Do Unto Others focuses on the Middle East, (nonviolent) social movements, and how I make sense of my place in the world. I'm currently based in Cairo, Egypt doing peacebuilding and community development.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Resistance is about heritage, identity, belonging, and hope

From my CPT colleague, Johann Funk.

“My daddy had this shop for over sixty years. We are the oldest (shop) in the market. We are determined to stay.” So begins the story of a shopkeeper in Hebron/Al Khalil’s Old City.

The Israeli occupation turned the souq (market), once the thriving heart of the Old City, into a besieged marketplace that resists elimination despite fewer customers and shrinking returns. In the mid-1990s, military curfews, closures, and Israeli soldier and settler harassment forced many shops out of business and families from their homes, reducing the population of the Old City to about 500 people (1996).

The 1996 Hebron Protocols divided the city into H-1—under the nominal control of the Palestinian Authority—and H-2, which includes the Old City, under total Israeli control. The Israeli Military Civil Administration confines the Old City with barriers and checkpoints. Israeli-only streets connect the four settler enclaves embedded in the Old City—Tel Rumeida, Beit Romano, Beit Hadassah, and Avraham Avinu—to the Synagogue in the Ibrahimi Mosque and beyond that to the Israeli settlements of Kiryat Arba and Givat Ha Harsina.

The 150,000 Palestinians living in H-1 avoid going to the Old City souq because of restricted access, dehumanizing checkpoints and the risk of harassment from the Israeli soldiers and settlers. Shopkeepers struggle to remain financially viable and report that some days they have no sales. What keeps the souq alive is the remaining shopkeepers’ determined resistance not to give in to the Israeli occupation. “There is no where to go to. This is our homeland,” they have told CPT.

The 650 original shops between Bab il Baladiyye and the Ibrahimi Mosque predate the unilateral founding of the State of Israel in 1948. The 10% that are still open have been in their families for generations. The owners resist closing by adapting much of their merchandise to attract the few tourists who pass by on their way to the main Al Khalil attraction, the Ibrahimi Mosque (also known as the Cave of Machpelah, which Abraham purchased to bury Sarah). The Hebron Rehabilitation Committee (HRC) is improving the infrastructure in the Old City and providing incentives for people to return.

The 5000 people who now live in the neighborhoods around the souq moved there for the subsidized housing and rely on Red Cross food distribution. They cannot ensure the viability of the market on their own. Under Mayor Khaled Osaily, the Hebron Municipality provided shopkeepers a $200 USD a month incentive for six months to keep the shops open.

The persistence of the shopkeepers affirms their allegiance to Al Khalil as a Palestinian city and Palestine as their rightful homeland against the crushing power of the Israeli occupation. Their struggle is only partly about economic survival. It is largely about heritage, identity, belonging, and hope.

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