It's only one house

Even if the settlers are evicted from the disputed building in Hebron, the abusive occupation is only becoming more permanent.

hebron settler land is ours 248.88 ap (photo credit: AP)
hebron settler land is ours 248.88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
For those following the planned evacuation of the illegal settlement in Hebron ironically called the "House of Peace," it has been an eventful couple of weeks. Extreme violence on the part of settlers toward both Palestinians and Israeli police and soldiers, petitions of Knesset members to reverse the ruling of the High Court, letters to the president and countless threats of civil war have become the normal means of discourse. Looking at these events from the outside, one would think that a major event in the history of Israel's control over the occupied territories was about to occur. What other explanation could there be for all the commotion? It is important, though, to keep in mind that we are not talking about the evacuation of the entire settlement of Hebron (which consists of fewer than 1,000 extremist settlers in an area of some 500 square meters), but of one building deep inside the city that has been considered illegal almost from day one. It is also important to remind ourselves that if the settlers are evicted (and that is by no means a certainty - there is already talk of postponing the evacuation to a much later date), Hebron will continue to be a place that embodies the worst of Israel's occupation policies. Hebron will still be a place where Palestinians are prevented legally from walking on their own roads, a city with sections that have become virtual ghost towns as a consequence of Israeli policies. Palestinians will continue to suffer daily from harassment by soldiers and from the fact that the Israeli authorities do little to prevent settlers from attacking them, destroying their property and harassing their children. As soldiers who served in Hebron, we at Breaking the Silence have long been aware of how things work there. We have seen firsthand how the policy of separation, paired with the absence of law enforcement vis-a-vis violent settlers, has affected the lives of tens of thousands of Palestinians. We, too, have become subject to regular harassment and abuse from these settlers as we guide tours in the city. This will not change if and when the building is evacuated. NONE OF this is to say that eviction of the settlers from the "House of Peace" is unimportant. If they are allowed to remain, it will be another nail in the coffin of the rule of law in the West Bank (and how many more nails does that coffin need?). We must pressure our government to enforce the law and evacuate these illegal settlers. But when the day comes and thousands of soldiers and policemen arrive to do just that, we must keep in mind that nothing major is happening. Surely, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and fellow politicians will talk about the victory of democracy. They will boast about how the rule of law has prevailed yet again. They will sit in comfort in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and pat themselves on the back, saying that they triumphed over the religious fanatics. But we, Israelis who have been through this before, will be there to remind them of Hebron's recent history. We will remind them that in the summer of 2007, they patted themselves on the back after 2,000 soldiers were needed to dislodge two settler families from the wholesale market. We will remind them that the year before that, they patted themselves on the back when they evacuated the Shapira House, yet another settlement in the city. Then, as today, the world may well have thought for a couple of minutes that something was changing. But today we have enough memories to know better. That is why we will remind them and ourselves that the occupation is only becoming more permanent. For every settler house that is demolished, dozens more are being built. We must remember that the Palestinians of Hebron will still be deprived of basic human rights, because they were born in a city where the lives of settlers are worth more than theirs. Finally, we must remember that as Israelis, we have a long struggle ahead of us, one that involves hundreds of "houses of peace." We cannot call ourselves a society that upholds the values of human rights and democracy until we deal with these bigger issues, instead of focusing on just one house. The writer is a member of Breaking the Silence, an organization of IDF veterans promoting awareness about the situation in the territories.