Israeli settlement expansion adds fuel to fire in Hebron
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 They requested that their full names not be published as they feared reprisals by Israeli authorities.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