Hebron is the only city in all of Palestine where there are illegal settlements in the center of the city. Due to the colonies, the city has been divided into two zones. Area H1 is under the control of the Palestinian National Authority, and area H2 has been under Israeli military control since 1997. In the latter, around 40,000 Palestinians live with 800 settlers in a difficult situation, making the relationship increasingly untenable.
The presence of Israeli settlers around Hebron began to grow after the Six-Day War in 1967. The center of the city, full of shops and businesses, used to be full of people. However, today most of them are closed: "This area used to be full of people when I was a child," explains Ahmed Jaradat, a Palestinian journalist living in Hebron. "Today the situation is completely different, but we continue to live here because it is our form of resistance", but nothing remains of what was once the great market of Hebron.
Palestinians not only have to deal with the presence of Jewish settlers in their streets, but also with checkpoints and watchtowers, the separation wall, military presence, illegal house demolitions and the prohibition to enter some of the the areas of the city: “A Palestinian who lives in area 2 and wants to go to the center, has to go around the area and walk more than 15 kilometers, on the contrary, it would only take us five minutes to reach the destination,” says Ahmed.
The entrance to the market is full of stalls of all kinds. All these streets take you to Palestine before the Nakba and each one of those tiny streets is the entrance to each house but once you go down, the situation changes and the streets begin to be emptier and with fewer merchant stalls . "We have to live with the settlers upstairs," says one of the vendors in the old town. All the streets of its old city are covered with metal awnings and fabrics that act as a cover both for the sun and for the Jews not to throw stones, bleach and even dirty water at the merchants. "My store is on the first floor and a family of settlers lives on the second floor, many times they throw bleach or stones at us, that's why we have had to put up this metal awning and cloth to protect ourselves," he adds, pointing to the metal structures.
Despite the international community saying the settlements are illegal, there are around 300 in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. According to UNESCO, Hebron has been declared a World Heritage Site in 2017 and is one of the largest cities in all of Palestine. For every corner you pass, you find a surveillance camera and a new checkpoint. At the entrance to the tomb of Abraham, we find one of the first checkpoints that Palestinians have to cross to access the holy place, to get there they have to cross 5 of them. Sometimes the wait can be 10-15 minutes or even hours. The same happens in the checkpoints that separate the city in H1 and H2, sometimes these points tend to be very tense and aggressive.
The use of video cameras: the only defense of the Palestinians
The headquarters of Human Rights Defenders is located on the same street as one of the checkpoints with the most problems to date. The cameras have a great importance in his life because it is the way they have to try to stop the violence of the military. "The goal is to show people why it is important that they film every act against Israeli soldiers," explains Emad Abushamiya, one of the organization's members. “This measure does not completely prevent violence, but it does reduce it,” he adds.
Human Rights Defenders is one of the organizations that works against the occupation and to improve the lives of Palestinians. The situation for them is becoming more and more tense and their own members have been attacked by the Israeli occupation forces. Through video cameras and photos, Human Rights Defenders can verify their evidence in court, in order to prove their innocence. "They have already broken more than five cameras and they have also entered houses to search the Palestinians who had recorded with their own mobile."
The home videos that have been recorded by the representatives of this NGO and the situation that the headquarters of Human Rights Defenders is currently suffering is seriously dangerous. More than once soldiers have broken in and stolen all their film equipment or even watched them from the top floor of the main headquarters.
The only truth with which the Palestinians in Hebron can deliver justice is through photography and video. For this reason, Human Rights Defenders has distributed a total of 6 camera sets among its colleagues, so that families who have suffered some type of violence by the Israeli occupation forces can film the situations in which they are in serious danger. . One of the biggest triggers for Human Rights Defenders was in 2019 when a Palestinian woman was killed at the checkpoint near the headquarters. Thanks to the help of the camera team, they were able to show in court that the woman was innocent and that the army he was guilty of that murder: “it is the only thing that can help us in court, our recordings and even so, many soldiers tell us that they are not valid”, Haim points out forcefully. The only resistance they have left is to continue filming and for their videos to echo in society.
Writer: Belén López Naranjo
Photos taken by: Judith E. Castañeda