Israeli settlement expansion adds fuel to fire in Hebron

Sunday 29/10/2017
Tense mood. A Palestinian protester runs in front of burning tyres during clashes with Israeli troops near the Jewish settlement of Qadomem in the West Bank village of Kofr Qadom near Nablus. (Reuters)

London- For the first time in 15 years, Israeli authorities approved building permits for a new settlement in Hebron.
Permits for 31 settler housing units were approved by the Israeli Civil Administration’s Subcommit­tee for Licensing. The units are to be built on Shuhada Street in Beit Romano, Hebron’s Old City.

About 800 Israeli settlers live in the heart of Hebron under heavy military control among a popula­tion of nearly 200,000 Palestinians. Israeli authorities granted housing permits in an area home to approxi­mately 35,000 Palestinians and 700 Jewish settlers.
In 1994, the Israeli military shut down Shuhada Street, the Old City’s main commercial artery, after 29 Palestinian worshippers were killed by an Israeli settler inside the al- Haram al-Ibrahimi Mosque. Since then, many events have taken place to raise awareness about the plight of Shuhada Street, including the Open Shuhada Street Campaign, which has led several non-violent protests.
Initially, Israeli authorities de­nied Palestinian vehicles access to the street. However, when the second intifada broke out, Shuhada Street was also closed to Palestin­ian residents, including those who lived in the area.
Israeli human rights group B’Tselem reported that in Novem­ber-December 2006 at least 1,014 Palestinian housing units in He­bron’s centre were vacated by their owners. More than 400 stores were closed under Israeli military orders and 1,829 Palestinian commercial establishments were forced to shut down because of incessant closures and omnipresent checkpoints.
In August, an Israeli military or­der established a new municipal service administration for settlers in Hebron in what was denounced as reminiscent of apartheid.
The Times of Israel and the Jew­ish Press reported that the an­nouncement of proposed settler units in Hebron came in response to the recent decision by UNESCO to list Hebron’s Old City as an en­dangered Palestinian World Herit­age site.
Palestinian residents of Hebron said the expansion would make life in the city worse than it already is. They requested that their full names not be published as they feared re­prisals by Israeli authorities.
Amal, 42, said the housing plans would severely affect the daily lives of Palestinians living in the Old City.
“We Palestinians here in Hebron face many discriminating restric­tions daily. We are subjected to regular military checks and delays. We are denied access to our land and we are deprived of basic human rights,” she said in an interview via Skype.
“If these construction plans go ahead, Hebron will become a point of clashes once again. Living in He­bron will become even more un­bearable than it already is.”
Palestinian municipal authorities in Hebron announced they intend to go to the Israeli Supreme Court to appeal the plan.
Peace Now, an Israeli activist or­ganisation opposed to Israel’s oc­cupation of the West Bank, said in a statement that the settlement in Hebron “represents the occupation in its most ugly” form.

“The permits approved would in­crease the number of settlers in He­bron by 20% and they required sig­nificant legal acrobatics that might not stand the test of the High Court of Justice… While doing everything in his power to please a small group of settlers, [Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu is harming Israel’s morality and image abroad while crushing basic values of hu­man rights and dignity,” the NGO said.
These plans were the first of a series of approvals expected soon. Nearly 3,800 housing units are ex­pected to be given advanced or retroactive approvals, bringing this year’s total to twice that of 2016, all of which are illegal under interna­tional law.
“How can the international com­munity just watch what is going on here in Palestine?” asked Hebron resident Kamal. “These plans are illegal. They are a violation of in­ternational law. These plans disrupt and threaten our daily life here in the Old City.”
“We are harassed by the presence of ten settlers. We are subjected to checkpoints, regular closures and frequent attacks from Jewish set­tlers and Israeli forces. Imagine how life would be with hundreds of Is­raeli settlers.”
The United States has expressed concern over Israeli settlement plans, with a White House offi­cial stating that “President [Don­ald] Trump has publicly and privately expressed his concerns regarding settlements and the ad­ministration has made clear that unrestrained settlement activity does not advance the prospect for peace.”

However, the Israeli construction announcement was not directly condemned. The White House of­ficial said the administration also recognises “that past demands for a settlement freeze have not helped advance peace talks.”
Many Palestinians, international human right institutions and inter­national bodies were angered by the approval of building permits in the Old City. Hebron Governor Kamel Hamed denounced Israel’s plans of illegal construction of settlements. He called on the international com­munity to put pressure on the Is­raeli government to terminate all illegal measures.
“Israel intentionally chose a time when Palestinians are distracted by the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation and the prospect of a unity government to go ahead with the building of ille­gal settlements here in the Old City of Hebron,” Mustafa, another resi­dent of Hebron, said via Skype.
Settlement plans within the vicinity of al-Haram al-Ibrahimi Mosque are the most dangerous yet and violate Article 49 of the Gene­va Convention.
If such plans take place, the tense situation in Hebron could worsen and exacerbate clashes between Palestinians and Israelis