By former EA Zoe. Zoe recently returned to the UK after serving as an EA with EAPPI in Israel and occupied Palestine
“I cannot receive any visitors, I cannot drive down my street and I cannot even repair my home,” explains Salwa, pointing to the bullet holes in the walls of her house, the bars on the windows and the crumbling ceiling. “This is not democracy, this is racism – I can live with Jews as neighbours, but I cannot live with this inequality.”
Salwa is one of some 1,200 residents of the heavily-secured Tel Rumeida district of Hebron – the largest city in the West Bank. Everyday life here is already impossibly restricted, but it looks set to become even more difficult as two new checkpoints enclose the area.
One of the two new checkpoints under construction in Tel Rumeida [Photo: EAPPI/Zoe]
In 1997, Hebron was formally divided into two areas, with 80 per cent of the city (H1) transferred to the Palestinian Authority and 20 per cent (H2) remaining under Israeli control. Today, H2 (which includes most of Hebron’s old city) encompasses five Israeli settlement compounds, home to several hundred settlers, alongside a population of more than 40,000 Palestinians. About 12,000 Palestinians in H2 live next to the settlements, as in Tel Rumeida. The settlements mean tight access restrictions, the constant threat of violence and harassment from settlers, and incursions by the Israeli army.
Local Palestinians wait to enter Tel Rumeida through the main checkpoint [Photo: EAPPI/Zoe]
In H2, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has counted
over 130 Israeli army closures, roadblocks and checkpoints in Hebron. Among these, according to B’tselem are 12 checkpoints permanently guarded by soldiers; 14 intermittently-guarded checkpoints and 70 permanent blockades (such as concrete walls, blocks and locked gates). Tel Rumeida’s two new checkpoints include revolving gates, cameras and separation chambers, and NGOs speculate that they may also introduce high-tech identification systems.
Israeli authorities justify restrictions in H2 on the grounds that they protect settlers from Palestinian violence and enable them to lead secure and normal lives. The overwhelming effect, however, has been to curtail the rights and freedoms of Palestinians, resulting in everyday insecurity and a life that is far from normal. Residents of the area are unable to use cars, or even walk on many of the surrounding streets, and must struggle over arduous terrain to reach their front doors. (Some bypass the checkpoints altogether through obstacle-course-style back routes over fences.) Many residents are unable to build or repair their houses, or purchase basic household appliances like washing machines because the materials or appliances are not allowed through check points.
Barred windows and sealed doors on Palestinian homes next to a checkpoint in Tel Rumeida [Photo: EAPPI/Zoe]
Most disturbing, however, is the continuous threat of violence. Salwa and her children have been physically attacked by residents of the adjacent settlement (she suffered miscarriages on two occasions as a result); their grape vines and olive trees have been poisoned and their home invaded by soldiers during military exercises in the area. Two years ago, Salwa’s husband – a prominent rights activist – died from heart complications after being tear-gassed in a protest in Tel Rumeida, with the ambulance unable to pass the checkpoints to reach him for medical assistance.
Since 2015, the Israeli army has prohibited access to Tel Rumeida to all Palestinians who do not live in the area. Residents are therefore cut off from friends and family and, as many told us, feel increasingly invisible to the international community. The effect of these restrictions has been to drive Palestinians – primarily those who can afford to move – from the H2 area. A recent survey by OCHA has found that a third of Palestinian homes in H2 have been abandoned and hundreds of businesses closed.
Settlers celebrate the recent illegal takeover of another compound in H2 [Photo: EAPPI/Zoe]
The international community regards Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be illegal. Likewise, the expanding restrictions on Palestinians in Tel Rumeida and the H2 area violate multiple principles of international law, including the right to freedom of movement, to a continuous improvement of living conditions and the prohibition against collective punishment.