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City Behind Bars Is at the Heart of Clinton’s Summit

October 1, 1996

HEBRON, West Bank (AP) _ At 9 a.m. sharp, the first sounds were young men hauling junk-metal barricades into place. Next came a fury of flying stones and insults. Then it was the Israelis’ turn.

Troops burst from alleys, bellowing karate yells and brandishing M-16s. Mesh-plated jeeps screamed around corners. Some youths were pushed around and arrested. Most fled. Ten minutes later, dead calm.

It was curfew time in Hebron, the ancient city of the patriarchs, which is the crux of Tuesday’s urgent White House summit aimed at heading off yet more Arab-Israeli war.

After their daily three hours of freedom to buy food _ on Tuesday the reprieve was 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. _ 94,000 Palestinians closed their doors with little to do but watch Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yasser Arafat decide their fate.

Behind iron grillwork windows, they can also watch Jewish settlers by the thousands stroll through town like they own it, eating cotton candy on their way to the tombs of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

The three patriarchs _ worshipped by Islam as Ibrahim, Ishak and Yaakub _ are believed buried in Hebron. Like Jerusalem, 30 miles to the north, the city is a spiritual epicenter.

The main issue at the Washington summit is if, and when, Israeli troops will withdraw from 85 percent of Hebron, the last occupied city in the West Bank. They were supposed to be gone in March, but Israel says too much threat remains to Jewish settlers.

An agreement could restore momentary peace, although the larger points remain: Jerusalem, sovereignty and independence, and _ for most Palestinians _ the question of simple human dignity.

``They look at us behind our bars like we are lions or monkeys in a zoo,″ Samir Saleb said, at a stand of spoiling fruits he tends for two hours each morning. His earnings can’t feed his seven kids.

``The Jews walk by and laugh at us,″ he said. Saleb, a soft-spoken man in pressed shirt and slacks, sounded less angry than sad. ``And not only the Jews. The whole world is laughing at us.″

Deep in the old market, Ibrahim Alroube was angry. He was named for the spiritual father, and he believes Muslims have an equal share in a common heritage.

If Israelis did not plan to follow the peace process, he said, they should not have started it.

``How can you give one finger and then no more?″ Alroube asked. ``If we do not get a whole hand, we must have at least three fingers. What can we do with one? It is only to humiliate us.″

He sat outside his clothing shop, empty of customers, and offered olive oil-soaked bread and tea to a American visitor. One by one, passersby offered variations on a similar theme.

``America is responsible,″ one neatly dressed man in a skullcap interjected. ``They are friends only to the Jews. If I kill you with a knife, who is at fault? You or the one who gave you the knife?″

He hurried away, refusing any questions.

Israel imposed the curfew on Thursday after Hebronites stoned border guards during bloody clashes in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza. It is lifted for only three hours a day. The time of the reprieve varies, and no advance notice is given.

On Monday, when 5,000 Jews came to celebrate their holiday of Sukkot with live dance music, curfew was off from 4 a.m. to 7 a.m.

On Tuesday, freedom began at 6 a.m.

``I heard on the radio at 6:30 a.m. that we could go out at 6,″ said Said Sharif, who loaded his pastries into the car and hurried to his market stall. After an hour, he was eying his watch nervously.

In a nearby barbershop, Mared Mohammed snipped fast and grumbled. At 20, he goes stir crazy locked for 21 hours a day in a small house full of people. For him, it is emblematic of the larger problem.

Jews abandoned Hebron in 1929, when Arabs massacred scores of them. After the 1967 war, they began moving back until 400 of them filled a small Jewish quarter in the heart of town.

Several thousand others settled Kiryat Arba, a fenced-in community just outside Hebron. And in 1994, a fanatic from there shot dead 29 Muslims in the mosque by the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

Today, no one is likely to sort out rights and wrongs dating back 4,000 years. Mostly, people pick a date to support a point of view.

Schneer Katz brought his family to Hebron for Sukkot, his young son on his shoulder and his Uzi slung behind his back. Katz lives in a settlement to the north, but he wanted to express solidarity.

A U.S.-born teacher of Hebrew culture, he considers Hebron to be a cradle of Judaism. For him, the 1929 massacre was an old score that remains to be settled.

``Now the Arabs proved again that they cannot be trusted,″ he said. ``We gave them guns for self-defense, and they used them against us. We will make sure that does not happen again.″

But Jews are divided.

Fayaz Nasser, a local sportswriter, said he watched a young Israeli soldier being driven away after he refused to patrol Hebron because he thought the curfew was unfair. Officers in charge would not comment.

Nasser thought this was a good sign. ``We must find a way to live together, side by side,″ he said. ``If we answer blood with more blood, where will we go? Why can’t we have Abraham for all?″

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