Hebron: A matter of opinion (JERUSALEM POST OP-ED) By ANAV SILVERMAN 04/04/12)
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When Sigmar Gabriel wrote that Hebron was “an apartheid regime for
which there is no justification” on his Facebook page (March 14), the
chairman of Germany’s main opposition party sparked an outcry that
reverberated beyond his virtual wall.
Gabriel, the leader of Germany’s Social Democratic Party and a likely
challenger to Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2013, was not the first
European politician to associate Israel with apartheid – nor will he
be the last.
While the comment may have been particularly surprising coming from a
high ranking German politician, the truth is that Gabriel simply
echoed an oft repeated statement made in international discourse
about Israel – one that has rarely been questioned in the past. In
2008, the former president of the UN General Assembly Miguel d’Escoto
Brockmann likened Israel’s policies to “an apartheid of an earlier
era.” In 2002, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu accused Israel
of apartheid policies towards Palestinians.
Other notable officials who have joined in the Israel apartheid
chorus include former UN special rapporteur John Dugard, former US
President Jimmy Carter, Turkish President Abdullah Gul, Palestinian
Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, University of Chicago political
science professor John Mearshimer, prominent Israeli media
commentators and South African activists including antiapartheid
veteran Reverend Allan Boesak who in November 2011 stated that
Israeli apartheid is “more terrifying” than South Africa’s.
The above mentioned figures’ conclusions are inevitable considering
their reliance on sources and organizations that present Hebron in an
extremely skewed light.
One of the most active is the Temporary International Presence in
Hebron (TIPH), the group that guided Gabriel during his visit to
Hebron recently. Established in 1994, TIPH representatives, who hail
from Norway, Switzerland, Sweden, Italy, Turkey and Denmark, patrol
Hebron and provide situation analysis with the aim of ensuring that
residents are upholding human rights law while providing “a feeling
of security to the Palestinians of Hebron.”
TIPH, whose members enjoy diplomatic immunity and wear
special “observer” badges during their Hebron patrols, has given
numerous tours to ambassadors, government officials, ministers and
diplomats from across Europe. Israeli Foreign Ministry officials in
the past accused TIPH personnel of compiling false reports against
IDF soldiers and Jewish settlers, while ignoring violent acts by
Palestinians, thereby “vilifying Israel.”
What is most unfortunate about these tours is that they do not
provide an all-encompassing perspective of Hebron, rather one that
distorts its history and promotes a propaganda campaign that leads to
the demonization of Israel.
The tours do not highlight the fact that the Jewish presence in
Hebron dates to biblical times, from King David’s monarchy, and
continued for centuries after, throughout the Babylonian, Roman,
Byzantine, Arab, Mameluke and Ottoman periods.
Following the Hebron Massacre in 1929, where 67 Jews were murdered,
their synagogues and homes ransacked by Arabs, the survivors (who
were saved by 19 local Arab families) fled. For the next 38 years,
Hebron had no Jewish community until after the 1967 Six Day War, when
the Jewish community was reestablished.
Nor is it made clear that Hebron today is divided into two areas – H1
and H2 – following the Hebron Accords in 1997, which were signed by
Israel, the US and the PA.
The accords offered international recognition of the existence of the
city’s Jewish community and its entitlement to security and
The accords ceded some 80 percent of the area to the PA and left
Israel responsible for 20%.
The majority of Hebron’s Arabs, approximately 120,000 people, live in
H1, which is the larger, thriving area of the city, full of
factories, businesses and continued construction. Palestinian police
forces exercise full control while the IDF is not allowed to enter
unless they are escorted. H1 is under PA rule and remains completely
off limits to Jews.
The only area in Hebron that Jews are permitted to live in is H2, the
smaller and poorer area of the city, which makes up 20% of the
municipal territory. Jewish residents, however, have access to only
3% of the city which entails one street along which several Jewish
neighborhoods are located. The 600 Jewish people who live among
30,000 Arabs are not permitted to travel into H1.
Furthermore, although Israel’s security measures in Hebron have been
questioned, they are crucial for the protection of Jewish residents
living in the city and for residents across the country. Stabbing
attacks against Jewish worshippers in the vicinity of the Cave of the
Patriarchs have been attempted numerous times since 2010. And one of
the most dangerous Hamas terrorist groups during the second intifada
was the Jihad Soccer Club, considered the best soccer team in Hebron,
whose players and coach carried out a wave of suicide attacks against
Israelis, the most recent of which in 2008 killed a woman and wounded
11 others in Dimona.
In reality, the best way to gain an objective view of Hebron is to
tour the city independently, just as Stefanie Galla, a German lawyer
from Cologne did in December 2011. Gala travelled to Hebron and
visited the city without a tour guide. She recently wrote about her
experience in the German liberal daily newspaper, Der Tagesspiegel,
where she called Gabriel’s view of Hebron “one-sided.”
“The Hebron I have experienced is another,” wrote Galla, who
described the Jewish quarter in Hebron as “seeming to be a very small
area, sheltered by high walls and barbed wire.” According to Gala’s
perspective, Hebron to her was a “ghetto,” with “Jews included.”
Unfortunately, Gabriel’s sensational comment, which received more
than 1,000 likes on Facebook, continues to perpetuate a misconstrued
reality that is accepted as true by many – except for the few like
Gala who dare to think without being told how.
The writer is an educator at Hebrew University High School. She
writes for Tazpit News Agency and a number of other news sources. She
made aliya from Maine in 2004. (© 1995-2011, The Jerusalem Post
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