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Hebron possible symbol of Israeli-Palestinian relations under the new right-wing government

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The Israeli-controlled checkpoint in Hebron (Bab al Zawiyah) divides Palestinians in their city.  A new weapon placed on the side of the checkpoint (top right) was installed before the recent Israeli elections.  It can remotely fire live ammunition as well as other special
The Israeli-controlled checkpoint in Hebron (Bab al Zawiyah) divides Palestinians in their city. A new weapon placed on the side of the checkpoint (top right) was installed before the recent Israeli elections. It can remotely fire live ammunition as well as other special “crowd control” ammunition. (Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for the Washington Post)

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HEBRON, West Bank – Last month, as tens of thousands of right-wing Jewish pilgrims marched through the Old City of Hebron under Israeli military protection, 18-year-old Aisha Alazza ventured onto her balcony to to notice. As she sipped coffee and watched the march escalate into violence, a group of Israeli men approached from the other side of the road shouting “Damn!” on her in Arabic and throwing stones. She was punched in the face.

As Palestinian cars are prohibited in this neighborhood, an ambulance was out of the question. Instead, Alazza’s four sisters took her inside, applied ice and oils to the swollen wound and waited for the men to leave.

Alazza knows she will see them again – after all, they are her neighbors. They are also directly linked to members of Religious Zionism, the once fringe far-right political bloc that defended the assertion of Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank and will be the second force of the new Israeli government.

Even before religious Zionism takes office – assuming influential ministerial portfolios that will give it unprecedented control over this disputed territory – their promises to prepare the ground for annexation exacerbate the daily dangers and indignities of the life in the occupied West Bank, residents say. Many warn that Hebron’s bloody and biblically tainted conflict, between its 800 radical Israeli settlers and its 200,000 Palestinians, is a test for the future of relations between the two peoples under the next government.

Netanyahu’s far-right allies could deepen West Bank crisis, critics fear

Some of the faces of incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new administration are familiar in Hebron. Both Itamar Ben Gvir and Orit Strook are residents of the nearby extremist settlement of Kiryat Arba and have harassed and assaulted Palestinians for decades.

“Netanyahu gave Ben Gvir the power to do whatever he wants, and what he wants is for us to leave,” Alazza said this week, from the balcony where she was beaten.

The most far-right and settler-friendly Israeli government in its history is sworn in during one of the deadliest years for Israelis and Palestinians. Since last spring, a series of Palestinian attacks on Israeli towns and numerous military posts have been met with near-night Israeli military raids across the West Bank, killing at least 150 Palestinians and 31 Israelis.

For activist Tal Sagi, however, the violence and deteriorating relations have had a positive side effect: Israelis are paying attention to the occupation again.

The former soldier with the anti-occupation group Breaking the Silence said many Israelis are shocked by the images coming out of Hebron, where on the same day Ben Gvir was named head of the expanded National Security Ministry, Israeli soldiers violently clashed with left- wing Israeli activists.

Viral videos show a soldier pinning an activist to the ground and hitting him repeatedly, and another, from the same unit, saying, “Ben Gvir will bring order to this whole place. … You’re screwed. … You are done making this place your “brothel”.

“There’s something good about Hebron being in the news,” said Sagi, who grew up in a West Bank settlement and later served in Hebron. “There is so much normalization, so much silence that many Israelis – people I know – are not even aware that whole swaths of land and groups of people are under Israeli military control.”

Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich will be granted oversight of the Defense Ministry, as well as access to billions of shekels as deputy head of the Finance Ministry. He pledged to enshrine in law the rights of residents in all settlements, in particular to facilitate continued construction in the West Bank.

Smotrich and Ben Gvir were both believed to have been involved in terrorism in their youth, supporting attacks on Palestinians and Israeli politicians who sought to sign peace agreements to end the conflict.

“I will make sure that Israel takes responsibility for Judea and Samaria,” Smotrich told 103fm radio Monday, using the biblical name for the West Bank. He added that previous administrations had “stifled” the population growth of half a million settlers.

Harel Chorev, a researcher at Tel Aviv University’s Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, said that although the Religious Zionism bloc represents a small minority of the Israeli electorate, with just 14 seats in the 120 members of the Knesset, its essential role in the next coalition will give it disproportionate power.

“They are a minority, but one who is determined and dogmatic, who thinks they are the pioneers of the new frontier,” he said. “They will be able to dictate policy in a territorial struggle, in which they want to limit the ability of their opponents to expand.”

A former senior official of COGAT, the Israeli military agency responsible for civil affairs in the occupied West Bank, who spoke on condition of anonymity to speak on sensitive military issues, called the expected authority of religious Zionism in the West Bank “a ‘creeping annexation’. , removing all options for a two-state solution.

Smotrich and Ben Gvir, he said, “could cause all kinds of explosions”.

Issa Amro, a Palestinian activist who organizes tours to draw attention to the occupation, said such explosions were already happening in Hebron, which he said should be a cautionary tale for the rest of Israel.

‘Over the past two years there has been a gradual Hebronization of the rest of Israel,’ he said on his first tour since being released from a week-long intermittent detention for filming the video of the soldier that went viral.

As he walked through the streets with his group, Amro was confronted by a young settler who harangued him. When Amro just walked away, the man repeatedly shouted, “Where are you running to, Issa?”

“For years we have known oppression and brutality, but now there is also fascism in the next government, and that makes it harder for everyone to turn a blind eye,” Amro said, struggling to to be heard in the face of the settler’s cries. .

The tour then turned around the corner to Shuhada Street, once the bustling heart of the old city which is now a ghost town of closed buildings. At one end is the Bab al-Zawiyah checkpoint, where since the right-wing election victory, the wait for Palestinians returning to the city after work or shopping has lasted up to six hours.

A remote-controlled machine gun that could be loaded with stun grenades, sponge-tip bullets and other riot control tools was attached to the upper level out the door in September. For weeks, Palestinians passing underneath thought it was just a camera.

Suddenly, a policeman supported by two armored vehicles stopped around Amro and his group and informed him that he had been arrested. The angry settler from earlier had called them claiming that Amro was violating a restraining order that was supposed to ban him from the city.

“We don’t want you to make trouble, provocations,” the Israeli officer said, his hand shaking as he returned the group’s ID cards after recording the numbers, and let the tour resume.

“Is it a provocation for me to discuss my own rights? Amro asked repeatedly. The officer ignored him.

Fatima AbdulKarim in Hebron contributed to this report.

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