Armed Israeli soldier in the city of Hebron. Credit: Alethea Kanas

Hebron: A synthesis of the Palestinian question

By Alethea Kanas/ Hebron/

It is no exaggeration to say that if you want to understand the Israel-Palestine conflict, its set of conflicting stories, and the harsh reality that makes peace a distant possibility, go to Hebron. Located deep in the center of Palestine, it is one of the oldest cities in the world, the largest in the West Bank and the second largest in Palestinian territory – after Gaza. It is home to some 200,000 Palestinians and one of the most wanted lands by Israel, which it considers sacred.

Hebron is divided into three areas: H1, controlled by the Palestinian Authority; H2, which corresponds to about 20% of the city that is administered by Israel; and a third sector under full control of Israel’s Defensive Forces where the population is made up of Jews, with a few dozen Palestinians.

Partial view of the historic city of Hebron, one of the neuralgic points of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Credit: Alethea Kanas

After the six day war (1967), Hebron was again under Israeli control and Jewish settlements began to be built and expropriated homes of Palestinian residents, right in the heart of the city. After that, much of the center became a ghost, as the Palestinians closed the doors of their homes and businesses and left to escape the existing checkpoints and conflicts. The Israeli army controls the movement of Palestinians living inside the H2 and on the streets of the Old City through cameras and checkpoints. Several of them are closed for access. There are 18 checkpoints – the so-called checkpoints – in place, causing tension in the area and restricting the residents’ freedom to come and go. Those who live within restricted areas should still go through these checkpoints daily. Hebron is sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims. According to tradition, the place the Jews call the Tomb of the Patriarchs – and the Moslems of the Mosque of Ibhraim – are buried Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and Leah. It is considered the second most sacred city of Judaism after Jerusalem. It would be the main reason why Israel occupied and currently controls this area.

Israeli watchtowers in the city of Hebron, near the Ibrahimi mosque Credit: Alethea Kanas

“We want to live in peace” While selling his typical Palestinian handicrafts at Hebron’s most famous and ancient market, in the so-called “old part” of the city, Jamal Maraga, 57, tells what it’s like to live in the middle of a war.

“The life of the Palestinians has worsened since 1967, when Hebron came under Israeli control and Jewish settlements began to be built and expropriated homes of the resident population, right in the heart of the city.”

After the Israeli occupation, the market was losing customers, mainly tourists who were afraid to attend the place that is not always safe.

“Thousands of Palestinians have fled from here, they have not been able to withstand the pressure that the soldiers make every day so that we give up working and leave our own land,” said the trader.

Jamal has a store in the market for fifty years. It is with the income of this establishment that sustains the wife and the three children. The small trade is inherited from the father, who built and raised the whole family with the income of the same crafts and died, without enjoying the peace in the region. “I started working here with seven years helping my father. We’ve seen the war up close but we never gave up. For almost three years Israel forbade us to open our shop. We lived on donations from family members living outside Palestine. But we resist, we are here and they will not convince me to leave the place where I was born, where my heart is. ” Currently, the market stalls in the old city that are still open were lined with protective nets, according to the merchant, to protect themselves from Israeli attacks. The establishment is open air and surrounded by Jewish settlements, fruit of the occupation of Israel. Through the nets you can see kilos of garbage like bottles, old woods, papers and egg debris.

Grid over the Hebron market prevents the site being targeted for garbage thrown from Jewish settlements neighboring the site. Credit: Alethea Kanas

“They threw from the window of the buildings various materials that fell into the market and spoiled our wares. Today we work surrounded as prisoners and this is not healthy for anyone, but at least we are safer. ” Jamal bets on the testimony of his tourist clients as a force to change this reality in Hebron – and in Palestine as a whole. “A lot of outsiders are unaware of this reality, so I always ask my clients tourists to see this situation closely, feel what we live here and spread it to the world. It’s worth more than any media. We want to live in peace and not as animals within our own territory. ”

Data from UNRWA, a UN entity specifically responsible for Palestinian refugees, indicate thatthere are 5.4 million Palestinians refugees in the world. Some of them live in refugee camps within the West Bank itself, such as Aida.