Imprisoned: A Tale of Two Households in Hebron

Guest post by Gary Fields
Dept of Communications
University of California at San Diego

Al-Khalil (Hebron) is the paragon of Israeli apartheid, exemplified by the Abu Eisheh family and Zlekha Mutaseb and her mother. Both families were kind enough to spend a few hours with me telling me about their life in the Old City. It would take a lengthy explanation to provide enough context for their similar predicament but let me just say that both households are victims of the outrageously violent settler community in the Old City and the State of Israel that defends them.

What is different in Hebron is that the 500 Israeli settlers here have colonized the core urban space of the Old City through property theft and live literally next to, and even on top of the 30,000 Palestinians who reside in the same space. What the Israeli apartheid state has done for these settlers is create gated communities for them by prohibiting Palestinians from accessing large areas of the Old City that they have used for generations. In what is shocking even to South Africans who come here, Palestinians are literally forbidden to walk on certain streets in the Old City because they are Palestinian. If that is not apartheid, nothing is.

These settlers are determined to expand Jewish presence in the Old City of Hebron by making the life of the Palestinians who live near them a living hell. The Abu Eisheh family and Zlekha Mutaseb and her mother have had to defend themselves and their homes from the violence of settlers by literally imprisoning themselves in cages that they call “home.” Why? Settlers almost every single day showered their homes with stones, bottle, bricks, anything.

Yes, it is true, both households were forced to build these cage-like enclosures around their windows and property for their own protection from settler violence. Even with these metal screens, settler harass them almost every day.

If you want to get a sense of just how ugly these settlers really are, go to Google and type in “Hebron Sharmuta video” and you will see one of the settler neighbors of the Abu Eisheh family, Yifat Alkoby harrassing the daughter of Tayseer Abu Eisheh and his wife Um Mohammed. Believe me, it is one of the most sickening things you will ever see. I was not able to talk to their daughter but Um Mohammed, the very gracious wife of Tayseer told me all about the incident.

Of these five images, one in particular is extraordinarily revealing. In parts of the Old City, the settlers have managed to take over the upper floors of some of former Palestinian-owned property. These settlers live literally right on top of shops in the Old City. Living above the Palestinian shoppers and shopkeepers below, these settlers have taken to throwing garbage, including bottles of urine and feces, bricks and building materials, and all sorts of refuse down on the Palestinians below. In response, the municipality of al-Khalil had to erect fencing to protect the Palestinians below from the garbage being thrown down from the settlers above, much like the two households I interviewed. This is almost too surreal to believe but once again, here it is for the world to see. This, in an image, is Apartheid Israel.


The Abu Eisheh Family. They are still mercilessly harassed by settlers who throw rocks at the fencing and they even shoot into the house almost daily. The family was very gracious in coming out to the stairwell for this photograph and as I was taking it, a couple of settlers came down the street toward me to see what I was doing and I heard one of them, in a Brooklyn accent, say: “Hey, this guy’s got a camera. What’s he doing.” I admit that I was bit scared but thankfully nothing happened. Again, I encourage any of you who read this to go to Google and search for “Hebron Sharmuta video” and you will see what took place right here with a daughter of the family who is not in the picture but Um Mohammed, the mother certainly spared no words about what this settler did. 

This is Zlekha Mutaseb who has been living in the Old City her entire life. In her case the harassment was so intense that two NGOs, the TIPH (Temporary International Presence in Hebron) and HRC (Hebron Rehabilitation Committee) funded the metal fencing around the exposed portions of her home. What she is pointing to, however, is the street below us, her street. On this particular portion of her street, Palestinians are not allowed to walk. Zlekha is forced to access her home through a back entrance through a series of back alleys because she is not allowed on the street where she lives. It’s unbelievable but you can’t make this stuff up.

In this image, I am on Zlekha’s street looking up and taking the photo. I am able to take this photo because I can access her street through a checkpoint with an American passport. Zlekha can’t even walk on the street where she lives. Apartheid Israel.

In this image, what we see are shops in the Old City below, and Jewish settlers above. You can see the greenish window frames of their units above. What we see here is the fencing that the municipality of al-Khalil erected to protect the Palestinian shoppers and shopkeepers below from the garbage thrown down at them by these settlers. It’s hard to imagine that human beings are doing this.

A view of the Old City with the complex of the Ibrahim Mosque, the rest of al-Khalil behind it, and the part of the Israeli settlement of Beit Hadasa in the lower left corner. What has occurred in the Old City is a greater and greater area has become off limits to Palestinians.

Gary Fields is Professor of Communications at the University of California at San Diego, and author of Enclosure: Palestinian Landscapes in a Historical Mirror. His photography can be found at Gary Fields Photography

One thought on “Imprisoned: A Tale of Two Households in Hebron

  1. At Gary’s suggestion, I corrected a mistake in the original version of the post, which suggested that the funding for the fencing surrounding Zlekha’s house had been made by B’Tselem.


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