The last months of PA administration in Hebron have witnessed the continued conflict between the Jewish and Arab communities of that troubled city. This Belfast of the Middle East is rapidly moving toward armed confrontation. This is a brief update of the current situation.
During the last few months human rights violations against local Palestinians by their own Police and Security apparatus have increased. Dissident voices have essentially been silenced. There is now a feeling of fear and apathy on the part of the Arab residents of PA controlled Hebron.
The violence against the Jewish community has become a manner of PA policy rather than a spontaneous outburst of emotions. These attacks are carried out with the tacit approval of the Palestinian Police and sometimes under their direct control. In the past, there have been many incidents of the activists being given a financial stipend for participating in violent demonstrations against the Jewish Community.
In the Israeli controlled areas, there has been no improvement in the areas of house demolitions and administrative detention. With callous disregard for the issues at stake, the Israeli Civil Administration continues the thoughtless policies of the Israeli Government in destroying Palestinian homes. For each new home destroyed a potential terrorist cell is created.
The Jewish community of Hebron has also suffered. The daily attacks launched against the Jewish community by a small minority of Palestinian activists continue to keep the situation unstable. These attacks have escalated from stone throwing to shooting at Jewish houses and cars. The fact that the PA encourages this has not been lost on the Jewish Community. The feeling that the IDF is helpless to protect them is giving credibility to the fanatic minority who advocate direct action against the Arabs.
At the same time the Jews are being alienated from the mainstream Israeli community who resent their presence in Hebron as being an unnecessary provocation and military expense. The result is that the Hebron Jews are sinking into a ghetto mentality and are becoming increasingly more unstable and prone to acts of counter violence.
The Jewish community has always been provided with weapons by the IDF. These weapons are generally defensive in nature, consisting of surplus IDF army arms, and licensed pistols purchased legally on the Israeli market. In addition to this, the Jewish Community has the full protection and backing of IDF regular Army and Police units that are stationed both inside and near the Jewish Communities.
The PA has far exceeded the agreed upon limits which were set on their possession of semi-automatic weapons. They now possess a variety of assault rifles, sub-machine guns, machine guns, mortars, anti-tank weapons and grenades.
In addition to the massive Palestinian Police build up under Lt. Col. Abu Sine, there is a sizable independent unit of President Arafat’s Force 17 operating as a law onto itself. Beside this, unknown numbers of Col. Rejoub’s security forces and local PLO security unites under Gabril Al Backrin, the HAMAS and PFLP militias, operate more or less openly in the Hebron area. It has been estimated that there are between 3000 and 5000 serviceable weapons in the Hebron area. It is an open secret that weapons can also be bought under the indifferent eye of the PA in from various local arms merchants.
According to an independent Security Analysis, the situation is rapidly deteriorating and has reached a point where an outbreak of armed conflict between the Jewish and Arab communities is considered only a matter of time. For experienced observers, there is no longer any doubt that some trivial incident will set off the Hebron powder keg.
Hebcom Middle East Bureau
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