Initially arriving in Hebron, it had a bustling, lively atmosphere. Having spent the last few months in the populaire quarters of Middle Eastern countries, I felt at home in the souk of the Old City. But walking down these narrow streets where shopkeepers called out to the mass of customers passing before them, the commerce suddenly ended. I could almost draw a line at the point where life seemed to stop, and the streets were instead lined by closed shop-fronts.
The houses above these shops have been taken over by Jewish settlers, citing their “Biblical Right” to this land in the heart of the Palestinian Territories. Barbed-wire & mesh covers the top of the street due to these settlers throwing rubbish—and sometimes rocks—onto the Palestinians below. A few shopkeepers have kept their shops open in this part of town, but the rest have been forced out of business.
At the end of the souk stands an Israeli checkpoint, its turn-style controlling the movement of people into the part of Hebron referred to as H2. In 1997, the city was split into H1 & H2: H1 is under the control of the Palestinian Authority; and H2 is under Israeli control. Within Hebron, Israeli settlers account for approximately 1% of the population, yet Israeli forces controls 20% of the city. Bear in mind that Israeli settlements within the Palestinian Territories are illegal according to the Fourth Geneva Convention. Within the Old City, the settlers number around 500. They are civilians, yet they are permitted to carry automatic weapons.
Shuhada Street used to be the most important commercial street in the city. Access to it has been restricted since 1994 when Dr. Baruch Goldstein, an Israeli settler who immigrated from the United States, massacred 29 people and injured a further 150. It is since this event that Shuhada Street has been closed to Palestinian commerce, pedestrians and traffic. The Israeli military justify this to protect the 600 Israeli settlers who live there. Under a ruling by the Supreme Court in 2007, Palestinians are entitled to use the road, but the Israeli military has refused to implement the decision.
Just outside of the checkpoint, three Palestinian shopkeepers keep their shops open, sometimes suffering abuse from the passing settlers. Trade is slow, and the rest of the street resembles a ghost-town. The only people passing past the soldiers posted there are the occasional tourist, such as myself, and on the Sabbath, groups of settlers going to the synagogue.
Drinking a coffee with one store-holder, he explained how life was now like here. When it was time to leave, I was urged to buy something. “Make it my first sale of the day”, he said. At 3pm.