…the Aftermath and Netanyahu’s Announcement
(Christian Peacemaker Team) Hebron, West Bank, February 7, 2016 – At 2.30 on the 21st January our neighbour, Zleikha Muhtaseb, rushed into our CPT base to tell us that Israeli settlers were forcibly trying to break into two Palestinian homes near Abed’s shop just down from the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron. We grabbed our things and followed her. The mosque checkpoint was shut down so we had to detour through tunnels to Zleikha’s brother’s home which was situated right between the two houses under attack. On this journey we travelled through intense tear gas and struggled to open our steaming red eyes to see where we were going, but this was nothing compared to the situation in which we found the Muhtaseb family when we arrived at their home.
The women and children in the home took us to the upper floor window to look out on to the street. There were about 80 Israeli settlers milling around, going in and out of the houses on either side of us. They were moving in with large pieces of luggage, domestic equipment, grocery supplies and even huge packs of toilet paper. Standing around with guns and protecting them were nearly as many Israeli soldiers and Border Police. Armoured personnel carriers and police jeeps served as further protection. Did they think that the family in the Muhtaseb home in the middle of these homes were going to resist and attack them with wooden spoons – all 3 women and 5 small children? There were no other Palestinians in the immediate area as checkpoints had been shut down all around the homes.
The only Palestinians in the vicinity were on the roofs of other homes about 200 metres behind the homes that were being forcibly occupied. Their defence of these two Palestinian homes was to throw stones, a crime that can result in 20 years of imprisonment, and to wave a Palestinian flag which is also illegal in the old city of Hebron. The Israeli response was to tear gas them and to aim loaded guns at them.
We spent four hours in the Muhtaseb home as a protective presence for the family, taking video footage and photos of what was happening. My CPT team mate had a long conversation, through the open upstairs window with an Israeli settler, who originally came from the US. He informed us that these Israeli settlers had purchased the homes but could not wait for the slow Israeli bureaucracy to complete the formalities and so they had decided to move in anyway. My team mate, who is also from the US, challenged him gently on all the arguments that he made about the military occupation, such as – the Jewish people had a right to come back to their ancestral home, that all Palestinians were jihadists and supporters of Hamas etc.
We learned from Israeli media posts that the homes that were forcibly entered were unoccupied and that no one lived in them. The Muhtaseb family told us otherwise. They said that the house on their right was rented to a family who were absent from their home for a few hours. We heard that after the forced entry to their home this family was denied permission to come through the checkpoint that afternoon to return to their home. It appears that the family in the home on the left had moved out temporarily so that renovation work could be carried out.
Meanwhile, the situation outside continued and Israeli forces and settlers were joined by a group of Israeli Jews who were shuckling (swaying while praying) outside in the street. The settlers continued to move their belongings into the occupied homes while being continually protected by well armed Israeli forces.
At one point we were startled by hammering and banging on a sealed internal window in the Muhtaseb home. This internal window was shared with the settler occupied home on the left and as the hammering became louder and more intense the window started to slowly edge open. Were the settlers attempting to take over the Muhtaseb home also? Once it was opened and we saw the settler, we asked him what he was trying to do? We told him that he did not own this home and he withdrew back in and closed the window. A relief!
And, as ever, in the middle of all this madness, the wonderful Palestinian hospitality was shown when we were invited to sit down to dinner with the Muhtaseb family.
This occupation of the two homes lasted through the night. The settlers were heard to sing and cook and we noted at least 13 very large pizza boxes dumped outside the Muhtaseb home. But the merriment was not to continue as Israeli forces arrived to evict the settlers from the Palestinian homes the following morning. Some settlers had to be forcibly removed and carried out of the Palestinian homes.
The home on the right of Muhtaseb’s home had the front door and many of the inside doors welded shut by the military so that when the family returned to their home they were confined to only 25% of their former home.
The other rather dark and sinister story comes from an article by Richard Silverstein where he states that Tal Schneider, Israel’s leading political blogger, broke a major story on Saturday 22nd January about the Hebron homes stolen and occupied over the past few days. In his article he goes on to say that the staging of this occupation of two Palestinian homes was led by members of the Likud Central Committee from communities within the Green Line.
He goes on to say that: “after being removed by the IDF, the thieves expressed their understanding of the government’s actions; in expectation that they would be permitted to return to their illegal gains after a certain interval had passed and they received authorization from the defence ministry”. Read more: here
In public remarks at the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday 24th January, Prime Minister Netanyahu said his government “supports the settlements” and would expedite an examination of the settlers’ case. This was despite the fact that the Israeli Minister for Defence, Moshe Ya’alon was the minister who ordered the eviction of the settlers.
“The moment that the purchase process is authorized, we will allow the population of the two houses in Hebron [to move back in]. The process of checking is starting today,” he added. “We will do it as quickly as possible. If, in any case, it is not completed within a week, I will see to it that the cabinet receives a status report.” (here)
Under the 4th Geneva Convention, an occupying state is not allowed to move its own civilians into the land that it occupies. The 4th Geneva Convention became ratified as International Law after World War II. There are now approximately 800,000 Israeli Jewish settlers occupying Palestinian lands and homes in the West Bank. And this number continues to rise daily as more land is appropriated and more settlements are built.