Even as Palestinians throw fire bombs and commit acts of violence in Hebron, our soldiers risk their lives to uphold freedom and security for all of the city’s residents. In the face of constant attacks, our values prove stronger the violence against us.
The city of Hebron is one of the oldest cities in the Middle East. It is the spiritual center for the three Abrahamic religions, and where Abraham purchased the Cave of the Patriarchs in order to bury his wife Sarah, according to the Bible. The city has held great significance throughout the ages and has been ruled by a large number of kingdoms and empires.
Even today, this ancient city attracts attention throughout the world, with media constantly focusing on the violence between its Jewish and Muslim populations. What’s left out of international coverage, however, are reports of the trade and cooperation at the heart of the city.
After Israel’s military success against Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War, Israel split the administration into two separate regions: Judea (where Hebron is located, in the south) and Samaria. The new political and security framework allowed Jews to return to the city to pray in the Cave of the Patriarchs, the second holiest site in Judaism.
The map of Hebron since 1997.
The city is more diverse than it may seem, especially around the shrine. Since the Hebron Protocol of 1997, the city has been divided into two sectors: the western sector (called H1), which was placed under the Palestinian Authority; (2) the eastern sector (called H2), which includes the historic Jewish district and the Cave of the Patriarchs. It is in H2 that the Israeli army is deployed to secure the lives of Israelis and allow believers of different religions to come and pray at the holy site.
Keeping Civilians Safe in the Face of Violence
Co-existence of two populations is not accepted by all and violence is common in Hebron, mostly in the form of rock-throwing at Israeli civilians and IDF (Zahal) soldiers. Rock throwing is often downplayed as an innocent provocation, but in fact rocks can seriously injure and kill, as has been the case in Judea and Samaria, including in Hebron. For Captain Naveh Pepper, his mission is to teach soldiers how to react in the face of demonstrations that can sometimes erupt with violence. “Our mission is not to educate or to stir up tensions, but to protect the civilians who are present. If we were to act violently, it would only make the situation even more tense, which is the opposite of what we want.”
Captain Naveh Pepper does not mince words: “Hamas is very present in Hebron and never misses an opportunity to destabilize the situation with terrorist acts. A month ago, a Hamas terrorist with a knife in one hand and a firebomb in the other, threw himself at a soldier in order to kill him,” he recalls. “Another terrorist tried to carry out an attack against a soldier with a firebomb and a gas bomb. These violent acts happen constantly in Hebron, so we must be vigilant all the time.” Even worse, an IDF (Zahal) soldier, Gabriel Koby, was killed during the Sukkot festival this past September while doing routine work, whose purpose was to defend and protect the Jewish community and the 11,000 civilians who visited the region during one of the principle Jewish holidays.
VIDEO: What Is It Like to Be Attacked By Rocks?
Despite the constant pressure, the image of Hebron that the media shows is far from reality. The role of the IDF (Zahal) in this sensitive area is “to protect Israeli civilians while simultaneously doing so with the least amount of disruption to the normal way of life of the city’s inhabitants,” Cpt. Pepper says. Interaction between the Israeli army and Palestinians does not only happen during violent situations, but in fact is a common occurrence.
Freedom of Religion Guaranteed to All Worshippers
Cooperation with Palestinian authorities happens regularly. The IDF (Zahal) communicates regularly with Palestinian representatives through the District Coordination and Liaison Office. These exchanges are made in order to better organize life within the city.
In order to uphold the freedom of worship for those who want to pray in the Cave of the Patriarchs, the holy site has been cut in half. In one wing is a synagogue; In the other, a mosque. Furthermore, during important Jewish or Muslim holidays, the building is reserved for that respective faith that is celebrating. For example, for a few days during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha (one of the most important Muslim holidays), the Cave of the Patriarchs is closed to Jewish worshipers.
Muslim worshippers leaving the Cave of the Forefathers after prayer services during the Eid al-Adha festival
Throughout the holiday, the IDF (Zahal) was on guard in Hebron to ensure free access to Palestinians and to maintain safety amid the heavy crowds. When the 3,000 worshippers left the Cave of the Patriarchs that morning, their eyes met with those of the IDF (Zahal) soldiers. Discussions between the Israeli army and the Waqf (Muslim authority in charge of places of worship) are normal occurrences. There have not been large, disruptive incidents this year and this quiet normality has failed to make headlines around the world.
Providing Aid to Palestinian Civilians: Routine for the IDF (Zahal)
In everyday life, the presence of the IDF (Zahal) is an opportunity for soldiers to help both Israelis and Palestinians with everyday problems that arise. It is not uncommon to see a Palestinian child being given first-aid treatment by an Israeli soldier. Recently, a Palestinian child was wounded by a friend who, like him, was throwing rocks at Israeli security forces. A Border Police officer, who was the target of the rock-throwing along with other soldiers, decided to treat the child’s head injury. In everyday incidents like this one, the values of the IDF (Zahal)’s forces prove stronger than the regular violence against them.
A Border Police officer treats a Palestinian child who was injured by rocks that his friends were throwing.
Cpt. Naveh Pepper explains that the duty of the IDF (Zahal) towards children, whether they are Palestinian or Israeli, is the same. “If a child is accidentally injured on the street, whether Israeli or Palestinian, we provide first aid.”
Examples of the IDF (Zahal) helping Palestinians are not limited to children. “A few days ago, an elderly Palestinian civilian could not climb a flight of stairs, so a soldier came over and helped him up each step. This kind of situation is not uncommon here in Hebron.”
The situation in Hebron is complex and challenging. However, the truth about the everyday reality of the city is often misrepresented in the media, which presents a one-sided view of the situation. In an area that is regularly a scene for violence and provocation, the IDF (Zahal) will continue to ensure the safety of the city while maintaining tolerance and respect.