©2007 Stephen J. Shaner

A city divided

Hebron is a divided city. In the mid-1990’s Hebron was carved into two areas of control known as H1 and H2. Area H1, about 80 percent of the municipality of Hebron, was placed under Palestinian control while H2, the area that includes the Old City, the sacred Tomb of the Patriarchs, and Jewish settlements, was kept under Israeli jurisdiction. This separation occurred because 500 Jewish settlers were living among 150,000 Palestinians in the Old City. These settlers relied on protection from the Israeli army.

As a result of this division, large numbers of Palestinians moved out of the Old City to escape the pressures of life under Israeli military occupation, the frequent curfews, and conflicts with the settlers. Hundreds of shops in the ancient Kasbah were closed and a once thriving area became a run-down, militarized ghost town. Economic conditions for Palestinians in the entire Hebron municipality have been bleak since the separation and start of the second Intifada.

©2007 Stephen Shaner Kennedy (left) and a fellow CPT member walk through Hebron's nearly empty Kasbah

Everywhere in the Old City one has the feeling of being watched. Israeli soldiers are stationed at strategically located checkpoints throughout the city and routinely walk the streets in six man patrols. Soldiers will enter the homes and businesses of the local Palestinians, search the premises, question residents, and at times detain them.

The Palestinians have erected wire mesh screens over the streets in the Kasbah because settlers in the adjacent buildings throw their trash onto the street below; sometimes they throw concrete blocks. The trash and debris caught by these screens now forms a sort of rotting canopy hanging over the narrow streets of the Old City.

CPT tries to keep track of these activities and records events it feels violate the rights of the Palestinians. But Kennedy is realistic about what she faces in Hebron, “Sometimes we (CPT) feel a little frustrated because the situation doesn’t seem to get any better for the Palestinians,” she says. “But that doesn’t mean we don’t affect things. Of course I would like to see instant changes, but the world doesn’t work that way.”

While in Hebron, Kennedy’s primary work involves conducting daily school patrols. During the height of the Intifada, the Israelis would close the schools for days or weeks at a time because of the curfews imposed on Palestinians. It was decided that CPT would start patrols to accompany children to their schools after they learned of a United Nations document that stated children have the right to go to school even during a time of war.

©2007 Stephen Shaner Handcuffed and blindfolded on the street; a Palestinian detained by Israeli soldiers

At first, Kennedy found the situation very tense and dangerous. “Teargas was thrown into schoolyards by the Israelis to disperse groups of kids,” she says. “Palestinian boys would sometimes throw stones at the soldiers. The soldiers have responded with gunfire and children have been shot.”

On a typical day, Kennedy wakes at 6 a.m., has a simple breakfast, and is out on the streets by 7 a.m. to start patrolling where the Palestinian children walk to school. Two team members usually split up and walk several routes between the seven nearby schools. Children must pass army checkpoints and travel on roads controlled by settlers. This leads to confrontations.

To increase their visibility on the street, CPT members wear red baseball caps when on patrol. They hope their presence will calm the children’s fears and defuse potential problems before they occur. Kennedy believes that CPT helps keep the children safe because settlers and soldiers are less likely to provoke the kids when internationals are monitoring the situation.

When the school patrol is finished, team members will return to the CPT apartment at about 8 a.m., hold a worship service, and then have a team meeting to discuss the days’ remaining tasks. The team teaches nonviolence skills to other activist groups and often conducts tours of Hebron for visiting journalists and groups of concerned individuals, so all of these events must be planned in advance. The team works six days a week while in Hebron with Sunday being the groups’ day for rest and reflection.