In Israeli-occupied Hebron, Palestinians describe living in ‘a prison’

In Israeli-occupied Hebron, Palestinians describe living in ‘a prison’

HEBRON, West Bank — To leave their home, the Idris family has to navigate an obstacle course.

“This is our secret way,” said Firas Idris, 57, gesturing toward the 12-foot ladder that leads over a garden wall and into the basement of a neighboring building. After two flights of stairs, a door opens onto the street.

The Israeli military blocked off the house in Hebron with razor wire earlier this month, penning in about 20 members of the extended family. Idris said he doesn’t know why. The Israel Defense Forces said it was not aware of razor wire being placed outside his home or others on the street.

Since Hamas’s deadly attack on communities around Gaza on Oct. 7, Israel has intensified its military occupation of the West Bank — through arrests, raids and crippling restrictions on movement.

New orange gates dot the roads, cutting off “almost all” entrances to Palestinian villages and towns, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Since Oct. 7, a total of 45 gates have been added across the West Bank, OCHA said, making a total of 214. Earthen mounds, concrete roadblocks and ad hoc checkpoints also sever communities from main roads.

The impact has been felt acutely in Hebron, population 250,000, the largest Palestinian city outside Gaza. With Israeli settlements clustered in and around its historic center, it has long been one of the most heavily militarized, intensely surveilled parts of the West Bank.

After Oct. 7, the vise around Hebron has been tightened even further. All but one of the main routes into the part of the city that is home to the vast majority of Palestinians have been blocked, according to residents and B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group. The remaining route has been fitted with a steel gate that can be closed at any time.

Many of the Israeli checkpoints that once controlled movement in and around the old city have been shut down, dividing friends and families and keeping many residents confined to their neighborhoods. Some described barely leaving home for months.

“It’s a prison in a prison,” Idris said.

The IDF said that Hebron has “several entry and exit points that are regularly open throughout the hours of the day.” At least one road is left open to each of the surrounding villages, it added, saying considerations are made “in order to ensure not to harm the day-to-day life of Palestinian residents of the city.”

Those that venture out fear run-ins with Israeli forces. Idris said he was detained by soldiers earlier this month and barred from the main street outside his house. All Palestinians are prevented from using the road on weekends, residents said, because it is the main route for Jewish worshipers traveling to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a holy site for both Muslims and Jews.

The IDF declined to answer questions about Idris’s detention. It said that foot traffic on the road outside the Idris home had been “segmented” after Oct. 7. Those restrictions have now been lifted, it said, but can be reimposed as needed for security reasons. Residents said the measures are still in place.

In his driveway, Idris showed another spot where the family had felled a tree to allow his mother, who can’t make it up the ladder, to squeeze through a fence. A second ladder rests over a back wall so others can leave the home through a neighboring olive grove.

Such routes are dangerous, family members said, and they fear being shot. But there is no other way out.

Hebron was divided in two more than 25 years ago under the U.S.-brokered Oslo accords. The Palestinian Authority has a mandate to administer the majority of the city, known as H1, while its historic heart, or H2, home to nearly 34,000 Palestinians and 850 Jewish settlers, is under the control of the Israeli military.

Even before Oct. 7, Israel’s far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who lives in a settlement abutting Hebron, drew international condemnation for saying the safety of settlers was more important than free movement for Palestinians.

Following the attack, Palestinian residents of H2 said they were prevented from leaving their homes for two weeks, forced to survive off whatever they had inside, or to sneak in food.

The checkpoints were later opened three days a week, residents said — allowing them a one-hour window to leave in the morning and an hour to return in the evening. They can leave anytime now, but only three of 22 checkpoints were open when The Washington Post visited last week.

The IDF denied a curfew was ever in place and said any restrictions are imposed “for security reasons only.”

“The gap between what they are saying and what is happening on the ground is unbelievable,” said Roni Pelli, a lawyer with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. “It’s like a policy of gaslighting.”

Israel has dramatically stepped up its security crackdown in the West Bank in recent months, targeting a new generation of Palestinian militant groups that have taken root in refugee camps. In Hebron, first locked down three decades ago after a Jewish settler gunned down 29 Palestinians inside a mosque, militants are much less prominent than in cities such as Jenin and Nablus.

Activists have warned for years about the “Hebronization” of other parts of the West Bank. They said those fears are more pronounced now, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledges to extend security control across the territory.

Patrolling soldiers here are often joined by settlers who have long tormented their Palestinian neighbors, said Issa Amro, Hebron’s most prominent activist. He was on his way home on Oct. 7 when he said he was detained by soldiers for 10 hours, beaten, spat on and threatened with sexual assault.

The plastic cuffs were tied so tightly that they cut off circulation, he said, and he still has a loss of feeling in his hands. The IDF said that Amro’s claims are “under review.”

Amro sees all of it as part of a larger effort to force Palestinians out of the city. “They don’t evict you physically, but they make it impossible for you to stay,” he said.

Schools in Hebron have been forced to teach online, shops are shuttered and residents said they can’t get to work, though there are few jobs to be had here. On the main street, children clambered up the gate of another group of homes fenced off with razor wire. “Open the schools!” they shouted.

“Our kids are driving us crazy,” said Umm Yousef, 45. “We are so depressed. Life is impossible.”

Idris’s sister Mukaram, 56, lives across the street but hasn’t been able to visit him since the barbed wire was installed two weeks ago.

Her house is open to the street but she doesn’t go out at all. She is too afraid to pass through the checkpoints, where she said there are no female soldiers to do searches. And no visitors are allowed from outside the neighborhood.

“Everything has changed,” she said.

As she spoke, a boom rang out. “Stun grenade,” a nephew quickly interjected. It was followed by a burst of gunfire. A few hundred meters away,  » …
Read More

0 I like it
0 I don't like it