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Visit to Hebron 13 June 2010 David H.

Shinn The second oldest city in Palestine, Hebron is located on the historic Cairo to Damascus trade route 30 kilometers south of Jerusalem. My wife, small child and I first visited Hebron in 1965 when we were assigned to the U.S. embassy in Beirut. We drove our VW Bug from Beirut to the Gulf of Aqaba with stops in the West Bank. At that time, Hebron and the West Bank were under Jordanian administration following the creation of Israel in 1948 and the establishment of disputed borders between the Palestinians and the Israelis. We still have fond memories of purchasing Hebron glass and pottery, for which the town remains justly famous. We left Hebron on this occasion, our second visit to the city, with a new supply. Following the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, Israel seized control of most of the West Bank, including Hebron. Discussions that seem to achieve little have been underway ever since to resolve the status of Gaza and the Palestinian West Bank. Hebron poses one of the most contentious issues as it is the only urban center in the West Bank other than Jerusalem where Israeli settlements have been located in the center of the town. As a result, some 400 to 600 Israelis in five small settlements protected by, I was told, an estimated 2,000 Israeli security personnel, live cheek to jowl with 170,000 Palestinians. You can cut the tension with a knife, and there are frequent incidents involving the Palestinians and the Israeli settlers. One of the settlements is located inside the old Arab souk. A small number of Israelis live on the upper level of one of the walkways through the souk where they display the Israeli flag. The Palestinians have constructed nets over the walkway below to keep, they say, the garbage from the Israeli living quarters above from hitting them. The nets are indeed full of refuse, although it appeared to be old material and I saw none being tossed from above during the brief visit. As explained by a Palestinian official, the most disturbing part of this particular group of settlements is that it is apparently being maintained largely for political reasons at the request of zealous religious settlers. Only about 20 percent of the Israelis in these settlements are permanent residents. The others, often coming from outside Israel, occupy the living quarters for several months at a time just to lay claim to a part of the West Bank that has been overwhelmingly Arab for centuries. The temporary residents are constantly replaced by new arrivals. The settlements, due to Israeli security restrictions, make it very difficult for the Palestinians to move from one part of town to the other. Although there has been some relaxation in Hebron of Israeli checkpoints in recent years, there has been no progress

on resolving the primary issue, the removal of the settlements so that Hebron can become a fully functioning Palestinian town again. Commerce is difficult and poverty is a major problem. Although Hebron is one of the most noxious settlement issues, it constitutes only a tiny part of the larger settlement issue in the West Bank.