Daniel Easterman

Hebron: City of ghosts, city of torment

Photo Essay: A day in the life of Hebron, a ghost city at the heart of the occupation

Palestinian children walking down a deserted Hebron street. To the right is a white tent built by settlers which has been torn down repeatedly by the IDF. Each incident needs at least 300 soldiers to dismantle the structure due to the resistance they face from the settlers.

The Hebrew words "Ze Shelanu" or "this is ours" can just be made out on the outside of the tent.

A Palestinian child looks on at the rare sight of Israeli civilian visitors from the other side of the roadside barrier which divides Jews and Muslims along Hebron’s main Shuhada street, a few steps away from the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

Since the outbreak of the Second Intifada in October 2000, Palestinians are forbidden from travelling by car or opening shops in the city center.

Despite attempts by Israeli NGOs to improve conditions through legal action, Palestinian freedom of movement, even by foot is severely restricted in Hebron to this day.

Once the scene of a busy marketplace selling fruits, vegetable and meats much like Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda “shuk”, this stretch of Shuhada street is still a virtual ghost-town or “sterilized” of Palestinians according to the official IDF language.

The only movement on the street is bizarrely a jogger (in orange), an armored police vehicle and a solitary soldier whose silhouetted figure can just be made out in the background.

One of the numerous IDF soldiers I passed along the way, next to a heavily armored police vehicle.

Hebron is the second largest urban area in the West Bank with a population of 166,000 Palestinian Arabs. It is the only major Palestinian city in the West Bank which Israelis are legally allowed to enter because of the three “micro-settlements” of 1,000 Jewish settlers within the actual city.

Guarding these 1,000 people is a battalion-strength force of about 500 soldiers, reinforced by both regular and border police. This means that for every two settlers, there is at least one solider protecting them, the highest ratio of its kind in the West Bank.

Despite these heavy outlays of money and manpower, the state of Israel formally claims no sovereignty over Hebron. The only governing authority over the city is military rule.