A Palestinian child wanders through the tunnel-like Old City.
Hebron, or Al Khalil to Palestinians, is sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims as it is the ancient home of Abraham and Sarah. Hebron’s large Ibrahimi Mosque was at one time a synagogue, but also a Christian church. Now it is a mosque on one side and a synagogue on the other.
Jews, Christians and Muslims had lived peacefully in Hebron for centuries, but the city was the site of a large massacre of Jews in August of 1929. In August of 1929 land confiscations by Jewish gangs and the increasing number of Jewish immigrants from the USA and Europe resulted in riots in Jerusalem and other parts of Palestine. Sixty-seven Jews living in Hebron were killed by a Palestinian mob whose main target was the recent immigrants. Sympathetic Palestinians in Hebron harbored Hebron Jews in their homes and thus saved 435 from death and injury. [For more detail on this incident see: “Long Shadow of 1929 Hebron Massacre” http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/8219864.stm ]
Some of these Jews returned to Hebron in the early 1930s, but left again in the mid 1930s.
Israeli settlers moved into the heart of Hebron in 1979, taking over a former hospital. There have been problems continually since then between the aggressive settlers now numbering over 450 and Palestinians protecting their homes, shops and city. http://www.tiph.org/en/About_Hebron/Settlements_in_Hebron
In 1994, a US-born settler, Baruch Goldstein, entered the Ibrahimi Mosque while Palestinians were at prayer and shot 29 men before being subdued and killed. Today near the Israeli settlement in middle of Hebron there is a monument honoring Baruch Goldstein. Settlers make pilgrimages to his tomb.
(http://asitoughttobe.wordpress.com/2009/08/17/witness-in-palestine/ article by Anna Balzter, respected author on Palestine.)
An exit out of the Old City leading to the Ibrahimi Mosque and the settler synagogue is guarded by a steel turnstile and Israeli Occupation Forces 24 hours a day.
Saturday afternoon, November 7, 2009, MPTers spent time with three different international organizations during their monitoring of a Hebron settler tour of the Old City of Hebron. A group of people in black and white conservative dress accompanied by about 20 well-armed Israeli Occupation Forces toured the Old City of Hebron. Settler tours occur most Saturdays. Settlers come from Occupied Palestine, Israel and from other parts of the world. (See: “Hebron, the Ultimate Family Experience in Israel” The advertisement states that all buses are bullet-proof. The purpose is stated as “reclamation and renovation of ancient Jewish houses.” http://www.hebron.com/english/tour.php ) MPTers were asked by the international groups not to photograph (unless there was overt violence) since this often results in hostility by the settlers.
Several years ago, the Israeli military vacated Palestinian homes in the Old City that were considered too close to the adjacent settlement . During the tour soldiers entered and exited homes, some of which were occupied, others may have been empty. The army entering home was disconcerting because MPTers had no idea what the reaction of the Palestinians was or if this was something they just ‘’accepted’’ on every Saturday afternoon. The soldiers may have entered homes for roof top or window access to see that the area was “safe.”About 2000 Israeli Occupation Forces protect about 600 settlers in central Hebron. They occupied nearby Palestinian homes and buildings. [See Balzter article above.]
Palestinian shopkeepers put up metal netting to catch debris thrown down by Israeli settlers who live in the bordering homes confiscated from Palestinians.
The tour followed a circuitous route, including some back alleys of the Old City . At one point the tour entered an area where Palestinian boys were playing soccer. One soldier was a bit aggressive with the boys for a few minutes, shoving one boy. One young Palestinian a short distance from the tour acted aggressively, but he was calmed down by nearby shopkeepers. Otherwise there were no hostile interactions. Five European-tourist-looking youth came behind tour. One of the teenage girls in the settler tour was overheard asking if these youth were safe. There was close collaboration between the soldiers and the settler tour guides. Finally the group moved to what had been a closed off area and exited by unlocking a padlocked gate to a settler-only street.
A Star of David "claims" this area as Israeli.
The internationals monitoring the tours told MPTers that Palestinians residents, especially shopkeepers are concerned that there could be violence against them. No physical harm was done by soldiers or settlers during this tour, but fear is always present almost the Old City residents because no one can anticipate what might happen.
(Former Israeli soldiers speak out about their experience in Occupied Palestine. Breaking the Silence conducts tours in Hebron and villages in the South Hebron Hills. http://www.shovrimshtika.org/tours_e.asp )