unsettling business

Hebron is being throttled by a brutal occupation.
The charismatic old section of the West Bank town, sacred to the three main religions here for its collective tombs of Adam and Eve, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, is suffering from conflict with the 400 settlers who have taken over housing in its centre.
These settlers are regarded even by some Israelis as the hardline in all the occupied territories, and regularly attack Arab homes and businesses. They are in Hebron partly because of its sacred Cave of the Patriarchs – an Abrahamic site that is the second holiest in Judaism – and partly because there was always a historic Jewish presence in the town, up to a pogrom in which 67 were killed in 1929.
A staggering 1,500 soldiers have been drafted in to protect their five communities in this beautiful but tragic town, which has been inhabited for 5,500 years.
Roads have been closed – blocked up with boulders and huge iron gates; windows and doorways have been plugged with stones; paths have been rerouted and Palestinians banned from all but a handful of routes through the centre.
To get to a shop or home two minutes from their own, Palestinians can now be forced to take a 12km detour all the way around the city – a journey hampered by the 101 check points that have been set up to ensure the “security” of the settlers.
40,000 Arabs have their lives interupted on a daily basis because of this madness. Their mosque – itself the site of a massacre by an extremist settler a few years back – can be closed off on a whim by the soldiers, and with no explanation. Shops have been looted and closed. The main souk – where this picture was taken – only has a few stores open. All in all, 850 Palestinian businesses have been closed in the old city through military order and threats. Huge numbers moved away to escape the daily harrassment.
Yet there is still hope. Funding from international donors – including Britain and other European states – is helping a dedicated team of workers to fix up homes in the old city. They are being lovingly restored and handed back to needy Hebronites for free, along with monthly food parcels, tax breaks and free health insurance – all vitally important in a town where very few people are working.
Already 4,000 people have returned. Those living nearest to the settlers are given window grilles to protect their property from their violence.