August 2003, Summary
Upon the signing of the Hebron Agreement, in January 1997, Hebron was divided into two parts: Area H-1, an area of eighteen square kilometers (80% of the city) with 115,000 Palestinians, was handed over to complete Palestinian control. Area H-2, in which 35,000 Palestinians and 500 settlers live, remained under Israeli security control, with the Palestinian Authority being given only civilian powers. During the al-Aqsa intifada, Israel again took control of Area H-1.
Since the beginning of the Al-Aqsa Intifada, the living conditions of Palestinians in H-2, primarily in the Casbah (Old City) area near the settlements, have deteriorated significantly. As a result, those families who could afford to do so moved to other neighborhoods.
Among the factors leading to their leaving the area are the following:
- Palestinians in this area suffer almost daily physical violence and property damage by settlers in the city. Settlers throw stones at them, curse them, damage their property, and take over their apartments. At its worst, the violent acts resulted in the death of fourteen-year-old Nibin Jamjum. Security forces do not protect Palestinians against settler violence and almost never enforce the law against the lawbreakers. Even in cases in which the security forces anticipate settler violence, they fail to make preparations to prevent the attacks. A report prepared by Israel's Civil Administration stated that, "The image of the State of Israel is extremely bad in all matters related to law enforcement in Hebron."
- The restrictions on Palestinian movement in the city are among the harshest in the Occupied Territories. The IDF imposes curfew on Palestinian residents of H-2 both in response to violence by Palestinians and violence by settlers, and to enable settlers to hold public events. Between 2,000-2,500 shops and businesses have been closed in the area since the beginning of the current intifada. Business life in the Casbah and Bab a-Zawiya area, which constituted the commercial center of the city, has come to an almost complete standstill. The inability to move about freely and to earn a living has increased the unemployment rate and the number of people living in poverty. These restrictions also affect the ability of residents to receive medical services and for children to attend school in a normal and regular manner.
- Palestinian residents of H-2 also suffer from serious acts of violence by border policemen and IDF soldiers. Testimonies provided to B'Tselem indicate a phenomenon of routine, daily violence by security forces, including beatings, hurling of stun grenades, and theft of money and goods, sometimes by threat. The most egregious incident of violence was the killing of 'Imran Abu Hamdiya by four border policemen, who were interrogated only after B'Tselem and other human rights organizations pressured the authorities. State officials stubbornly sought to present this case and others as "unusual cases." However, B'Tselem has documented many other cases, even after the killing of Abu Hamdiya. In fact, violence by security forces is a widespread phenomenon, which began before the killing of Abu Hamdiya and still continues.
Israel has continually ignored its duty to protect the safety and welfare of the Palestinians living in Area H-2. Most IDF effort is directed toward protecting settlers in the city, while grossly violating the human rights of the city's Palestinian residents.
The primary cause of the grave violation of Palestinian human rights is the presence of the settlers within the city. Therefore, Israel must remove the settlers. As long as settlers are living in the city, Israel must protect their safety and welfare. It cannot do so, however, while ignoring almost completely its obligations toward the city's Palestinian population, and while systematically and continually violating their rights.