century» Hasn’t a Hope of Bringing Peace

By Yehuda Shaul, The Guardian

Here in Jerusalem [al-Quds], we await publication of Donald Trump’s “deal of the century”, which is expected to be released in the coming weeks. The US president has promised it will bring an end to a century-long conflict between “Israelis” and our Palestinian neighbors.

But the Trump administration’s vision for peace looks doomed only to further entrench the occupation, as a recent remark from Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s Middle East peace envoy, demonstrated.

Greenblatt retweeted a picture posted by Uri Karzen, a leader in the “Israeli” settler community in the West Bank city of Hebron [a-Khalil]. The picture showed an Iftar celebration in Hebron [al-Khalil] attended by both “Israeli” settlers and a few Palestinians. “We are laying the groundwork for peace,” wrote Karzen. Greenblatt, in his retweet, commended the event: “Groundwork for peace indeed!” he wrote. “A wonderful example of what could be possible.”

As a former “Israeli” soldier who served in Hebron [al-Khalil], the largest Palestinian city in the West Bank, I can say first-hand that it is not a model of coexistence, but rather of segregation.

Hebron [al-Khalil] is home to about 230,000 Palestinians. But some 850 “Israeli” settlers live in the city’s heart. I served as one of 650 combat soldiers permanently stationed in the city in order to protect this small and insular group of settlers.

In 1994, Baruch Goldstein, from the adjacent “Israeli” settlement of Kiryat Arba, entered the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron [al-Khalil] and opened fire on Palestinians during morning prayers, murdering 29 and injuring more than 100. Ostensibly to protect settlers from retaliation by Palestinians after the massacre, the army closed Shuhada Street, the city’s central road, as well as the vegetable, wholesale and meat markets. Closures intensified during the second intifada. In the years that followed, “Israeli” policies, including closures of main roads and markets, and settler and army violence made Palestinian life in the city unbearable, turning the once vibrant center into a ghost town.

It was against this backdrop in 2001-2003 that I found myself serving on the military patrol that accompanied engineers to weld shut the doors of Palestinian homes and shops on Shuhada Street, to close roads for Palestinian vehicular and pedestrian traffic, or turn them “sterile” in the parlance of the “Israel” Occupation Forces [IDF]. I can’t forget the graffiti I saw sprayed on some doors: “Arabs to the crematorium”, “Arabs out” or “Revenge” besides Stars of David.

That racism manifested itself in regular violence: settlers attacked Palestinian pedestrians or neighbors, sometimes even sending their children to do the same. As a soldier, I had orders not to intervene. We were there to protect the settlers, I was told, not the Palestinians.

I was not only a bystander to these events. Around the clock, my unit went on missions whose goal we were explicitly told was “to make our presence felt” in order to “create a feeling among the Palestinian population of being pursued”. During these missions, we would enter random Palestinian homes in the middle of the night, waking up sleeping families for the sole purpose of intimidation, or search random shops during daytime hours. These patrols were perhaps the most routine part of my service in Hebron.

In the years since I finished my military service, none of this has changed. Through my work with Breaking the Silence, an organization of “Israeli” veterans I co-founded that works to bring about an end to the occupation, I know that soldiers who served after me continue to this day to make their presence “felt” in all sorts of ways.

Though Greenblatt uses a joint settler-Palestinian Iftar to claim that we are on our path towards peace, that is meaningless when Palestinians still cannot walk on major roads in their biggest West Bank city. Is this the future Greenblatt dreams of for us? Settler violence is still rampant. The more than 100 physical movement obstacles set up by the army inside the city make routine movement a daily ordeal for thousands. Two different legal systems continue to exist in Hebron [al-Khalil], as is true throughout the West Bank – one for Palestinians [military law] and one for settlers [civil law].

The true objectives of more than half a century of “Israel’s” military occupation over the Palestinians are clearer in Hebron [al-Khalil] than anywhere else – to achieve Palestinian subjugation in a segregated and unequal reality.

If we were in 1950s Alabama, would Greenblatt say that a joint meal between white and black people was the way forward? Or would he recognize that the way to achieve equality is to end the legal system of discrimination and ensure the protection of equal rights? Hebron [al-Khalil] is no different – the only solution is the end to the occupation.

Advertisements

‘They have punished the victims’: Hebron struggles 25 years after Ibrahimi mosque massacre

zzat Karaki, centre, demonstrating with Youth Against Settlements for the reopening of Shuhada Street on 22 February 2019 (MEE/Megan Giovannetti)

The repercussions of the attack are still felt keenly by Palestinians in Hebron, who have seen their rights eroded and their formerly bustling city centre turn into a ghost town

By 

in

Hebron, occupied West Bank

“Since the massacre, everything changed.”

Jamal Fakhoury, 40, struggles to find the right words to describe his hometown.

With a furrowed brow and damp eyes, he utters: “Every day it’s a difficult life for Hebron.”

Fakhoury is reflecting on the Ibrahimi mosque massacre – the 25th anniversary is on Monday – and its impact on the southern occupied West Bank city.

On 25 February 1994, a Jewish-American settler named Baruch Goldstein opened fire on Palestinian worshippers inside the Ibrahimi mosque – also known as the Tomb of the Patriarchs – in the centre of the Old City of Hebron.

We are not humans at all. We are numbers

– Izzat Karaki, activist with Youth Against Settlements

Goldstein killed 29 men in an instant, and injured well over 100 more. Six other Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces in the ensuing chaos.

Although it is the biggest city in the West Bank, Hebron’s residents are interconnected in almost every way through its cultural and family structures. Nearly every citizen has ties to the Ibrahimi mosque massacre through some relative, friend or neighbour.

“A settler from the US came and killed Palestinians,” Izzat Karaki, a 29-year-old activist with the Palestinian-led group Youth Against Settlements (YAS), said exasperatedly. “And after that they punish us, the victims.”

Beyond mourning for the lives lost, the attack has also affected the people of Hebron – and its generations to come – in a profound and structural way.

Full of life

“Before the massacre, I felt something like peace in the old city,” Fakhoury recalls.

He is from the Old City and still resides there, just around the corner from Shuhada Street and the mosque.

Along some two kilometres, Shuhada Street is tightly packed with shops sitting below several-storey high homes. The road leads directly to the Ibrahimi mosque and once stood as the heart of the Old City.

Munir, 65, owns a shop directly across from the mosque that remains open to this day. He likes to show laminated pictures to passing tourists of the bustling Shuhada Street back in its heyday, brimming with cars and people.

Munir shows a photo of Shuhada Street in the days before the massacre, back when the road was the bustling centre of Hebron (MEE/Megan Giovannetti)
Munir shows a photo of Shuhada Street in the days before the massacre, back when the road was the bustling centre of Hebron (MEE/Megan Giovannetti)

He does point out that the First Intifada, which started in 1988, only ended in 1993, five months before the massacre. “The six years of the Intifada were really not a normal time,” he said, pointing out that the area around the mosque “was part of the ‘playground’ where the Intifada took place”.

But, he explains, “before, this area was full of life”.

“We used to have four people working in this place,” Munir continues, showing the shop where he is standing. “Today, it is me alone and I am also taking care of two stores which belong to my neighbours.”

Collective punishment

“After the massacre, the mosque was closed for six months, and they [Israeli forces] closed Shuhada Street,” Karaki tells MEE.

For nearly three months, Karaki said, Palestinian residents of Hebron lived under an Israeli-imposed curfew while military checkpoints were built in the Old City – checkpoints that are still present today.

The aftermath of the Ibrahimi mosque massacre Hebron on 25 February 1994 (AFP)
The aftermath of the Ibrahimi mosque massacre Hebron on 25 February 1994 (AFP)

When the Tomb of the Patriarchs and the surrounding area was reopened to the public, the religious site had now been divided into two – a synagogue on one side, a mosque on the other.

Palestinians were no longer allowed to drive cars in the area, Munir says, and the number of Israeli soldiers and cameras around the Ibrahimi mosque dramatically increased.

The post-massacre changes made to the city were in a lot of ways a preface to the dramatic transformation that the Hebron Protocol was to create three years later.

The 1997 agreement between the Israeli government and the Palestine Liberation Organisation divided the city into two areas: Palestinian Authority-controlled H1 and Israeli military-controlled H2.

In H2, making up nearly 20 percent of Hebron, some 40,000 Palestinians currently live under Israeli military law, while the 800 Israeli settlers in H2 are ruled by Israeli civil law.

“Animals here have rights more than us,” Karaki exclaims. “Any cat, any dog can go to Shuhada Street. But me? I cannot.”

“Why? What did I do? We are not human at all.”

In the wake of the Hebron Protocol, shops were permanently closed in H2, and many Palestinians were driven out of their homes, many of whom “by military order”, Karaki explains.

The harsh living conditions and restricted freedom of living and movement in H2 drove many Palestinians out – turning the bustling city centre into a ghost town.

“We are talking about 1,827 shops closed and 140 apartments empty,” Karaki adds.

There are currently 20 permanent checkpoints inside the city of Hebron, dominating Palestinians’ lives with curfews and indiscriminate closures.

It is now necessary to go through two separate checkpoints just to enter the Ibrahimi mosque.

“When I go to my home every day they check my ID,” Fakhoury says, “I wait 20 minutes behind the checkpoint near the mosque.”

“If you don’t have your ID you are not allowed to get in or to pass through the checkpoint,” Karaki concurs. “We are not humans at all. We are numbers.”

Monitoring group expelled

The massacre led to the creation of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH), an international organisation meant to monitor the situation in the city and document violations of international law and human rights.

In its 22-year-long presence, TIPH filed more than 40,000 incident reports – many of which Karaki says the Palestinians Authority can take to the International Criminal Court.

Jamal Fakhoury waits in line at one of 20 Israeli army checkpoints in H2 (MEE/Megan Giovannetti)
Jamal Fakhoury waits in line at one of 20 Israeli army checkpoints in H2 (MEE/Megan Giovannetti)

But last month, the Israeli administration refused to renew TIPH’s mandate, forcing it out of the city.

Fakhoury, like many Palestinians in the Old City, enjoyed TIPH and felt safe with its monitors’ presence.

“I think it will be difficult now with no one watching the problems,” Fakhoury says. He fears things “will get worse, because the Israeli government doesn’t like to tell people what is happening here”.

There are currently four Israeli settlements inside the city of Hebron – Avraham Avino, Beit Romano, Tel Rumeida, Beit Hadassah – all established well before the 1994 massacre.

But since the expulsion of Palestinian from H2, it has become easier for Israelis to occupy Palestinians homes.

“Usually settlers focus on the empty houses,” Karaki explains. “Where there is an empty house, they occupy it and change it from a Palestinian (home) to a settlement.”

With TIPH gone, Palestinians fear that they will witness an increase in both settlement expansion and settler violence.

“When I go to my home I need to protect myself, protect my home,” Karaki says.

Citing the Fourth Geneva Convention as an example, he says: “On paper, soldiers are here to protect me like they protect settlers. But unfortunately, we see something different.”

Hope for the future?

YAS has stepped in recently to fill in the void left by TIPH. Its activists walk around the Old City most mornings, monitoring settler activity and protecting Palestinian children on their walk to school.

On Friday, YAS organised its 10th annual “Open Shuhada Street” demonstration to denounce the ongoing situation in Hebron – just like every year in the past quarter century. Israeli forces reportedly fired tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets at demonstrators, injuring at least two Palestinians, including a 13-year-old boy.

“Here, nothing changes,” Munir says. “It’s the same year after year after year.”

But despite the grim circumstances, Karaki says it is important for him as an activist to keep fighting with a purpose.

“Often people are shocked when I say if there is a tomorrow, there is hope,” he says.

But his optimism is dampened by what he and all Palestinians in Hebron have witnessed for years.

“Usually when tomorrow comes, it only gets worse.”

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

Read more

%d bloggers like this: