The city of Hebron, 19 miles south of Jerusalem, has been the site of more Israeli-Palestinian violence than any other locality in the West Bank. It is held sacred by both the Jews and Muslims for the same reason. It is the traditional burial place of the Patriarch Abraham. A core of Jews, many descendants of men and women who have lived there for centuries, inhabited a district in the oldest part of the city.
Since 1997, the city has been divided into two sections. H1, which held about 120,000 Palestinians is under the control of the Palestinian Authority. H2 held 30,000 Palestinians and the Jewish settlers, though the Palestinian population has dropped over time because of harassment living under the control of the Israeli military. Currently, the population of Hebron is 175,000 Palestinians and 86 Jewish families.
Last Thursday, 20 Jewish “settlers” moved into a two-story house in Hebron, without authorization from either the Palestinian or Israeli authorities. They are trying to expand the Jewish area of the city and claim they bought the building from its Palestinian owner. Only if the owner is suicidal. The Palestinians are furious over this new infringement of their shrinking territory.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak ordered the settlers out of the building by 3 p.m. local time on Tuesday. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu overrode the order. An Israeli official said that “The prime minister has asked the defense minister to give the settlers in the building time to allow them the possibility of pursuing legal proceedings.”
This intervention came a week after Israel’s highest court ordered the evacuation by August 1 of all illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank. The Netanyahu administration had hoped to talk the illegal settlers into leaving voluntarily, but the settlers are stalling, believing they have the tacit support of the Prime Minister, who is a believer in Revisionist Zionism – that Jews have a right to the West Bank and not just to the original borders established for the modern state of Israel.
Though most people believe that Netanyahu is politically strong, he has resistence in his own party and a spreading dissatisfaction among Israelis over his economic policies and the settlement policy, which is just increasing tensions between the Israelis and Palestinians. He is under pressure from world leaders to finally agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state on the West Bank and in Gaza, but he continues to find reason for not doing so. There is a battle going on in Israel between the extreme fundamentalist factions and the more secular population, and that spills over into the settlements, which are filled with fundamentalists.
Seventeen percent of the population of the West Bank is Israelis, 500,000 of the 3,000,000 residents, most of them having been planted there since the 1967 occupation in nice little suburban communities behind high walls. All Jewish settlers were removed from Gaza. The Israeli government has been trying to enlist Israelis to help settle the Negev Desert region. But, that’s too simple a solution for anyone to take seriously.