The shuttered houses on Holy Days

By Amira Hass
Ha'aretz Thursday 11/21/2002

The one and only meaning to the creation of "territorial contiguity" from Kiryat Arba to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, is expulsion. The expulsion of thousands more Palestinian residents of Hebron, people who were unlucky enough to find that their homes, shops and gardens are in the area meant for "contiguity." The IDF will protect the Jewish construction and dozens if not hundreds of Israelis - contractors, engineers, architects, carpenters - will join the work, and police will protect them. Thousands of Israelis will thus become active partners in the expulsion. They'll go home every night to their worried families in Jerusalem and Kfar Sava. If one of them is killed in a Palestinian ambush, the response will be even more "territorial contiguity."

There won't be any need to load people onto trucks. They simply won't be able to stay in their homes, let their children risk of going to school every day on the same route where their Jewish "neighbors" are building, striding the streets with their rifles like masters of the land if not the universe, speeding along streets that for security reasons are closed to Palestinian traffic. They'll lose ever more days at work when they try leaving their homes or try coming home and are faced by a noisy laughing gang of Jewish teens of both sexes, stoning them with rocks, kicking at them and spitting at them, while a policeman or a few soldiers stand idly by. The Palestinians living in the "territorial contiguity" will go through what happened to the Palestinians of the old city of Hebron, but at an accelerated rate.

It's an open secret that many of the residents of the old city have left their homes in recent years. They simply couldn't take life with the unceasing harassment from a handful of Jewish citizens of Israel who were allowed to behave that way due to the laxity or sympathy of soldiers and officers, the apathy or sympathy of police and the indifference of the Israeli public. Dozens of shop owners in the old city have stopped opening, whether because of the unending days and nights of curfew imposed on Hebron and its ancient heart, or because the "neighbors" scare off the shoppers, or because the streets where the shops are located are closed to protect the security of the Jewish neighbors.

When the curfew is lifted, and the market is reopened for a few hours, there is the illusion of life. But last Saturday, on the day after the gun battle between armed Palestinians and soldiers, police, and armed Israeli guards from Kiryat Arba, under the full curfew imposed on Palestinian Hebron, it was possible to discern how empty the old city has become. An elderly woman and her son peeked frightened through a barred and netted window. Behind a tightly shut iron door, one could hear the murmurings of the inhabitants. Someone, in the chilling silence, quickly opened and closed an iron door. But from one of the rooftops in the old city the abandonment could easily be seen: wide open wooden window shutters lazily flapping in the breeze and behind them black holes - empty rooms. Dried up plants, clotheslines bare of laundry - these were the signs of an empty place.

Some of the Palestinian houses are already empty in Wadi Nasara, where the gun battle took place opposite the southern nook of Kiryat Arba. The "Worshipers Way" for the Palestinians has become the path of the stone throwers and the shooters in the air, and the lack of response from the authorities for years. Fridays and Saturdays and other Jewish holidays when the worshipers walk the way, are the cursed days for the residents of Wadi Nasara and the old city. That's when they lock themselves in their homes and shutter their windows, blocking their ears when the window shatters or their plant pots are overturned and they know there's no point calling the police.

The settlements were built before the terrorism and after it. They were built whether the Palestinians expressed their opposition or not. A lengthy curfew was imposed on Palestinian Hebron after Baruch Goldstein murdered worshipers at the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs; a curfew was imposed on them when a Palestinian murdered a Jewish baby and a curfew is imposed when armed Palestinians fight armed Israelis. Jewish zealots in Hebron and throughout the West Bank harass Palestinians before attacks and after attacks. Now they don't even hide the fact their "settlement enterprise" is part of their Transfer plans, which everywhere else in the West is known as "ethnic cleansing."

Are those Jewish zealots and their lobbyists really the heirs of the Jewish Diaspora? From inside Hebron they actually appear to be of a different heritage, scions of nationalist, anti-Semitic movements who sent pogromchiks at the head of mobs who spread fear and were full of greed for the Jewish homes, to gradually implement the plan of "cleansing the homeland of its kikes." Hebron, on Shabbat, was reminiscent of ancestral tales from Sochba, a town in northeast Romania, where on Holy Sundays, the Jews would shutter themselves up in their homes.