Bloodstained Hebron Serious Test of Peace Agreement
HEBRON, West Bank (AP) _ The hatred is palpable in Hebron. It spills out easily, without invitation, from Jews and Muslims alike, accumulated and congealed by years of bloodshed and mutual suspicion.
``My parents used to tell me, `There’s nothing worse than Jewish people,‴ 70-year-old miller Ishak Abu Hadid says matter-of-factly, sitting on a stool in front of his store and watching Israeli soldiers go by on patrol.
Yehuda Gubbay, a 26-year-old Jew, drops his voice and confides: ``When it comes to Arabs, I have no feelings. Nothing. Zero. ... I believe each one of them is a terrorist with bloodstained hands.″
Two years after Israel and the PLO signed a historic peace accord on the White House lawn on Sept. 13, 1993, places like Hebron show how wide the gaps between the two sides still are.
Hebron itself, where some 450 of Israel’s most militant Jews live among 120,000 Palestinians, is a major stumbling block to an agreement on expanding Palestinian self-rule to the rest of the West Bank.
The Palestinians want a complete Israeli troop withdrawal from the city, but Israel is insisting on leaving some troops to protect Jewish settlers and holy sites.
Reports this week suggest a compromise is being worked out under which Israeli troops would leave the city in stages. The target date for agreement is Sept. 21.
But even if a compromise can be reached, it is far from certain it can be implemented. Both sides warn that Hebron, site of the 1993 mosque massacre, is a place where blood is likely to be spilled _ again.
Unlike the Gaza Strip and Jericho, turned over to Palestinian control last summer, and unlike other Palestinian cities in the West Bank slated for self-rule, Hebron holds deep significance for religious Jews.
The biblical patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are buried in Hebron. King David was crowned here. And Abraham purchased his first piece of land in biblical Israel here.
``Here are the roots of the Jewish nation,″ said settler Ronen Cohen. ``If we have no rights here, then we have no rights anywhere.″
The resolution of Hebron’s future could have implications for Jerusalem, also holy to both Jews and Muslims and claimed as a capital by both Israel and the Palestinians.
Violence is always close to the surface in Hebron. Jewish teenagers stroll the streets with Uzi submachine guns slung over their soldiers. Windshields on Israeli buses are covered with thick metal grills to protect them from rocks thrown by Palestinians.
The city is seeped with tension like a rag soaked with gasoline. Someone is always ready to light a match.
In 1993, it was Brooklyn-born settler Baruch Goldstein, who opened fire on Muslim worshipers at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, killing 29 people.
Last week, men wearing Israeli army uniforms shot and killed a Palestinian from the nearby town of Halhoul. Police said the killers may have been Jewish extremists.
This week, Jewish settlers scuffled with Palestinian teachers and schoolgirls who marched with a Palestinian flag held high outside the Jewish compound of Beit Hadassah.
No one can be neutral in Hebron. License plates are Israeli yellow or Palestinian blue. Downtown streets are a maze of army roadblocks: cement-filled barrels and rows of metal spikes mark separate roadways for Israeli and Palestinian cars.
There are separate entrances for Muslims and Jews to the fortress-like Tomb of the Patriarchs, where separate prayer areas are divided by bulletproof gates and soldiers with machine guns.
PLO officials want control of the Tomb and have said Arafat’s government would guarantee freedom of worship for Jews and Christians in all areas under its control. But the Palestinian minister of religious affairs said Tuesday that Jews would be barred from praying at biblical sites in the West Bank.
``Jews can visit them, but they will not be allowed to pray there,″ Hassam Tahboub told The Associated Press.
Tahboub was apparently not expressing official policy, but his words _ sure to exacerbate Jewish fears _ express the feelings of many, if not most, Palestinians in Hebron.
The hostility is mutual.
Shani Horowitz, 36, who grew up in New York City and moved to Hebron 13 years ago, looks doubtful when asked if Jews and Palestinians could ever live together in Hebron.
``If there are Arabs here who wanted to live here peacefully under Jewish rule _ that’s up to them,″ she said. ``I’ve never seen it happen.″
Horowitz lives in the home of Hebron’s former Sephardic rabbi, who died in 1929 when Arab rioters killed 67 Jews, wounded dozens more, and ransacked the city’s synagogues and Jewish institutions.
As for settlers living under Palestinian rule _ ``No-o-o-o,″ Horowitz said vehemently. ``The Palestinians have too much hatred toward the people here.″
Ishak Abu Hadid has no doubts about Jews and Arabs co-existing in Hebron.
``This place is for Muslims,″ he said. Pointing to the floor of his shop, stacked with sacks of milled wheat, he said: ``Living together is like putting fire here and gasoline next to it.″