Gideon Levy
Selected Articles from Ha'aretz


March 16, 2001

While Jewish settlers dance and sing in the streets, 35,000 Palestinian residents are confined to their homes - as they have been for most of the past five months. A Purim visit to Hebron

Mohammed Kafisha and his family: Most days, his kiosk is closed.(Photo: Miki Kratsman)

If you want to know what callousness is, if you want to know what racism is, if you want to know what evil is, if you want to know what injustice is, and if you want to know what malice looks like, Hebron during the Jewish holiday of Purim is the best place on earth to find out.

In the section of this city that is under complete Israeli control live 35,000 Palestinians and a few hundred Jewish settlers. This part of Hebron most succinctly expresses the Israeli occupation: The soldiers, police officers, and settlers of a state that has no qualms about imprisoning tens of thousands of Palestinians in their own homes, simply to satisfy the whims of a tiny, but extremely powerful, minority in Israeli society.Hebron at Purim-time is the most vivid example of the reality of the territories today. This is perhaps the only place on earth where a mass murder led to the use of iron-fist tactics against the victims themselves. It is certainly the only place on earth where a tiny group of people tyrannizes a large majority. Most of the city's Palestinian inhabitants, and the majority of Israelis, would have gladly seen the disappearance of this unruly Jewish settlement a long time ago - a settlement that has remained intact only because of the faint-heartedness of Israel's leaders and which, almost daily, produces new victims.

Why is Hebron at Purim-time so striking an example of this reality? It is on this holiday of masquerading that the cruel, grotesque character of the situation in the territories removes all its masks. They are "over there" and the Israelis are "over here" - "they" are locked up in the prison-homes in their city, while Israelis frolic freely in the streets of their community, wildly celebrating their holiday. Is there any other place on earth where the members of one group celebrates the imprisonment of the members of another, where the aggressive dance of the members of the powerful group becomes a commemoration of the imprisonment of an entire city, where the festive spirit - whether real or imagined ("On Purim, you are obligated to be happy") - of a minority group using force to impose its will on a majority is also a time of immense sadness for that majority group? Has anyone bothered to notice the fact that the day on which this minority celebrates its Purim holiday is also the memorial day of the massacre of 34 innocent victims, a massacre that happened here only seven years ago, and which is totally ignored by the Jewish settlers celebrating their festival?

How is it at all possible to celebrate anything here - in this setting of deserted streets (alien streets, in fact, as far as the settlers are concerned) whose inhabitants, with great bitterness in their eyes, gaze out at these celebrants through the shutters of their prison-homes? These inhabitants were described this past week by the correspondent for "settlement affairs" of Israel Television's Channel One, Benny Liss, as "having decided to confine themselves to their homes." What a typical description - as if these Palestinians actually wanted to remain trapped within the four walls of their houses! What a typical description, which "ignores" the fact that they were placed in their prison-homes by the Israeli authorities!

This is the scene in Hebron, on Purim, 2001. This is the situation that was authorized by the Israeli government (strange that a government, any government, should approve such an arrangement) with the full support of the Israel Defense Forces and the Israel Police - and hidden from the view of most Israelis. Hebron at Purim-time and Purim in Hebron are a celebration of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories at its worst.

The road leading up to Hebron is a classic illustration of the fact that this evil is relative: The highway is for the exclusive use of Jewish drivers; the separation of Israelis and Palestinians is the implementation of an essentially racist policy. The roads connecting Hebron with outlying villages are blocked by mounds of earth, and hapless Palestinian pedestrians are forced to climb these little hillocks as they try to break through the siege that has been imposed upon them. Only the curfew in Hebron is more terrible than this horrifying siege.Hebron's H2 area is desolate. Its streets are empty and the shutters of all the shops are closed. This is the typical scenery of a curfew. However, there is a totally different scene in the square before Hebron's Tomb of the Patriarchs. A small band of Jews is dancing there - the last revelers in the traditional Purim pageant (known in Hebrew as the Adloyada) that ended before our arrival. A hoarse loudspeaker that blares out traditional Jewish tunes has been mounted on a tractor- driven cart brought from Hebron's Jewish quarter, Kiryat Arba, for the occasion.

In the middle of the square, Rabbi Moshe Levinger and his joyous supporters are dancing. They appear fatigued from their wild celebrations. One of the members of this group, who appears to be almost dead-drunk, pretends to attack the Israeli Border Patrol personnel stationed there, especially one female soldier in the contingent. The Border Patrol soldiers respond with the kind of gentleness reserved exclusively for Jewish settlers, whether drunk or not (does this fact surprise anyone?). It is not difficult to imagine what would be the reaction of these Border Patrol soldiers, armed from head to toe, if their mock attacker were a Palestinian - whether drunk or not.

Only Sabariya Haraz, an old, blind Palestinian woman, dares to open her front door and poke her head out. She lives at the top of the hill leading to the Tomb of the Patriarchs. This 76-year-old inhabitant of Hebron has, for the past 40 years, been living in her ancient stone house, which is located along the road leading up to the "entrance for Muslims" to this site, which is holy to three religions. Since the massacre that took place in the Tomb of the Patriarchs, all the shops in this area have been shut down and their owners have been rendered jobless - all because of what Baruch Goldstein did. This is invariably what happens when the authorities decide to punish the victims of a crime.

Mohammed Kafisha is the only shopkeeper who has dared to reopen a kiosk here. He took this courageous step a year ago. For an entire year he appealed in vain to the various offices of the Israeli civil administration with the request that he be allowed to reopen his tiny stall. Finally, he decided to take things into his own hands: He "unilaterally" reopened for business, perhaps relying on the compassion of Israeli soldiers who cannot but help notice his severe handicap.

Since reopening his kiosk, he sells his sweets at a ridiculously low price to neighborhood children. Of course, he can only do business when the curfew is lifted. Which is not often - over the past five months, there have been more "curfew days" than "non-curfew" ones. In fact, the first three months of this five-month period were almost one continuous curfew, and, for the past two months, the curfew has been alternatively imposed and lifted, with almost mechanical precision. Not much is needed as a pretext for imposing a curfew lasting several days: Shots fired on the eve of Purim or the raucous Purim celebrations of the settlers. That's the way things are done here in Hebron.

Kafisha is 37 years old. He is very short and is paralyzed. In fact, he is so short, he could almost be called a midget. Only with the greatest of difficulty does he manage to move around with the help of his crutches. Kafisha vividly remembers how the casualties of the Goldstein massacre - both the dead and the wounded - were evacuated from the mosque in the Tomb of the Patriarchs. He remembers how the bodies were carried down the hill. He himself had been on his way to prayer services in the mosque. His brother had preceded him and was already in the mosque when Goldstein opened fire, that Purim day in 1994.Kafisha has three children: five-and-a-half-year-old Issra, two-and-a-half-year-old Hanan and his son, ten-month-old Ossama. When we left the celebrations of the settlers dancing in the square and entered Kafisha's home (from which we had a good view of the Jewish celebrants), we were greeted by the sounds of Ossama's crying. His mother had just finished giving him a bath. The two-room Kafisha home is located in an ancient structure and is immaculate. The children appear adequately dressed. Kafisha was wearing pajamas when we knocked on his door. He apologizes for his attire and goes off to change his clothes. It is late afternoon. When a curfew is in effect, there is no need to get dressed up.

At Kafisha's kiosk the prices are extremely low: a can of Coca-Cola costs a shekel, a package of biscuits sells for half a shekel, and you can buy some products for 10 agorot each. Up until the outbreak of the Al Aqsa Intifada, he was grossing 30 to 40 shekels a day; however, the troubles reduced even this meager source of revenue, and he has been able to open his kiosk for a total of only 30 days since the violence began. Nowadays, he can consider himself lucky if he makes even 10 shekels a day.

A few weeks ago, when Border Police shot dead a young Palestinian, Shakir Hassouna al-Husseini, from close range, and dragged his body down the hill in full view of the television cameras, settlers began to hurl rocks at Kafisha's shop. He lay on the floor, seeking refuge behind the ice-cream refrigerator. Settlers entered his kiosk and threw all the biscuits off their shelves.

"The damage was not extensive," he told us. He filed a complaint with the Hebron police and was told that, if such an incident recurs, he should report to the police. Since that time, he has not heard anything from the Hebron police.

Sometimes, settlers hurl rocks at Kafisha's home. But for the past few weeks, he has not been troubled by them. He has not suffered, as his colleagues in the adjacent open market have. Every time there is any incident of friction between Palestinians and Israelis, the settlers overturn stalls, especially on their "weekly days of rage," namely, Friday and the Sabbath. What do you think of the settlers, I asked him. "Oh, they are just a bunch of wild animals" was his response.

Issra wanted to go to her nursery school class this morning. Seeing that her parents were not dressing her for school, she asked them why. Kafisha told her that there would be no preschool today, as has been the case on many, many days since the curfew began to be imposed. She started to cry. Her father said that she must stop her crying, because otherwise the soldiers and the settlers would hear her and they would then enter the Kafisha home.

When she asked why she could not go to preschool, he pointed to the soldiers and settlers outside. She started cursing them, asking why they were preventing her from going to school. Why, she wanted to know, was it forbidden for her to go to preschool, while they were free to wander about outside?

Issra from time to time asks her father why the soldiers and settlers are in Hebron. Sometimes he tells her that they will one day go back to their homes. Does Kafisha himself believe that such a day will, in fact, come? "Inshallah [with God's help]," he replies. "But that will certainly not happen in the foreseeable future. 



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