Hebron, Unyielding Power in the Ongoing Palestinian Flare-up

Prof. As’ad Abdul Rahman

Statistics of last week showed that the Governorate of Hebron has provided the majority of attackers in the ongoing Palestinian flare-up (Habbah) since October 1915. In early July 1916, the first time in two years, Israel placed the entire region of Hebron once more under a few weeks general closure restricting crossing or passage out of around 700 thousand Palestinian residents. Indeed, some Israeli leaders called for a large military operation against Hebron, with the Israeli education minister Naftali Bennett declaring his support for a wider military campaign, arrest of the largest number of suspected attackers and cut off of the internet access in the southern Hebron Hills.

The centrality of Hebron in Palestinian resistance against the Zionist/ Israeli occupation, is deeply rooted in the given fact that Hebron has throughout history enjoyed a significant religious status among the three monotheistic religions, with the Ibrahimi Mosque at its centre, and the graves of Prophets Ibrahim, Isaac, Yacub and their wives enshrined within its ancient walls. Today the Hebron governorate is the largest and most populous in the Occupied West Bank and a business hub. The Israeli military occupation controls 20% of the Hebron city area according to a redeployment agreement reached in 1997 under which the Palestine Authority (PA) takes charge of the civil affairs of the Palestinian population. The governorate faces, on a daily basis, additional suffering as it is surrounded by a large number of Jewish colonies (settlements), the largest of which is Kiryat Arba, and is also plagued by the presence of  46  Israeli military camps and 70 checkpoints, forming flashpoints inside the city itself or in nearby villages resisting the Israeli occupation.

Palestinians of Hebron and other large governorates have realized as early as the twentieth of the past century that, according to Israeli historian Benny Morris, “the imbalance in the growth of Jews under the British Mandate will turn the Arabs into a minority”. Such a fact remained live in the minds of  Hebron residents who stood up to such a threatening demographic development, far back during the 1967 war, in the Palestinian uprising in 1987 and in joining the current flare-up (Habbah). Following a series of bold attacks launched by young men and women against its soldiers and Jewish “settlers”, the Zionist state moved to punish Hebron and its environs by increasing its collective punitive measures enforced by the occupation army which included tightening blockades, erecting more barricades or withdrawing work and trade permits from the Hebronites.

Yossi Yehoshua, the military affairs commentator in Yediot Ahronot, viewed Israel’s punitive measures as an attempt to pass a message that it “has moved to initiating attacks instead of merely responding to them”. He wrote that an Israeli attack, specifically in Hebron region, requires intelligence, because the governorate appears to be an impenetrable fortress which the Israeli intelligence has so far “failed to penetrate”. He added that the government should now try to look for new and valid intelligence and build a network to track Hamas and the Palestinian resistance men, especially that “the current Intifada is launched by individuals difficult to track their movements or predict their decision to determine the date and location of an operation as opposed to monitoring and tracking activities of organized cells of Palestinian factions”. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lauded his ministries for jointly extending help to the Jewish residents of Kiryat Arba colony and the Jewish quarter in Hebron whom he said were “standing up heroically” against a “cruel terrorist front”. He declared that his government had endorsed an NIS 50 million assistance package to Kiryat Arba and other Jewish colonies in the region.

Despite plans to fortify the colonies, Israeli journalist Yoav Limor said the Israeli army has focused its activity on Hebron as the epicenter of a “terror surge” but admitted “the options available to Israel vis-a-vis the deadly terrorist attacks in the Hebron sector are limited”. He explained: Hebron has always been a hotbed of “radical terrorist activity” and that “the combination of a religious, Hamas-affiliated town and the constant friction between Jews and Palestinians has proven volatile time and again, inspiring countless terrorist attacks, each sprouting its own string of copycats.”

The irrationality of the situation led Haaretz to conclude in an editorial that it was evident without a further proof that the Israeli army became unable to protect Israelis at any time or place who insist on “settling” in the occupied areas. It said the basic argument that Jewish “settlements” in the Palestinian occupied areas increase security is evidently unfounded. Former Mossad (Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations) deputy chief Ram Ben Barak conceded that “terror’ is the price Israel is paying for its colonial settlement policy in the occupied lands. He said it is a price for settling among Arab “hostile” population. On his part, Avi Sakharov appeared more realistic writing in Haaretz that the Intifada is far from being over and that measures imposed against Palestinians such as a cut-off of internet access are bound to fail.  He admitted that all actions taken by the Israeli army and security system did not prevent Palestinian attacks and that the absence of a political horizon with the PA, coupled with a decline in the economic situation, are among factors driving young Palestinians to carry out individual attacks.  This is why, Hebron city and its surroundings have turned into an epicenter galvanizing its young people into action against the Israeli occupation.