January 29, 2019


Israel's decision to end Hebron observer mission may breach Oslo accords -Norway (Reuters, 1/29/19)

Israel's decision to eject observers in Hebron may be a breach of the implementation of the Oslo accords, the Norwegian foreign minister said on Tuesday.

A Guided Tour of Hebron, from Two Sides of the Occupation (Masha Gessen, January 24, 2019, The New Yorker)

Hebron is a microcosm of the West Bank, a place where the key practices of the Israeli occupation can be observed up close, in a single afternoon.Photograph by Cristina de Middel / Magnum
The stories of Hebron are the stories of the absent and the unseen. They are the stories of the occupation and of Palestinian life that has been caged in or displaced. No one who lives in Hebron, and very few of those who visit the city, can see the entirety of the displacement or appreciate the scale of the absence. Hebron is divided in such a way that some will only ever see the empty streets, while others see a crowded and bustling town--one bound by fences, walls, and barbed wire, beyond which the emptiness begins. To see the emptiness is to understand some of the effects of the occupation; to see it from the point of view of Palestinians, who have been rendered almost entirely invisible, is to understand much more.

For several years, two activist groups, one Israeli and one Palestinian, have been leading tours of the occupation of Hebron. I recently went on both, crossing from the living city of Hebron to its hollow shadow and back several times.

Issa Amro became an activist in 2003, when he was twenty-two, during his last semester at the Palestine Polytechnic University. In January of that year, he went to class only to find that the university had been shuttered by order of the Israel Defense Forces. The school's computers had been used to download bomb-making manuals, the I.D.F. claimed. Amro went home and Googled "how to make a revolution." The search engine returned results on Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, and nonviolent struggle. Amro got a committee together and started organizing protests against the closure. Seven months later, when the university was allowed to reopen and Amro was able to graduate, he felt that nonviolent struggle had accomplished something. In 2007, he founded Youth Against Settlements, a group that protests and lobbies against the Israeli occupation and leads tours intended to convey the experience of living under the occupation of the West Bank. (Last year, Amro stepped down as the head of the organization to launch a sister foundation called the Hebron Freedom Fund.)

Amro's tour begins, necessarily, with crossing a checkpoint. Amro resides in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood of Hebron, in an area where about thirty thousand Palestinians--a fraction of the number who used to live here--live under direct Israeli military rule, which protects fewer than a thousand Israeli settlers. This part of the city is freely accessible to Israeli citizens and foreigners, but most Palestinians can enter only if they're residents. It's a border-style checkpoint, with two sets of revolving gates and two soldiers, behind glass, checking documents. Like all Palestinians in Tel Rumeida, Amro has to go through a checkpoint in order to buy groceries and again to bring them home, or to fill his kitchen-stove tank with propane. He has to carry the tank on his back, because Palestinians are not allowed to drive within the neighborhood. On one afternoon and evening in Hebron, I observed Amro cross checkpoints a half-dozen times, and not once did the soldiers pass up an opportunity to harass him: now demanding a body search, now screaming insults at him, now informing him that, as of a half hour earlier, passage to a Palestinian-owned souvenir shop was closed to Palestinians. The soldiers know Amro for his activism, and ongoing harassment of him appears to be a regular part of their job.

Amro is tall and hulking, with deep-set brown eyes and a short beard. In winter, he wears fur-lined green coveralls that enhance his bearish mien and serve as an extreme irritant for I.D.F. soldiers, who constantly demand to know where he got his outfit. The same coveralls are issued to Israeli soldiers, but Amro says that they are made in the Palestinian territories. (I later saw them for sale in shops outside Ramallah.) Amro's wardrobe, like much of the rest of his life, is a form of nonviolent protest.

On the tour, we descended the steep hill on which Amro lives, went through a checkpoint, and walked the street that runs along the base of the hill, the main commercial thoroughfare of the part of Hebron where Palestinians are still allowed to drive, walk, and shop. For a second it felt like we were in a covered market, but this was because the street is fenced in from the top, with a sort of wire net intended to protect the Palestinian traders and their customers from rocks, bottles, and trash thrown by Israeli settlers who live on the street just above. Amro pointed at metal sheeting placed over a section of the net; it is meant to guard against acid that settlers pour down, to destroy the goods sold here. "I've seen it twice," Amro told me. "I've seen the earth boiling here."

In 1997, as part of the Oslo peace process, Israel and the Palestinian Authority drew a line splitting Hebron in two. The area designated as H-1 is controlled by the Palestinian Authority; in H-2, the Palestinian Authority has civil administration over Palestinian residents and the Israeli military controls everything else. H-1 is far larger, and in the past two years its population has roughly doubled, while H-2's has dwindled because settler violence and I.D.F. restrictions have made life unbearable for Palestinians. 

Posted by at January 29, 2019 6:12 PM