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Hebron Rehabilitation Committee

Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 11.04.2008:

By Emad Abdallah Hamdan

The old city of Hebron is as ancient as history itself. Its roots can be traced back to the time of the Canaanites who built the city almost 5,500 years ago.

Throughout the ages, the city of Hebron was a target of many invasions and was destroyed several times. In 1187 the Moslem leader Salaheddin al-Ayyoubi gave orders to reconstruct the city after his victory in the Battle of Hattin.

Since 1967 there have been unceasing Israeli attempts to colonize the city, and consecutive Israeli governments sought to set up a Jewish quarter in the heart of Hebron’s old city. Thus five Israeli settlement outposts were built to accommodate 400 settlers who have the luxury of being guarded by more than a couple thousand Israeli soldiers. This gave Hebron a special place in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Whereas after the signing of the Oslo Accords the Israeli military authorities pulled back from all Palestinian cities, they remained in Hebron; and in 1997 the city was divided into two parts in accordance with a special agreement called the Hebron Protocol. One part was entirely under Palestinian control, while the other, constituting 20 percent of the total area of Hebron, including the old city and the surrounding belt, remained under Israeli security control.

The Hebron Protocol and the deployment of international forces in the city of Hebron failed to put a stop to the extremism of Israeli settlers and soldiers. Since the beginning of Israeli colonization in Hebron, the Israeli authorities forcefully began the systematic expulsion of Palestinian civilians from the old city. In addition, the Israeli authorities continue to exert social, economic, and political pressure on Palestinians, and oftentimes fully armed Israeli settlers and soldiers storm civilian houses and arrest civilians. The Israeli military authorities frequently impose curfews for long periods at a time, block roads, physically assault civilians and, in general, terrorise the population. Furthermore, the Israeli authorities have deliberately moved all basic public-service facilities outside the city, such as the bus station and the vegetable market, causing the old city of Hebron to become completely isolated. This tragedy has negatively affected infrastructure development and has made it nearly impossible for the population to have access to basic necessities. Consequently, the rate of emigration from the old city of Hebron has risen. In 1952 the population was 10,000, but due to Israeli aggression and other political, social, and economic reasons, the population decreased to 400 in 1996. Buildings were deserted, and the Palestinians who remained in the old city lived in constant misery. Through the efforts of the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee to make the old city more liveable by renovating and restoring abandoned buildings, the city’s population is growing again. The present population is approximately 5,000.

Thus it was imperative that somebody should take over the responsibility to preserve and maintain the cultural heritage of the old city of Hebron and rescue it from the fangs of settlers. In August 1996, the late President Yasser Arafat issued a decree stipulating the establishment of the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee whose main goals and objectives include the following: 1) Confronting and restraining Israeli settlement activities inside the old city of Hebron through reconstructing and rehabilitating residential buildings around settlement outposts to prevent their horizontal expansion and hinder their architectural contiguity; 2) Preserving cultural heritage through safeguarding and sustaining the architectural unity of ancient buildings and the entirety of architectural texture; 3) Revitalizing the old city of Hebron through renovating historical buildings and reusing deserted buildings, as well as rehabilitating the infrastructure and strengthening the sense of belonging to the city among the population; 4) Improving civilian living conditions through the provision of health and technical services, and creating work opportunities through launching development projects; and 5) Stimulating and triggering commercial and tourist activity and encouraging people to return to live and work in the old city.

The oppressive measures taken by the Israeli military authorities in the old city of Hebron have seriously impacted the renovation works of the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee. Recently, the authorities have issued a number of military orders that prohibit the renovation of buildings near Israeli settlement outposts for security reasons. The committee gave priority to renovating buildings around settlement outposts in order to thwart settlement expansion in the old city.

But the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee was not immune to attacks from the Israeli authorities and settlers. In fact, labourers who work in renovation projects have been arrested, and contractors have faced difficulties in bringing in equipment and material for work. The Israeli forces prohibited the use of tractors and small trucks to carry away huge piles of earth and therefore labourers were obliged to use pack animals for that purpose.

Under these conditions the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee launched its renovation projects. The renovation of old buildings aimed originally to put an end to their gradual dilapidation. The committee designed accurate technical renovation plans, including the restoration of old stones and internal design, while at the same time it aimed to preserve the aesthetic appeal of old buildings. In addition, the renovation works offered a permanent solution to the problem of humidity.

Large residential locations that were used to accommodate members of extended families were divided into smaller apartments to meet the needs of the increasing population and to provide modern nuclear families with a place to live. The apartments were equipped with modern amenities to ensure a decent quality of life.

Aware of the increasing needs of the population, the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee renovated old streets and built new infrastructure, including the installation of new water and sewage pipes, the building of new electric networks, and the installation of new telephone cables. The quarters of al-Sheikh, Qaitun, al-Salaymeh, Jebr, Bani Dar, al-Aqaba, al-Sawakeneh, al-Qazazin, and the market of al-Labban have all been renovated and renewed. The committee plans not only to set up recreational parks for children and families but also to create tourist attractions as well. The committee seeks to encourage the steadfastness of local people by easing their suffering and providing them with a variety of facilities.

The Hebron Rehabilitation Committee encouraged counter-immigration through bringing people from all over the West Bank to live in the city of Hebron and strengthening social ties among people. In addition, the committee aims to enhance social culture by introducing people to the importance of the cultural heritage of Hebron. In order to motivate people to move into the city of Hebron, incentives such as free renovations and exemption from water and electric bills are offered. International institutions also provide free food rations and health care to Hebron residents.

One of the most interesting achievements of the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee is that it has managed to create a pluralist and diverse society in Hebron. It has attracted Palestinians from various educational and social backgrounds to the city. It also established a social counselling centre that follows up on the problems of old city residents and assists them in finding appropriate solutions. The centre focuses on overcoming social and cultural obstacles and strengthening social ties among people. As a result, the living conditions in Hebron have improved, and life there has become easier.

The Hebron Rehabilitation Committee also organises cultural activities that aim to increase cultural awareness among the population. Photography exhibits and panel sessions are held, and pamphlets and brochures about the importance and historical significance of Hebron are published periodically. In addition, the committee has set up a children’s library and encouraged the opening of cultural and sports centres in Hebron’s old city.

In order to attend to the health needs of the population, the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee has rehabilitated a clinic that is now administered by the Ministry of Health in the old city of Hebron. Moreover, the committee coordinates with local and international civil institutions to provide residents with free health insurance and health care services.

Finally, the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee is working on increasing the awareness of Palestinians living in Hebron regarding their human rights and providing them with security. The committee monitors and documents the Israeli violations against civilians through its legal unit that was established in 2000 with aid from the Norwegian government.

Emad Abdallah Hamdan was born in Ramallah and has a master’s degree in sustainable development. He is currently the general director of administration, finance, and public relations for the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee and a lecturer in administrative sciences at Al-Quds Open University.

This Week in Palestine

April 2008

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