What makes Hebron special is the religious-nationalist militancy of the Israeli settler projects in the city and its environs—along with the ferocity of the accompanying violence. In the province as a whole, the settlement pattern is the same as elsewhere in the West Bank—the inward creep of colonization forces the occupied population into ever smaller and denser enclaves. The southern Hebron hills are a recurrent flashpoint, as settlers and Israeli army bulldozers repeatedly try to push Palestinian shepherd families out of their villages.
As Israel pounds Gaza by land, air and sea, we turn for a moment to the West Bank city of Hebron. In 1997, Israel withdrew its military from the majority of the city’s area, called “H-1,” which became part of “Area A,” the parts of the West Bank policed by the Palestinian Authority (PA). Israeli soldiers remained in “H-2,” the old city, where some 400 Jewish settlers live among 40,000 Palestinians and where the Tomb of the Patriarchs / Ibrahimi mosque is located. When H-2 is not under curfew, visitors can walk down Shuhada Street and see soldiers in mesh-enclosed positions above.
Some 43 years ago, a group of activists in the movement to end the war in Vietnam founded the Middle East Research and Information Project.
The impetus was that the American public, including the anti-war left, was poorly informed about the Middle East and the US role there. The region was commonly depicted as alien, its politics uniquely determined by religion and impossible to explain with ordinary categories of analysis. The original idea behind MERIP was to produce better reporting that would get picked up by existing left outlets.
Scan the headlines for news about Israeli settlers, and you are likely to be overwhelmed by stories of a radical and violent religious nationalism: extremists marching on the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, guarded by Israeli soldiers, to pray atop the Temple Mount; West Bank colonists torching olive trees and cars, or making midnight jaunts into Palestinian villages armed to the teeth, to put a “price tag” on both Israeli state slowdowns of the settlement project and Palestinian attacks on Israeli targets. But lately tales have emerged of a kinder, gentler settler as well. Take this Associated Press dispatch:
On September 1, Elad — a Hebrew acronym for “To the City of David” — convened its eleventh annual archaeological conference at the “City of David National Park” in the Wadi Hilwa neighborhood of Silwan. Silwan, home to about 45,000 people, is one of 28 Palestinian villages incorporated into East Jerusalem and annexed by Israel after the June 1967 war. It lies in a valley situated a short walk beyond the Dung Gate of Jerusalem’s Old City. Elad, a militant, religious, settler organization, claims that Silwan is the biblical City of David mentioned in the second book of Samuel and that the Pool of Shiloah (Siloam) located there watered King Solomon’s garden.
The neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, a 20-minute walk up the hill from the Damascus Gate to the Old City of Jerusalem, has become the focal point of the struggle over the expanding project of Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
It would be easy to describe the residents of the outpost of Amona as radicals. In February 2006 they led protests of 4,000 settler activists, some of them armed, against 3,000 Israeli police who were amassed to make sure that nine unauthorized structures in the West Bank were bulldozed as ordered. In the ensuing clashes, 80 security personnel and 120 settlers were wounded, more than the entirety of the casualties during the 2005 “disengagement” from settlements in Gaza, in a showdown that became the symbol of the West Bank settlers’ resolve to resist the state’s efforts to tear down encampments, like their own, that were erected without the state’s permission.
Almost a decade ago I wrote an article describing Israel’s “matrix of control” over the Occupied Palestinian Territories. It consisted then of three interlocking systems: military administration of much of the West Bank and incessant army and air force intrusions elsewhere; a skein of “facts on the ground,” notably settlements in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, but also bypass roads connecting the settlements to Israel proper; and administrative measures like house demolitions and deportations. I argued in 2000 that unless this matrix was dismantled, the occupation would not be ended and a two-state solution could not be achieved.
The town of Bayt Sahour spills down the hills to the east of Bethlehem, spreading out along ridges and valleys that mark the beginning of the long descent to the Dead Sea. Up the slopes the roads carve out twisting rivers of dirt and asphalt, wending their way through clusters of soft brown stone houses, but across the ridges they run straight and smooth.
On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, the sitting Israeli prime minister spoke more plainly than ever before in public about what will be required of Israel in a comprehensive peace with the Palestinians and Syria. In a September 29 interview with the newspaper Yediot Aharonot, Ehud Olmert said that, to achieve peace, “we will withdraw from almost all the territories, if not all the territories” that have been under Israeli occupation since the 1967 war, including most of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. Particularly coming from Olmert, who long opposed the notion of swapping land for peace, these words might have inspired hope that deals on the Palestinian or Syrian fronts were at hand.
Our territory is inhabited by a number of races speaking different languages and living on different historical levels…. A variety of epochs live side by side in the same areas or a very few miles apart, ignoring or devouring one another…. Past epochs never vanish completely, and blood still drips from all their wounds, even the most ancient.
—Octavio Paz, Labyrinth of Solitude
Gaza City—“I’ll go visit Auntie Lina in Ramallah after I obtain a tasreeh (an Israeli permit) and when Erez checkpoint is open, OK mama?”
This is what my son, who is almost three years old, told me the other day after having a chat with his cousin Laila who lives in Ramallah, in the West Bank. The problem is that during the last five years I have received permission to go to the West Bank only four or five times. Although I have a West Bank identity card from Nablus, I live and work with my husband and son in Gaza City. My son already knows the world: tasreeh , tukh (shoot) and Erez checkpoint is closed.
Two weeks after 60,000 Likud Party members voted against a pullout from the Gaza Strip, about 150,000 Israelis filled Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, calling on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government to proceed with the withdrawal plan. Those opposing the pullout from Gaza support the vision of a Greater Israel, while those favoring the pullout support the state of Israel. The first group believes that without Gaza, Israel will be destroyed; the second believes that with it, Israel will be destroyed.
Within two months of the death of King Hassan II and the enthronement of his eldest son, King Mohammed VI in July 1999, a series of demonstrations erupted in the Western Sahara. This territory has been administered by the Kingdom of Morocco since 1976, though Morocco’s claim of sovereignty in the Western Sahara is not recognized internationally. Since September 1991, the United Nations has deployed a mission there to organize a referendum that would give qualified Sahrawi voters the choice of integration into Morocco or independence.
Only a decade after the fall of apartheid in South Africa, after we all thought we had seen the end of that hateful system, we are witnessing the emergence of another apartheid-style regime, that of Israel over the incipient Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and parts of Jerusalem. This, at least, seems the likely outcome of the “peace process” begun in Oslo and continued, if haltingly, at the July Camp David summit. Whether a Palestinian state actually emerges from the Oslo process or Israel’s occupation becomes permanent, the essential elements of apartheid — exclusivity, inequality, separation, control, dependency, violations of human rights and suffering — are likely to deﬁne the relationship between Israel and the Occupied Territories/Palestine.
The construction of a new Jewish settlement at Jabal Abu Ghunaym is but the latest effort by the Israeli government to assert its sovereignty over East Jerusalem and preempt the “final status” talks on the city’s future. In addition to completing the inner ring of Jewish settlements around East Jerusalem, Har Homa will eliminate Jabal Abu Ghunaym as a land reserve for the natural growth of the surrounding Palestinian communities.
With the recent election of the Netanyahu government, the issue of settlements has again emerged in the media as an issue in the “peace process.” Settlement leaders have proposed spending $4 billion to expand settlements by as many as 120,000 housing units to accommodate an additional 500,000 people by the year 2000. Ariel Sharon recently proposed immediately allowing 100,000 new settlers to settle the West Bank. The new government has already transferred $6.5 million for the construction of bypass roads, and announced the immediate construction of 3,800 new housing units on the West Bank. Netanyahu claims that the Oslo agreement’s wording is loose enough that this in no way violates the final status negotiations.
Despite Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s August 1992 assurance of a “settlement freeze” in the Occupied Territories, and despite the Declaration of Principles of September 1993, settler population expansion and Israeli land confiscation has continued.
Robert I. Friedman, Zealots for Zion (Random House, 1992).
Palestinians and Israeli leftists shared high hopes at the time of Yitzhak Rabin’s inauguration, but optimism quickly began to fade. Robert Friedman’s new book, published shortly after Rabin took office, participates in that early, post-Likud expectancy. Zealots for Zion examines the settler movement in Israel from its inception after the 1967 war through the fall of the Shamir government. This discussion is bracketed, in opening and closing chapters, by the author’s anticipation of a change in settlement policy under Rabin.
In an article written in early 1985, Ze’ev Schiff described the Palestinian and Jewish populations of Israel and the Occupied Territories as “marching…toward a civil war.”  Since then, events have only confirmed the accuracy of Schiff’s observation. The escalation of violence and tension in the Occupied Territories has been particularly sharp in the last few months, since the withdrawal in the spring of most Israeli troops from Lebanon. Palestinian efforts to infiltrate guerrillas into Israel have been repeatedly headed off by the IDF. Likewise, most attempts at random violence by the PLO, such as bombs at bus stops, have been thwarted.