We take a look at the troubled West Bank city of Hebron, where the city’s Palestinian residents have been at the receiving end of a new wave of attacks from hard-line Jewish settlers. Violence flared last week after Israeli riot police forcibly evicted some 250 settlers from a disputed Palestinian-owned home that the settlers had occupied last year. Tensions have been high ever since an Israeli High Court ruling last month that ordered the settlers to vacate the building. We go to Hebron to get the latest. [includes rush transcript]
ANJALI KAMAT: We turn now to the troubled West Bank city of Hebron, where the city’s Palestinian residents have been at the receiving end of a new wave of attacks from hard-line Jewish settlers.
Violence flared last week after Israeli riot police forcibly evicted some 250 settlers from a disputed Palestinian-owned home that the settlers had occupied last year. Tensions have been high ever since an Israeli High Court ruling last month that ordered the settlers to vacate the building.
Following Thursday’s eviction, settlers from the nearby Kiryat Arba settlement went on what the Israeli press has described as a "rampage" against Palestinians. They shot at Palestinians, set fire to homes, cars and olive groves, and defaced mosques and graves. Hebron resident Hosni Abu Seifan was among the Palestinian victims of settler gunfire.
HOSNI ABU SEIFAN: [translated] The settlers attacked us at the house and fired live bullets on us. With a handgun, they shot my father. Then, later, they set the house on fire. There was only a few meters between us, maybe one or one-and-a-half meters, and he probably had his hand on the gun, too, when he shot my father.
ANJALI KAMAT: The shots fired by the settlers at Hosni Abu Seifan and his father were captured on video. The footage shows a settler firing a handgun at the two Palestinian men at close range. The video was shot by a family member of the injured men. He was using a camera distributed by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem that has given more than a hundred video cameras to Palestinian families across the West Bank so they can record violence by settlers and the Israeli army.
The settlers caught on camera have reportedly turned themselves in to the Hebron police. But the footage caused a minor stir inside Israel, and outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert condemned the settlers’ actions, saying they constituted a "pogrom."
We’re joined now by two guests via video stream from Hebron who work closely with Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. Mich’ael Zupraner works with B’Tselem’s Shooting Back project that distributes cameras to Palestinians, and he also runs an experimental internet/TV channel called HEB2. Issa Amro is a longtime resident of Hebron and a field worker for B’Tselem.
Welcome to Democracy Now!
Issa Amro, let’s begin with you. If you can describe what the latest situation in Hebron is like, and also describe the climate in the city over the past two weeks.
ISSA AMRO: Thank you. First, thank you for having us here. The situation now, it’s a little bit calm. But the situation was very, very, let’s say, violent, and the settlers were attacking mainly all of the houses which is close by the occupied house, where the Israeli army were trying to evacuate them from that building. And after the evacuation, they attacked, as you said in your report, they attacked many houses. They attacked people. They burned many cars. And now the people in Hebron are very angry, frustrated, disappointed, because the Israeli army and the Israeli police didn’t protect them during that evacuation of the settlers from that building.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Issa, how long has this been going on, this violence? And has it continually been escalating? What do you expect to happen in the coming days?
ISSA AMRO: Now the situation is calm, because the Israeli police are serious with dealing with the settlers’ violence. But Hebron is well known with the presence of settlers who are very radical and who are fanatic settlers, and they believe in transferring the Arabs from the city to Jordan, to Iraq or to Syria. So the violence is completely seen, and we have many videotapes showing the settlers’ violence in the city since long time. But the settlers escalated the violence after occupying that Palestinian house.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Mich’ael Zupraner, you work with B’Tselem’s Shooting Back project, and this footage that was captured of the settlers shooting at Palestinians caused quite a stir. It caused Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to call it a “pogrom,” a very emotionally charged word in Israel. Can you describe what Shooting Back is and the footage that you captured?
MICH’AEL ZUPRANER: Shooting Back is a project that B’Tselem has been running for the past two years. It’s basically a video distribution — camera distribution project. We give out small video cameras to Palestinian civilians living in what we call hotspots, that is, next to settlements, next to checkpoints, next to military installations, next to the so-called separation barrier, basically areas where we know there are frequent human rights violations, but which usually go undocumented.
And the basic idea is to be able to inform the Israeli public, first of all, but also the international public, of what is happening in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. And I think video is — I guess is probably — you know, a picture is worth more than a thousand words. And I think the success of this project can be measured at a time like this when a video clip filmed by one of the family members of the three Palestinians who were shot, Jamal Abu Seifan, he filmed the clip himself and was able to reach local media in Israel and international media.
ANJALI KAMAT: Issa, I have a question for you. You grew up in Hebron. Can you talk about what does it mean that these 250 settlers have been evicted? Now, there’s well over 400,000 settlers in the West Bank, and Hebron is one of the flashpoints. Can you describe where the settlers live in Hebron? And what does it mean for the future of settlers in Hebron and the West Bank?
ISSA AMRO: The problem that the settlers are living in the heart of the city, that means they are living between, you can say, 200,000 Palestinians who are living very close to the settlers. And the settlers, they don’t like the Arabs, who are very close to them. And the settler — the Palestinians, they see those settlers are occupying Hebron. So around, now, 500 settlers are living in all the city of Hebron. They are occupying some houses there.
The army are closing many roads for — you know, because the settlers are there, they are closing the main roads — you had a street in Hebron which connects the southern part and the northern part of Hebron — because of the settlers.
Many Palestinian houses, they use a ladder to go to their homes, because the main door is welded by the army. Many other Palestinian houses and families, they need to pass four or five checkpoints in 100 meters to go into their homes. So the daily life there, it’s very, very hard, and very ugly [inaudible], you can describe it.
The people are suffering daily from the settlers’ presence in the city. We are not against a Jewish presence, but we are against the radical and the fanatic settlers who are living and declaring Hebron as an Israeli city.
And the evacuation of the settlers from this building, it means [inaudible] they have to implement the law first, before, you know, evacuating the settlers. It’s very important here in Hebron to implement the law. We have two laws here. The Israeli government, they implement the military law on the Palestinians, and they implement — there’s a civic law on the settlers, which means double standard, and it means a lot, you know, on the ground. You know, if we have any problem with a settler, that means he’s under the civilian law and we are under the military law. And this is something very important.
And the settlers in Hebron, they are mainly armed with guns or with weapons. And it’s very, very important, you know, from the international world and from the Israeli people to say something about the settlers’ weapons. It’s very, very important to take off the weapons from them, especially because they are very, very violent people, and they believe in violence.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And finally, Mich’ael Zupraner, there are reports of a march inside Israel at an Arab town. The settlers will march there on December 15th, reports of that. This, combined with the elections in Israel coming up next year. The right-wing Likud Party led by Netanyahu seems to be doing very well. Where do you see this going in the coming days, weeks and months?
MICH’AEL ZUPRANER: I think there’s an escalation at the moment in the West Bank, and I think it has to do also with the political atmosphere inside Israel. There’s been a growing tendency of the whole political spectrum to kind of drift to the right at the moment, and I think that kind of gives a bit of a sense of — a sense of a liberty for action or, let’s say, possibilities to behave like this, I would say, to the settlers in Hebron, but also elsewhere.
There’s a little bit of a sense that there’s no — not much of a — that the government is not really enforcing the law on the ground. Actually, the eviction, I think, came as a surprise to a lot of people here and elsewhere, that the government decided to step in and take action. But I think for a very long time, since I’ve been here in Hebron, there’s been that feeling that there’s really no one in charge. And the elections, which are early elections, that is, it’s — the parliament has called for early elections, this kind of sense of political instability, I think that that exacerbates the situation rather than assists it.
ANJALI KAMAT: Well, thank you, Mich’ael Zupraner. We’ll have to leave it there.
MICH’AEL ZUPRANER: Thank you.
ANJALI KAMAT: Mich’ael Zupraner works with B’Tselem’s Shooting Back project, runs an experimental internet/TV channel called HEB2. Also joined via video stream by Issa Amro, B’Tselem field worker in Hebron. Thanks to both of you.