Correction to This Article
A July 26 Page One article about the tension between Jewish settlers and Palestinians in the West Bank city of Hebron incorrectly said settler spokesman David Wilder largely dismissed public relations until a 1994 shooting. It was the Hebron settlers generally who did not embrace public relations until that event; Wilder did not become spokesman until two years later.

In Divided Hebron, a Shared Despair

International observers say Jewish settlers regularly toss debris onto the chicken wire above Jamal Maraga's shop.
International observers say Jewish settlers regularly toss debris onto the chicken wire above Jamal Maraga's shop. (Photos By Scott Wilson -- The Washington Post)
Hebron Map
By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, July 26, 2007

HEBRON, West Bank -- The barrier Israel is constructing in the largely rural West Bank is effectively separating Arab from Jew along much of its 456-mile length. But the broader project of disentangling the two peoples in the absence of a peace agreement is failing in urban areas such as Hebron, where the most radical elements of Islamic and Jewish nationalism are gaining strength.

Within Hebron, the separation is enforced not only by Israeli barriers but also by military checkpoints and curfews intended to protect the roughly 700 Jewish settlers living within the city's most historic and religiously important areas. Securing the small Jewish minority has a potent impact on the lives of the city's 150,000 Arabs, who voted last year to fill all nine of the district's parliamentary seats with candidates from the armed Islamic movement Hamas.

This city, set among prolific vineyards, was among the first destinations for Jewish settlers following the 1967 Middle East war, when the Israeli military occupied the West Bank. Fired by a four-millennia-old religious claim to Hebron, the settler enterprise here is among the most ideologically determined in the territories. Its expansionist goals clash with Palestinian secular and Islamic armed movements, whose own nationalist passions helped turn Hebron into one of the most violent venues of the Palestinian uprisings.

In recent months, the Israeli army has helped the Hebron settlers expand eastward to a hilltop home near the settlement of Kiryat Arba, a large step in their plan to connect the two areas. An international observer mission here, established after 1996 accords that left part of the city under Israeli military control and placed the other under the Palestinian Authority, reports sharply rising violence between Israeli settlers and Palestinians.

"There is no future for Arabs and Jews together in Hebron," said Noam Federman, 37, a settler from Beit Hadassah in the Israeli-controlled city center here. "And Hebron has always been a Jewish city."

Jamal Maraga's Palestinian fabrics shop sits along an alley in Hebron's casbah, lit by shafts of sunlight that filter through bricks, bottles and trash suspended in fencing laced over the walkway. The Jewish settlement of Avraham Avinu is housed in a multistory building that towers overhead.

International observers here say the settlers regularly toss debris and dirty water into the Arab market below, now largely shuttered in a city where unemployment stands at 60 percent. Asked whether Arabs and Jews can share Hebron, Maraga, his hair and beard a gray fuzz, looked up at the chain-link canopy.

"Impossible," he said.

Proximity and Violence

Just before noon on a recent day, Azmi Shuyukhi, the graying leader of the Palestinian Popular Committees, a civil-resistance organization, approached an Israeli military checkpoint. Behind him trailed a small group of men and boys, who at Shuyukhi's instruction were attempting to defy the enforced division of their city that has virtually emptied its most important historic, religious and commercial areas of Palestinians.

The post bars Palestinians from entering Shuhada Street, a once-thriving commercial strip closed by the Israeli military more than a decade ago to protect the two Jewish settlements and a yeshiva along its route. The U.S. Agency for International Development spent $2 million in 1997 to renovate the street as part of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement to reopen it for Palestinians. But Israel has since refused to do so.

The order to close the road was one of several that began the separation process here in 1994 after an Israeli from Kiryat Arba, Baruch Goldstein, killed 29 Palestinians praying in the Ibrahimi Mosque just past the end of Shuhada Street. The site is sacred to Muslims and Jews, who believe Abraham, Isaac and other biblical figures are buried in grottos beneath it.

According to the Temporary International Presence in Hebron, the unarmed observer mission, there are 100 Israeli-constructed fences, gates, concrete barriers and military checkpoints within the roughly one-square-mile historic center. The area included the Jewish Quarter until 1929, when Arabs killed more than 60 Jews living there. The survivors fled.

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Detailed map of Hebron and area surrounding shows locations of checkpoints, roadblocks and settlements.
SOURCES: Foundation for Middle East Peace/Jan de Jong, Europa Technologies via Google Earth | By Gene Thorp, The Washington Post - July 26, 2007
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