[News] The Architecture of Apartheid

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Nov 19 12:22:58 EST 2009

The Architecture of Apartheid

November 19, 2009 By Sarah Lazare
and Clare Bayard

The word "Revenge" is scrawled in Hebrew on a Palestinian school in 
Hebron. The windows are covered with screens and the play yard 
obstructed with more screens tipped with barbed wire, to obstruct the 
stones regularly pelted down by Jewish settlers. The space between 
the school and the neighboring building is blocked off with large, 
wooden slabs, to ensure that Palestinian school children do not 
encroach into settler territory. Nearby checkpoints and cameras 
placed on rooftops serve as constant reminder that these kids' every 
movement is monitored and contained.

This schoolyard scene, on an empty weekend day, illustrates the 
separation and containment that has become written into the 
architecture of Hebron. In this city where 1,500 Israeli soldiers are 
stationed on any given day, the 170,000 Palestinians living here are 
kept under constant watch, their movements restricted while their 
safety is under constant threat. The Jewish settlers who have been 
moving in since the late '70s, now numbering 800, are known for 
repeatedly attacking Palestinians while Israeli soldiers sit idly by.

Walking into Hebron literally feels like a nightmare. Shahuda Street, 
one of the main roads, is traveled only by settlers on foot or in 
speeding cars, soldiers and police, and packs of fighting dogs. 
Palestinians living on this street have to climb into their houses 
from the rear, either cutting across neighbors' rooftops, carving 
holes in their walls, or, like one little girl we watched, scaling a 
rope to the second story. Their front doors have been welded shut or 
barricaded with rusty metal, like the countless shops in Hebron, 
closed by military order. Streets are sealed off with concrete and 
bales of ribbon wire.

"Security is the magic word here," says Hisham Sharabati, a 
journalist who has been living in Hebron for most of his life, 
gesturing towards an Israeli military checkpoint at the entrance of 
the Abraham Mosque, in the middle of the Old City. "Israel uses that 
word in any way it likes, so that it can justify denying Palestinian 
human rights."

In 1994, a settler named Baruch Goldstein opened fire in the mosque 
at Abraham's tomb, a sacred site to Muslims, Jews, and Christians. We 
saw the torn marble, bullet holes in the arch that points towards 
Mecca. 29 Palestinians were killed while praying, then more when the 
military opened fire on people trying to run out of the mosque. The 
response? Palestinians were placed under 30 days of curfew, the fruit 
and vegetable market was shut down, and the "system of separation" 
developed. Since then, Palestinians living in Hebron have been 
controlled by the military and attacked by settlers - a "security" 
structure that many say was intended to push out Palestinians to make 
way for settlers. The city was carved up into the H1 Area - 
controlled by the Palestinian Authority, and the H2 Area, controlled 
by the Israeli military. Within the H2 area, Jewish and Palestinian 
quarters were cordoned off by a matrix of roads, many of them 
off-limits to Palestinian use. Vibrant marketplaces and city centers 
were shut down, some of them slowly taken over by Jewish settlers, 
others turned into ghost towns guarded by military checkpoints. 
Israeli soldiers now patrol every street in the H2 area, in a tactic 
that serves as a constant reminder of the Israeli military presence.

Jewish settlers claim that they have rights to the land, invoking a 
bloody massacre in 1929 that left 67 Jews dead. There are varying 
accounts of this tragedy: Mikhael Manekin from Breaking the Silence, 
a group of former IDF soldiers who now speak out about what they 
witnessed and acts they perpetrated, told us that many of the 
murderers had come in from surrounding villages. He claims that 
several Palestinian locals risked their lives to defend the Jews, and 
some of them were granted certificates of appreciation by Jewish 
organizations for doing so. Local settlers have used the 1929 
massacre to justify pushing Palestinian Hebron residents out of their 
homes, with a sign placed in the middle of a settlement that reads, 
"These Arabs are living on stolen land."

What happened in 1929 is horrible, but it does not justify mass 
displacement and systemic degradation of a people. The massacre is 
being used to target Arabs and perpetuate racism in a way that has 
not been directed towards European populations guilty of massacring 
Jews on a far larger scale. The painful landscape of Hebron is an 
example of how trauma can beget trauma: a population of Jews, 
traumatized by a history of violence and discrimination, has turned 
around and traumatized another people, and in doing so, is doing 
untold damage to their own community. Settlers here occupy a city 
that has become a hotbed of religious/ethnic tension and blatant 
racial discrimination. This is not good for anyone who grows up in 
such an environment, whether Israeli or Palestinian.

Hisham guided us through the city all morning; in the afternoon, we 
met with Mikhael, who as an Israeli, could take us into the areas 
Hisham is prohibited from entering although he's lived in Hebron his 
whole life. Mikhael explained that there are 2 or 3 soldiers per 
settler, a ratio clearly intended to control the large Palestinian 
population. Rather than correlate the military presence to the amount 
of settlers; the logic is based in military containment and control 
of the "enemy," under the guise of protection. Mikhael served as an 
officer in Hebron, and now is one of the Breaking the Silence members 
who leads tours there for Israelis and internationals.

The settlements within Hebron have been declared illegal by the 
Geneva conventions. The official city maps, which are the documents 
used by Israeli courts, are wildly inaccurate. They claim that ghost 
streets, long sealed off by concrete and metal, are functioning 
thoroughfares and marketplaces. Walking through the streets of 
Hebron, you find a city carved up by the violent military presence 
and constant threat of settler violence.

Some roads have a concrete barrier running along the edge, leaving a 
few feet for Palestinians to walk along while two wide lanes are 
reserved for settlers. The souks, Old City markets, have wire screens 
or makeshift netting overhead: insufficient protection for attacks 
from settlers living on the floors above. The wire screens are heavy 
with trash, bricks, giant concrete chunks, and exploded plastic bags 
that contained sewage and urine when they burst onto the people and 
racks of goods below. Hisham told us one young man was in a coma 
after a sharpened metal rod came through the screen and penetrated 
his skull. Now, when you look up, you can see piles of objects that 
got caught in the screen: crowbars, bricks, stones, chairs. While 
walking through a market, we saw a settler woman throw sand from her 
third story apartment down at a crowded market where Palestinians 
were shopping. It fell on a Palestinian woman's head, as well as on 
one of our delegation members, Eddie, who because of being 
Mexican-American has often been perceived to be Arab on this trip.

An older man who lives at the edge of Shahuda Street, in the last 
meters Palestinians living on that block are allowed to walk up to, 
explains that he has to apply for permits if his children or 
grandchildren want to visit his home. He is not allowed any other 
visitors, like every Palestinian who remains in their home in H2. On 
the other hand, settler children take field trips on his street. We 
watched a group of elementary school-aged settler children walk down 
Shahuda, accompanied by a few adults including with some with assault 
rifles strung over their shoulders.

Standing on a rooftop overlooking the old city, we could see concrete 
and stone buildings, punctuated by military bases in the center of 
the city, and on opposing hills. These military installations have 
either expelled or built on the rooftops of people living in top 
floor apartments. Many of the rooftops held water tanks, important 
storage for a neighborhood whose water is diverted to the nearby 
settlements and sold back at higher prices to Palestinians.

In the hills south of Mount Hebron, settlers attack Palestinians 
going to graze their sheep. A friend told us about a village that was 
expelled in 2000, and until a few weeks ago, was living in caves near 
their lands. The Israeli court actually ruled that they could go back 
to their village, and on Friday settlers attacked their flocks and 
killed a lamb. When Israeli solidarity activists called the police, 
who came hours later, the police accused the elderly Palestinians of 
having killed their own animal to frame the settlers. Olive harvest 
accompaniment is prioritized not only because the olive trees sustain 
many people, but also because legal loopholes are used to take away 
peoples' land if they aren't able to reach it for a certain period of 
time. It is reminiscent of the eminent domain laws used to steal 
people's land in the lower 9th ward: if displaced New Orleanians 
weren't able to return to the city to cut their grass regularly the 
city would claim their plot- often an overgrown lot with only the 
foundations left where the house was blown away by the wall of water.

Solidarity work in this area sounds like it mostly takes the form of 
accompaniment, whether it's escorting children to school to protect 
them against stone-throwing settlers, or walking with people to their 
grazing lands. Settler children throw stones at Palestinian children 
on their way to school- children under 14 cannot be held responsible, 
Mikhael told us, so they are careful about who throws the stones. One 
school finally had to change its hours and days so that the children 
would not be walking to school when settler children were home to 
attack them- they're the only Palestinian school not open on 
Saturdays, and the kids have no recess so they can leave early enough 
to get home safely. Every day. "The Palestinians are the ones who 
take the burden of the separation policy into their lives," Hisham says.

Palestinian residents of Hebron have been organizing to revitalize 
their communities and challenge military occupation and settler 
violence. The Hebron Rehabilitation Committee fixes up battered 
neighborhoods to encourage people to come home, planting gardens and 
repainting dilapidated storefronts. Youth Against Settlements has 
organized creative direct actions: a recent protest involved setting 
up mock checkpoints next to Israeli ones, getting arrested after five 
minutes but still drawing attention to the conditions they live in.

Hebron is situated in the center of global power struggles and 
alliances situated around Israel. This city is the logical conclusion 
of a religious/ethnic state - a city where military occupation is 
woven into the fabric of daily life and residents are forced to build 
screen fortresses to protect themselves from stones and bricks. From 
the shut down city centers, with welded doors and security cameras 
pointing towards the emptiness, to the settlement military bases that 
sit in the center of town, this is the reality of the current state 
of Israel. This is what we, as U.S. citizens are supporting, when our 
government sends military aid so that Israel can buy tanks and 
weapons to patrol these streets.

Sarah Lazare and Clare Bayard are with 
<http://www.againstmilitarism.org/blog>Dialogues Against Militarism

Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

415 863-9977

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