(photo credit: )
Enforcing the closed military zone imposed on the Hebron Jewish quarter special police units on Tuesday arrested eight Jewish civilians suspected of participating in the violence that erupted in the city in recent days in response to plans to evict eight families from the Mitzpe Shalhevet encampment, located next to the Avraham Avinu quarter.
Four of the civilians were released with certain travel restrictions imposed, and four others are
due to appear in court today where police will seek their remand, Judea and Samaria Police spokesman Supt. Shlomi Sagi said. According to Sagi, security forces have arrested a total of 26 people since the unrest began. Fourteen others, arrested when officials served the eviction papers to the eight families earlier in the month, remain in custody he said.
On Monday night, in an attempt to quell the violence that has plagued the city in recent days, OC Central Command Maj.Gen. Yair Naveh declared the Jewish community a closed military zone and ordered all non-residents to leave the area. The order is to remain in effect until January 22.
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz issued a stern warning declaring there will be no compromises or tolerance shown to the "criminals and masked lawbreakers." Touring the Southern Command, Mofaz declared that those who participated in the unrest "will not be permitted to dictate the order of the day or the agenda of security forces. All those who violated the law will be arrested, there will be no tolerance," he said. The phenomena of masked youth raising a hand, cursing soldiers and throwing stones is a phenomena that must be wiped off the face of the earth, he said.
On Tuesday morning, security forces set up checkpoints, monitoring the entry of those seeking to enter the city, but permitted worshippers access to the Machpela Cave. At an entry point nearby, a policeman waved us through, "you must be reporters, you are the only normal faces to be seen around here."
Despite the newly imposed restrictions, a busload of American tourists on a sponsored Ateret Hacohanim mission, seeking to express their support to the Jewish community and donate funds, was permitted entry. The group, somewhat awed over the large media presence gathered outside Avraham Avinu, rushed through and met with a few community leaders before returning to their bus.
A tense calm prevailed in the city in the morning - special police and anti-riot units, accompanied by mounted police gathered outside the Machpela Cave, preparing to carry out arrests. Outside Avraham Avinu, groups of settlers talked quietly among themselves waiting for the events of the day to unfold. In an office nearby, Jewish community leaders convened a meeting. Outside, MK Rabbi Benny Elon explained that his presence in Hebron is to strengthen the Jewish community.
The actions of recent days said Elon, is the result of a Leftist government making cynical use of the Hebron Jewish community. "I call on Jews from all over the country to come to Hebron and pray in the Machpela Cave and save the Jewish community. It is clear to me that the government intends to expel all the Jews in Hebron," he said.
Towards noon, a large contingent of special police units marched in two files towards Gross Square opposite Avraham Avinu. One group positioned themselves opposite the neighborhood, a second group headed up the hill to Beit Hadassah.
As reporters and photographers prepared for the anticipated "action", the settlers stood eying the police units nervously. Several hours went by, nothing happened, there was no violence, just an eery calm, the most threatening factor present appeared to be the black rain clouds that loomed overhead. The crack police units who earlier appeared so threatening, sat in small groups talking to pass the time.
Oblivious of the activities, scores of Moslem worshipers attended a funeral in the nearby cemetery that overlooks the road between Gross Square and Beit Hadassah.
Mid afternoon, Uri Yaron, Police commander of the Machpela Cave station, arrived at the square. Speaking though a loudspeaker he called on all non-residents of Hebron to leave, saying he would give them 15 minutes to exit the area on their own accord. After that, he declared, police would forcibly remove them. Yaron's announcement was met with jeers from settlers who called out "Police State!"
Speaking to reporters, Yaron declared that if there were any violence, police would respond rapidly and would use tear gas if necessary. Admitting that a large number of non-residents left the area on Monday, he said police have lists of scores of suspects who they believe remained. At one point he told reporters that police would enter the buildings and search for the suspects and also check the identities of anyone who steps in their way.
Hebron community spokesman David Wilder declared that the police actions violated an understanding reached with the army earlier. "We did not understand that they were going to come in with loudspeakers and throw people out. We were told this kind of provocation would not happen. What they are doing is ridiculous; it is like throwing a match next to a powder keg. Things are likely to explode and this is happening just as the situation is quiet," he said.
Holding Shahar, her three-year-old daughter, Miriam Grabovsky who lives with her family in Mitzpe Shalhevet, appeared undisturbed by the events. Shortly after the murder of Shalhevet Pass in 2001, Grabovsky and her husband Yair moved in to one of the two-room "homes."
Hebron she declared is a specific point in a much larger picture created by a government whose lack of steadfastness opposite Israel's real enemies, the Moslem countries, has turned it into their tool. "Our faith in the Land of Israel and the Torah is the driving force that brought us here, and we will defend our values," she said. Attempts to evict the families will be met with resistance she said. "We will not harm soldiers or shoot anyone, we have our plans and will put them into use when the time comes," she said. Conditions are Mitzpe Shalhevet are sometimes difficult, she said, noting that her husband and their three children share two small rooms. "We are not alone in our battle, we have a lot of support from the community and others. This is not about defending my own home, but the State of Israel," she said.
In recent days, some of the youth involved in violence lost control she said. "What do you expect when even the IDF Hebron district commander Col. Moti Baruch lost control and loaded his weapon. Everyone loses control sometimes, not just 16 year olds," she said.
"No one talks about the youth who survived Gush Katif, they have been thrust into a complex reality, that is the issue to be judged, not their behavior," she said.
Mid afternoon, the police units, grouped together, pushing the visors of their helmets over their faces, they split off into small groups and headed for the Avraham Avinu quarter and the adjacent Beit Nahum and Yehuda building. Settlers jeered as they approached, making their way through the narrow alleys. Settlers on the rooftops, others standing at the windows, yelled out "Police State," "Judenreit, Shame on you."
Within minutes, the eight arrests were made. Jonathan Silverman, 23, of Brooklyn New York was led out of the top storey by two policemen. "This has never happened to me before," he told one of the policeman escorting him. "Don't worry it will be okay," the policeman responded. Spotting the media, Silverman attempted to resist. Asked why he was visiting Hebron he declared "I heard they were kicking Jews out of their homes and I wanted to see for myself. It is kind of hard for me to believe," he said. Attempting to resist arrest, four policemen took hold of his limbs, and carried him unceremoniously towards a waiting van.