This article is the third dedicated to Palestine in the form of a cartographic, photographic and textual account of my recent trip there. This particular one can be complemented with one of the five “fragments of the Apartheid landscape” discussed on Archipelago with Alex Shams. The question of the largest city of the West Bank, Hebron (563,000 inhabitants in its extended area), has been already brilliantly addressed by Raja Shehadeh for the thirteenth Funambulist Paper in October 2011. This present article will therefore not repeat Raja’s words, but rather complement the map presented above and the keyed photographs included below.
Hebron is the only city in the West Bank whose center is not fully under the control of the Palestinian Authority (Area A). A provision in the 1993 Oslo Accords divided the city in two parts, adding to the surrounding Area C another zone under full Israeli control in the very center of the old city. This area is called H2, in opposition to H1 that covers the Western part of the city and that is under the Palestinian Authority control. The reason for such a urban partition is that about 850 Israeli settlers are effectively living in the old city, sometimes directly above Palestinian houses. The city is sacred both for Islam and Judaism, since Abraham and his wife Sarah are believed to be buried in the Cave of the Patriarchs, under the Al-Ibrahimi Mosque where, in 1994, an American settler, Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 Palestinians in prayer and wounded 125 others. The mosque is only accessible through checkpoints for Palestinians (see close-up map and photograph 11) as part of a urban complex where settlers can freely navigate and where most areas are strictly prohibited to Palestinians.
Many streets have been completely blocked and only accessible for non-Palestinians through military checkpoints (see photograph 2 for example). Many Palestinian stores have been closed down by the Israeli army (one street in particular is now known as “Ghost Street,” see photographs 9 and 10) and the remaining merchants had to setup a net above their heads not to be affected by the regular attacks by the settlers living above them. This longitudinal cluster of Israeli settlement in the old city of Hebron does not function as an island in a Palestinian sea. It is more of militarized peninsula emerging from a largest area, also under the Israeli army control and where the large expansive settlement of Kiryat Arba and its agricultural land takeovers, prevent any direct communication between the Eastern neighboring towns and Hebron itself.
The situation in Hebron thus reproduces the same Apartheid territorial mechanisms than anywhere else in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem; yet, it concentrates these mechanisms at the scale of a city. Prohibited areas are not only inaccessible for Palestinian vehicles like they are in other parts of the region, but more immediately for Palestinian bodies within the city itself. The violence thus remains territorial but, just like in the direct vicinity of the Apartheid wall in Bethlehem, East Jerusalem, Qalqilya and Tulkarm, this violence affects the body in an immediate manner, through the various architectural Apartheid apparatuses, as well as through the presence of the Israeli soldiers. A significant part of the city (about a fourth of it), is situated in H2, thus under the policing of the Israeli army. For the people living in these areas, the Oslo Accords did not change anything or, rather, since then, the military presence in their neighborhoods acquired a form of legitimacy to carry their usual home raids and arbitrary arrests. Although I have been repeatedly calling against the creation of the State of Palestine for which the Palestinian Authority is currently lobbying (see past article), there is no doubt that the population of Hebron in particular would grandly benefit from such a scenario that would end the immediate violence of their daily experience of the city.
All photographs by Léopold Lambert (2015, except indicated otherwise):