Hebron, occupied West Bank – Daily life is a test of resilience in the two-storey house of Abdulkareem al-Jaabari, 64, and his family of 16.
In the Palestinian city of Hebron, located in the southern Israeli-occupied West Bank, the al-Jaabaris are one of the few Palestinian families whose homes are sandwiched between the two illegal settlements of Kiryat Arba and Giv’at Ha -Avot. The family say they are regularly attacked and harassed by settlers and Israeli forces.
Hebron is home to around 200,000 Palestinians, as well as some 700 Jewish settlers. However, 20% of the city is under direct Israeli control, and Palestinians living there or passing through are subject to checkpoints and prohibited from driving on several main streets, unlike Jewish settlers.
This prompted thousands of Palestinians to leave, which rights groups (PDF) have described as a massive forced displacement.
During the week-long Jewish holiday of Passover, which runs from April 15-22 this year and coincides with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, thousands of Israeli settlers and supporters, some armed, will take part in rallies and protests in the streets of downtown Hebron, including the Old City, under the protection of the Israeli army.
“We fear Saturdays and Jewish holidays. The frequency of attacks against us will increase,” Abdulkareem told Al Jazeera from his home.
The environment has become increasingly tense as Israel has deployed more army and police to guard the settlers, and Palestinians in turn face a sharp increase in movement restrictions and state violence and settlers.
Israel maintains that the presence of the armed forces and the restrictions imposed on the Palestinians are necessary for security reasons and to protect the Jewish settlers living in Hebron from Palestinian attacks.
In late February, an Israeli court ruled that the Israeli military could continue to use a building in Hebron built mostly on private Palestinian land, arguing that a Jewish presence in the West Bank was part of the Israeli military’s security doctrine.
For Palestinians in Hebron, the effect of this presence can be particularly evident at special events organized by settlers.
A gathering of settlers took place on April 18, during Passover, near the Ibrahimi Mosque (the Tomb of the Patriarchs), where an American-Israeli settler massacred 29 Palestinians in 1994 as they prayed.
“During these holidays, the Israeli right [wing] mobilizes its supporters from inside and outside the city, and they carry out widespread attacks, in the presence of the Israeli army and police,” said Hisham al-Sharabati, a Hebron resident and human rights activist. man, to Al Jazeera.
The decades-long struggle of the al-Jaabari family is a microcosm of Palestinian life under Israeli military rule in Hebron.
Their house is surrounded by barbed wire to protect against attacks on the property. The family installed several surveillance cameras to document the attacks.
According to the family, each member was hospitalized at some point following settler attacks.
“I don’t deny that I got used to daily fear in my life here,” Abdulkareem said. “The continuous attacks have forced us to prepare for the worst at all times.”
The United Nations has documented several attacks on the family by settlers. The settlers shot at the family, threw stones at them, broke into their house and damaged it. They also had their livestock and crops stolen.
Abdulkareem’s daughter Ayat and son Adi say they were attacked by settlers – Ayat when a rock was thrown at his head, causing a concussion, and Adi when he was stabbed by a settler , leaving him hospitalized.
“The [Israeli] the occupation and its settlers are trying in every way to drive us out of our lands and our homes,” said Abdulkareem, also known by his nickname Abu Anan.
take possession of the land
In 1968, shortly after its occupation of the West Bank, Israel erected Kiryat Arba – one of the first and harshest settlements in the West Bank – about 80 meters (260 feet) from Abdulkareem’s house.
The settlement now spans around 5,000 dunams (5 km2) and houses a shrine to Baruch Goldstein, the settler who carried out the Ibrahimi Mosque massacre.
Years later, the nearby outpost of Giv’at Ha-Avot was set up about 20 meters across the land of the al-Jaabari family, with the combined population of the two settlements around 8,000 people.
Abdulkareem’s land, passed down by his family for generations, and which he officially inherited from his father in 1991, has become a strategic place between the two colonies.
While Abdulkareem’s sons are now employed, the 10 km2 (2,470 acres) of land has become the main source of income for the family, which depends on agriculture and animal husbandry.
Before building a house there in 1976, they spent their summers on the land tending to their dozen trees.
This idyllic lifestyle soon changed as settler encroachment increased. In 2002, settlers erected a staircase in the middle of Abu Anan land to connect Kiryat Arba and the Giv’at Ha-Avot outpost. In 2006, they placed a large tent there to serve as a synagogue.
Despite a 2015 court ruling that the tent should be removed, the military allowed settlers to continue using it. Dozens come every Saturday, while on Jewish holidays the number rises to hundreds.
For the settlers, the Jewish presence in Hebron is religiously justified as it is the location of the Ibrahimi Mosque, revered by both Muslims and Jews, who call the site the Tomb of the Patriarchs.
Settlers also claim that a Jewish community has existed in Hebron since the Middle Ages and that the murder of 67 Jews by Palestinians in 1929 was the main reason they were expelled before returning after Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967.
In a 2019 United Nations sample of 280 Palestinian families in the areas most affected by settlements in Hebron, nearly 70% said that at least one member of their household had experienced settler violence or harassment since October 2015.
For the al-Jaabari family, the settler attacks were more violent than for the others.
In 2007, more than 300 settlers broke into the house and attacked the family, they said.
“I have three sons with special needs – they were not spared from the attack. The settlers destroyed their wheelchairs, assaulted them and prevented ambulances from reaching us,” Abu Anan recalls.
In a 2008 attack documented by the United Nations, the wedding of one of Abdulkareem’s children was attacked by settlers who threw stones, eggs and tomatoes. Another wedding in 2013 was also attacked after settlers raided the family home. On both occasions the wedding guests were injured.
“Even our marriages are bloody and terrifying,” Abdulkareem said.
The family says Israeli forces in the area not only ignore complaints against settlers, but often provide them with protection during attacks. Examples of such cooperation, and even joint attacks involving settlers and the army across the West Bank, have been documented by rights groups.
The Israeli military did not respond when asked to comment on the allegations against it.
Between 2000 and 2008, Abdulkareem filed at least 75 complaints with the police, and dozens more since.
“A settler shot me once while I was harvesting olives,” Abdulkareem said. “I went to the Israeli police, who were a few meters from my house, to file a complaint against the settler. The police decided to imprison me and my son for 17 days and fined us, claiming that we had attacked the settler.
Abdulkareem’s son, Mohammad, 26, thinks it is futile to turn to the Israeli authorities.
“For the past three years, we have decided not to file a complaint with the Israel Police and preferred to defend ourselves – whatever the outcome,” he told Al Jazeera.