The children of the Oslo agreements have become young adults. Although violent clashes are part of everyday life, the air in Hebron shakes more with emptiness and apathy than with blows and moles.


Maybe it is best to walk one at a time so that we seem less dangerous? Or maybe it doesn't work, maybe we seem more suspicious then. But don't hold the identity card in your hand, at least, because they may think it's a knife. Oh god – but how are you going to bring it up afterwards? Then they will think you have a knife in your pocket. But above all: What are they saying? "Stop, otherwise I'll shoot?" Or do they say "if you stop, I'll shoot?"

This is how it is in Hebron at present, the West Bank's largest city. Even though the stretch is only two hundred meters and all you have to do is go home. Arm on every edge and doubt at every step. One can see that many of the soldiers are scared. In spite of the bulletproof vest, helmet, gun, and spiteful surveillance – they are scared, just like you, nervous, ready to fire at the slightest uncertainty and slightest movement. Besides, you don't understand what they are saying to you, because they speak Hebrew. Regardless, the orders are different from one minute to the other. From one checkpoint to the other. You ask what the orders mean and they answer: I decide what they mean.

1Inhuman. A large proportion of the Palestinians who were killed during the days in 2015 many still struggle to define – maybe it was an intifada, maybe not – were from Hebron. But Hebron has really always been a place that brings out the worst in people. Since the 600s, some 180 settlers have lived among 000 Palestinians guarding the Ma'arat HaMachpelah, the patriarchs' burial ground – which for Muslims, on the other hand, is the Abraham Mosque. In other words, the same place where Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Frenkel in June last year tried to get a ride, but ended up being kidnapped and killed. The same place as where the Dawabsha family consisting of father, mother and 18-month-old son were burned alive inside their house in July. The same place where the soldiers in September stood and watched – and the settlers laughed – while Dia al-Talameh bled to death. When someone dies here, the others shrug their shoulders indifferently, nothing more, except when they sing and dance. They are celebrating. Here one is no longer human, in this city which is divided into areas H1 and H2 – the former under Palestinian control, the latter under Israeli control. This is a city where you meet at a number, checkpoint 55, checkpoint 56, and where you yourself are in reality no more than a number, because only those who are registered, get access. Everyone lives trapped in houses behind iron bars and cement walls, they do not meet, they are also just numbers. Here you will find the observers from TIPH, Temporary International Presence, whose mandate is to guarantee that you respect agreements, protocols, rights and obligations that no one around here even remembers what is going on anymore. TIPH has been here temporarily since 1997.

Palestinian women on their way to a checkpoint
Palestinian women on their way to a checkpoint

In Hebron, one seems to live in war. Every family has a walkie-talkie who every twentieth or thirteenth minute crackles news of clashes, stabbings, accidents of all kinds. No one is wondering who it killed. You rather wonder what the reaction will be and where the next murder will take place. This is the only thing the Israelis and Palestinians here have in common.

A landscape of clashes. Previously, the UK's regular cornerstone demonstration was at one o'clock on Friday after prayer. Now it is replaced with hail stones at all times. Now you take walks past the old town, and suddenly discover a bunch of boys who have stopped at a crossroads. They may be four to five teens with hoodies, but that's all – no flag, no megaphone, no banner, nothing. That's how they stand, straight up and down, with denim trousers tight around their ankles and hands in their pockets, skinny boys, they look like they're going on to high school, everyone stands calmly, staring in the same direction. They apparently have no specific motive, nothing special happened, but the passers-by stop. Maybe they were on their way to work, to the bank, to the hairdresser, with a stress suitcase or store bags, but now they stop, one by one, they stop and they increase in number. They are becoming more and more of a kid, he can be six to seven years, suddenly flush and run at great speed toward a checkpoint, or toward a jeep, or to a barbed wire – whatever, against the closest sign in Israeli presence – and throwing a rock. And behind him, like a wave out of rhythm, comes all the others. For three to four hours, it rains tear gas, rocks, rubber bullets, sometimes real bullets, moles, sound bombs, a handful of twenty-year-olds against a handful of soldiers, while dozens of meters away watching and cheering – and while life goes on. The clashes are so normal here, so integrated into the landscape, that a man who is in the middle of it all continues to roast falafel in his kiosk. When the tear gas forces him to interrupt, he briefly enters a business next door to cough, and then he returns to work further, while one man crosses the street with a mattress on his back, and another pushes a cart with a television in it. In the heat of the battle, two scavengers emptied unaffected garbage cans.

It also happens that the army closes the doors of the family home in the gray light, and locks them in one of the rooms because they need their house that day.

Never safe. And the clashes never really end. They are only temporarily interrupted. They do not dissolve, they move. After two or three hours, they begin again. The parents try in vain to stop the sons. "We say that to them a thousand times a day – that there is no point, and if they throw a stone, they only get a bullet back," says Mohammed Titi, who is 35 and has two sons aged 14 and 12 "We're trying to tell them this is not the way to go. We're scared. All the time we have to look for them, call and check where they are and who they are with. But these are children of the Oslo Accords: They have never seen an Israeli who is not either a soldier or a settler. We can't stop them, ”he says. The theater he founded is called Yes. "Because if you are Palestinians, you always hear No., ”Says Titi. The F16 planes sweeping across the West Bank are a reminder of the disparity between forces throughout the area – but no city is as bad as the old town of Hebron. Here are 18 checkpoints where you always gets stopped and searched. It also happens that the army closes the doors of the family home in the gray light and locks them in one of the rooms because they need their house that day. All of a sudden, access may be prohibited for cars, so people have to carry everything on their backs – even an ambulance that has pulled out at the announcement of a heart attack must wait for permission. The inhabitants squeal at every little noise – even a cat in the garden at night. It may be the settlers who come to throw them out of their house. It never happens that everyone in a family goes out of the house at the same time; some always stay home to look after. Sometimes you have to resort to the roof and windows to get back into your house. "We are all trying to keep our children. But the problem, "says Mohammed Titi," is that we have no alternative to offer them. "

77 percent of Palestinians here live below the poverty line.

A fruit and vegetable shop in the old town
A fruit and vegetable shop in
old town

Double occupation. Parents are not alone in trying to stop these youths. Not only the Israeli soldiers stand at each checkpoint, but also find civilian agents from the Palestinian Authority. They are everywhere, and this is one of the causes of clashes and demonstrations. The problem is not just that in Hebron you feel that you are living in the middle of a Human Rights Watch report. The problem for the Palestinians is the total lack of political strategies. The total lack of an alternative. Issa Amro is 35 years old and one of the most famous activists in the area. He is a supporter of the non-violent resistance, and he speaks perfect Hebrew. Still, he was arrested 16 times last year and 25 times the year before. "When the Israelis make no difference between violence and non-violence, it is difficult for us to convince the Palestinians that they will achieve nothing with rockets and knives," he says as twenty soldiers search his office on the floor above. "The problem is that the Oslo agreements did not mark the end of the occupation, it merely changed the nature of the occupation. It has simply been transferred to the Palestinian Authority. In addition to the fact that there are no negotiations, discussions, proposals or anything, we are guided by this click that only thinks about their own interests, ”says Amro. "To us they are just like Israel."

That's why Hamas, after all, has so much power – "not because you really believe in rockets as a tool, but because at least Hamas has not surrendered," says Amro.

non-violent resistance, Issa Amro
non-violent resistance, Issa Amro

In the West Bank you have to have permission for everything. To open a shop, to move, to renovate the kitchen because a pipe is broken. But above all, one must actually be allowed to live. The only opportunity to get a job is in the public sector or in Israel. In either case, you must have a small magnetic card from the intelligence that guarantees you are not dangerous. "In other words, you stay away from political activity," Amro explains. This is what many Palestinians refer to as "the second occupation".

Impotence. Many – but not all. You can also say that there is a third Hebron, an area H3: the Hebron that does not care. The Hebron, which lies outside the Old City, and which, step by step, street by street, becomes more and more like Ramallah.

"The problem is that the Oslo agreements did not mark the end of the occupation, it merely changed the nature of the occupation."

Brand new cars, shops, cafes, restaurants everywhere, a lively nightlife that lasts into the wee hours. One third of the West Bank's gross domestic product comes from this, from the myriad of artisans who are famous for their works of pottery, glass and, above all, leather. And not only for reasons related to authorizations or to the occupation with their bureaucracy, but in fact also due to competition from China, many Palestinian companies are cooperating with the Israelis. "Nothing makes sense," a tailor tells me. "There is no goal, no plan, nothing. Hamas and Fatah use the clashes as an air valve, nothing more, so that these youths can feel alive for once. Action rather than suffering. But then Hamas usually organizes one demonstration, and Fatah another – on the same day and at the same time in different places, ”he says. "They wonder about this." Because it is really true that no one here is controlling the clashes. But neither Hamas nor Fatah, and at least Islamic jihad, are absent – they are merely invisible. They are one step behind, knowing that nothing terrorizes more than the idea that any Arab at any moment can think of stabbing you.

"But also because it means that no one is responsible for anything and everyone can take advantage of everything. This is how you can win the real battle: replacing Abbas, who is 81 years old now – if he does not go himself. God will take care of that matter soon, ”the tailor continues. "And honestly, I'm tired of all this. I can't speak for you, but I only have one life. I'm not going to waste it this way. I focus on my children, my grandchildren. On living as well as you can, regardless of who is in government. Little by little, we will get used to living together, Israelis and Palestinians, ”he says. "It's not going to be us humans who can resolve this conflict, it's hopeless. It's going to be the time. ”

He is 56 years old and is the only one who has asked me not to quote the name. He concludes with a bitter comment: "Here it is more dangerous to want peace than to want war."

His point of view, however, is not that unusual, but it is most often the demographic rather than the time many rely on. Why get shot for nothing? many ask themselves. So the Israelis don't want two states? they ask themselves, thinking: Well, then they will get one state. But it's going to be Arabic, not Jewish.

The Hebron Center shopping mall
The Hebron Center shopping mall

Out of the spotlight. However, not only large parts of Hebron are on the sidelines. This applies to large parts of the West Bank as a whole. The same applies to Gaza – where Hamas limits itself to only occasionally firing rockets into uninhabited areas. They cannot afford another war. Ehab Ewedat is 20 years old and is studying economics in Ramallah, and says he will not return to Hebron for the time being. "It's a trap," he says. “The Israelis are trying to pull us into violence because we are divided and because we are primarily trying to survive. A third of the Palestinians work for the self-government and would never participate in any intifada, because the only thing they are thinking about is to get a new car, or which phone to buy next time, ”says Ewedat. “While the rest of us refrain from participating because the only thing we think about is how to get a loaf. Also, the world is concerned with other things, such as Syria and Iraq. We are not in the spotlight now. Thus, the Israelis see their cut: Every dead person justifies new arrests, new bans and new arrests, ”he says. "Every death is a pretext for conquering yet another part of Hebron."

The only result of the clashes so far is the closure of Shuhada Street. This street is the symbol of Hebron, not just because it is – or rather was – the city's main street with dozens of shops, cafes and the town hall. It is also a symbol because it was closed in 1994, when Baruch Goldstein killed 29 believers in the Abrahamic Mosque. "And every time something happens, the army blames us so they can restore security and finish it," says 48-year-old Mofeed al-Sharabati, one of the few remaining residents. "Even when we are killed, we are arrested."

I object, "But they're going to shoot you." He replies, "I'm already dead."

For the settlers, on the other hand, the great Hebron massacre is of course the one from 1929, when 69 Jews were killed. The cities are now better known for these events than for their religious travel. And the locations of the massacres have become the new sanctuaries, the new goals for the pilgrimage – though it is not the dead who are remembered and celebrated, but the murderers. One celebrates the one who killed the other.

Manipulates. In no other city are the Israelis and Palestinians so far apart, while living so closely, as here. They don't even agree on what's going on. What the Israelis are stabbing is for the Palestinians public executions. Amnesty International, which has previously accused the army of excessive force, has investigated the case of 18-year-old girl Hadeel al-Hashlamon, who was killed at a checkpoint on September 22 this year. She had stumbled into her purse, probably in search of documentation, but was covered by a niqab. You couldn't see her hands, and the soldier thought she was going to pull out a knife. But even if it had been a knife, Amnesty International pointed out, he could have disarmed her in any other way, without shooting. After all, the Israeli army is one of the most well-trained in the world. There are several other similar cases, and in many of them there is no doubt what happened. On October 16, for example, a man disguised as a journalist attacked a soldier in Kiryat Arba. Movie recording is not to be mistaken. Still, the Palestinians seem unanimous: the Israelis are manipulating the images, they say. They shoot, and then they put a knife next to the body. Muhannad al-Halabi – the 19-year-old who started this all in October, the law student who killed two soldiers in Jerusalem – received an honorary degree post-mortem.

"We thought they were going to be a generation of cowards," says Mousa Ajwa, professor of political science. "But they turned out to be brave young people."

Emptiness. Or maybe they are desperate. Because when you see them in the cafe at the university, in the bookstore or at the copy center, they are like a thousand others. They do not come from the old city, which has become a ghost town, they come from the third Hebron. Everybody has incurred debt to pay for education, but also to buy a car, a phone, a washing machine – it is clear that the wealth of the Palestinians in the West Bank is based on credit – and no one has any illusions that they will find a job. If they do not go to Israel, and there they can mainly get jobs as masons or as construction workers paid under the table. Khalil and Khaled are both 21 years old and are studying economics. I ask them how they spend their free time and what Hebron has to offer, here where 70 percent of residents are under 30, but they don't understand the question. I have to repeat it several times. Finally, Khalil says, "I drive a taxi." Khaled says he is installing air conditioning. They have never been abroad. They have never been to the cinema. Never in the stadium. They have never seen the sea. Enas is also 21 years old and an economics student, but she is a girl – so she spends her free time at home. What are you dreaming about? I ask. She doesn't understand what I mean. I mean, what do you want to get out of life? I try. She has been thinking about it for a long time. Finally, she says, "A car." She then specifies: "Any type of car."

Issam is 22 years old, studying law and dreaming of going to Jerusalem. I ask him to describe a typical day in his life. For example, tomorrow. What are you going to do tomorrow? He says: “I'm going to university. I'm at university. Afterwards ... Afterwards I go home. " He looks at me: "Or maybe I'm pinching an Israeli."

I object, "But they're going to shoot you." He replies, "I'm already dead."

Borri is a war reporter and author, translated into Norwegian.
See previous articles in Ny Tid from Syria and other vulnerable areas.

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