Making a life alongside soldiers, settlers and ‘sterilised’ streets: Zidane’s story

By EA Marian.

Hebron is the largest city in the West Bank and is often described as the most tense, due to the close juxtaposition of Palestinian residents and Israeli settlers. Human Rights Watch describe the city as a “microcosm of the devastating impact of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on civilians.” Hebron is an area of deep historical and religious significance to both Jews and Muslims, home to the Tomb of the Patriarchs and the Ibrahimi Mosque. However, whilst Hebron’s Israeli settlers are protected by a strong military presence, Palestinians face heavy restrictions on their freedom of movement and ongoing violence with little or no recourse to justice. Here EA Marian meets Zidane, one of the only remaining Palestinian residents on the once-bustling centre of Shuhada Street, to hear how he maintains hope and continues to work for justice, despite everything.

We spoke to fifty year old Zidane Al-Sharabati at his home on Shuhada Street in the H2 area of Hebron in the occupied West Bank. Born and raised in this house, he now lives here with his wife and five children, ranging in age from 6 to 18 years old. 

Israel exercises full military control over the 20% of Hebron City, known as H2.  Approximately 33,000 Palestinians live in H2 as well as approximately 700 Israeli settlers, most of whom live in settlements close to Zidane’s home, where Hebron’s commercial centre was once located.

All Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal under international law.  Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention states that “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

In H2, over 100 physical obstacles, including 20 Israeli military checkpoints, segregate the settlement area and its surroundings from the rest of Hebron city, severely restricting the freedom of movement of Palestinians.

Since 2015, the settlement area including Zidane’s home has been declared a ‘closed military zone’, further isolating over 800 Palestinian residents, all of whom must register with the Israeli authorities and be screened at one or more Israeli checkpoints to reach their homes; access is on foot only, and visitors are not allowed.

The map below from B’Tselem illustrates some of these restrictions. Palestinians are not allowed to drive in the areas shown in purple and cannot walk or drive on the roads marked in red.  According to Breaking the Silence, an Israeli organisation of former Israeli soldiers who served in Hebron, the Israeli Defence Forces refer to these streets as ‘sterilised’.

“When I walk out my front door, I can walk to the left but I am not allowed walk more than 20 metres to the right.  I can barely remember what some of that part of Shuhada Street looks like”.

Zidane’s home is across the street from the Beit Hadassah settlement. Tel Rumeida settlement is on the hill behind his home. There are two other settlements and an Israeli military camp a short distance down Shuhada Street. Zidane explains “When I walk out my front door, I can walk to the left but I am not allowed walk more than 20 metres to the right.  I can barely remember what some of that part of Shuhada Street looks like”.

According to the 2018 UNOCHA household survey in H2, over the previous 3 years, 75% of Palestinian homes in the closed and restricted areas of H2 have been searched by Israeli forces, while 69% of families in these areas have been affected by settler violence.

“My family had an office on the ground floor of this house and also other shops and houses along Shuhada Street but all of these were closed by military order, so we lost our livelihood.” 

Over 500 Palestinian businesses have been closed by Israeli military order, while more than 1,000 others have shut down due to restricted access for customers and suppliers, leaving the area in economic ruin.  Many Palestinian families have moved out of the area. “My family had an office on the ground floor of this house and also other shops and houses along Shuhada Street but all of these were closed by military order, so we lost our livelihood.” 

“My father and grandfather were born in Hebron. Their home was in the area now occupied by the Avraham Avinu settlement.  This home was closed by Israeli military order so they were forced to leave.”   

“Until 6th grade, I studied in the school down the road.  Then Israeli soldiers took over the school building, so all of us students lost our school. Israeli settlers then set up the Beit Romano settlement there in 1979.”

Zidane’s father was a bus driver, but the Israeli military seized the bus station for use as an army base. “So my father lost his income and we were not allowed enter this area after that.”

“When I was 38 years old, I lost my left eye.  Settlers were throwing stones at my house.  I went on to the balcony to save my mother.  My eye was hit by a stone.  I now have a glass eye.”

“There was parking space for buses and cars for the many people from surrounding villages who used come to the vegetable market [now the site of the Israeli Avraham Avinu settlement]. We also had a centre for doctors and medical clinics and lawyers so every service was available here along this street.” 

“After 1981, the settlers began to make a lot of problems for our family because our home is so close to them. It got worse after the massacre in the mosque in 1994.  Although it was an Israeli settler (an American doctor) living in Hebron who killed 29 Palestinians and injured more than 100, it was the Palestinians who were punished with a curfew and restrictions”

“In 1994, when I was 25 years old, soldiers arrested me and dragged me to their military vehicle, then hit me in the mouth using a machine gun and broke my teeth.  I had to get dentures after that.”

“When I was 38 years old, I lost my left eye.  Settlers were throwing stones at my house.  I went on to the balcony to save my mother.  My eye was hit by a stone.  I now have a glass eye.”

“We can only live on the top floor of our house and have cages around our windows and balcony to prevent injury from the settlers when they throw stones at our house.”

When Zidane went to the police station to report the settler attack injuring his eye, he was asked to produce video evidence, which he didn’t have.  “The soldiers at that time saw the settler who threw the stone at me, and also saw the blood coming from my eye, but they did nothing.  So I decided to start the Camera project.  We train people to use simple cameras to document harassment and attacks by settlers and soldiers.  We worked with BT’selem, who posted some of our videos online. 

A BBC documentary called Hebron Exposed: A Weapon of Life includes a videoI made when a young Palestinian boy was killed by a settler outside my house.  I heard a shot and began to film from my window. In that video you can see that the army officer appears to put the knife next to the boy”.

“The Israeli army came to my house afterwards and ransacked it.  They also smashed some phones and cameras and a computer, but luckily I had already uploaded the video.”

With the help of some volunteers, Zidane converted a building behind his house into a kindergarten for local children.  All the materials to renovate the building had to be carried in because Palestinians are not allowed drive in this area. 

Zidane has many CCTV cameras set up around his home and the kindergarten. “Before, whenever I complained to soldiers and police about attacks on my home, they denied that there were any such attacks.  The area around my home and kindergarten is more like a prison.  The children cannot play outside. Instead of planting beautiful things like flowers and trees at the kindergarten, we have to put these cameras in order to protect the children.”

From his home, Zidane also monitors schoolchildren who have to walk along the area of Shuhada Street in front of his home in order to get to the kindergarten and the nearby Cordoba school. “Sometimes, the soldiers close the main checkpoint, so students and teachers are delayed getting to school. Some settlers used to attack the teachers and the children.  It is better now that EAPPI are here.”

“I feel that I must continue to be strong. It’s my duty to save the home of my father and grandfather.  It is my heritage.  It is my city and my country so I want to stay here. 

“Over the years, Israeli settlers have offered me millions of US dollars to sell them this house. We’re the only family living in this part of Shuhada Street.  So if the Israelis could get us to move out it would affect this area a lot.  I think it is likely that Cordoba school and the kindergarten would be closed.”

It is very difficult to live here. Soldiers regularly enter my home by force often in the middle of the night.  Sometimes a five year old settler will tell the soldiers that some of my family threw a stone at him from our home.  Although the allegation is not true, the soldiers use this as an excuse to enter our home and terrify our children.  This violence from settlers and soldiers affects our children the most. Sometimes they wake up with nightmares and sometimes they wet their beds.”

“I feel that I must continue to be strong. It’s my duty to save the home of my father and grandfather.  It is my heritage.  It is my city and my country so I want to stay here.  We will never have peace or safety while the occupation and settlements continue. Filming with our cameras gives us some protection because we can show the world what is happening to us, but still everything is getting worse.” 

Take Action!

Learn more about life in Hebron under the Israeli occupation by watching BBC documentaries Hebron: A War of the Narrative and Hebron Exposed: A Weapon of Life.  You can also follow the work of Israeli organisations B’Tselem  and  Breaking the Silence.

In Ireland? Write to your TDs and ask them to support the Occupied Territories Bill, currently before the Dáil.  If the bill is enacted, it will result in banning the import to Ireland of goods from the illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.