- Title: WEST BANK: Hebron regeneration used to lure Palestinians back to Old City
- Date: 29th May 2007
- Summary: PICTURE OF THE OLD CITY OF HEBRON
- Embargoed: 13th June 2007 13:00
- Topics: Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVABQKY75NF71QN2LOG1G23O7DSI
- Story Text: Thousands of Palestinians have left their homes and businesses in the West Bank city of Hebron because they claim restrictions imposed by Israel along with the presence of Jewish settlers inside the old city have made life unbearable.
The city, holy to both Muslims and Jews, is a frequent flashpoint for violence, often as a result of tensions between Jewish settlers and Palestinians living unwillingly side-by-side. There are about 500 settlers, who see living in Hebron as a biblical birthright, and are housed in several heavily guarded enclaves built since 1980 in the heart of the city. Hebron is also home to 115,000 Palestinians who see the settlers as usurpers.
Now, the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee, which was established in 1996 and is a non-governmental organisation, is renovating Palestinian homes and infrastructure inside Hebron's old city in an attempt to lure Palestinians back to their homes and businesses.
"We believe that the Israelis have tried to put pressure on the Palestinians to emigrate from this area and they have put in place many policies to exert pressure on them and they have succeeded and many old city residents have left," said the committee's director, Emad Hamdan.
Hamdan's comments were backed up by two Israeli human rights groups who earlier this month accused Israel of imposing restrictions that have effectively expelled thousands of Palestinians from their homes and businesses in Hebron.
In a report, the Israel Civil Rights Association and the Betselem rights group said Israel had effectively expropriated Hebron's centre from Palestinians in an effort to protect the settlers in the second-largest city in the occupied West Bank.
The 120-page report accused Israeli soldiers of committing acts of "routine and violent harassment" against Palestinians, such as frequent curfews, denial of access to key streets and the setting up of security posts in their homes.
The report also added that Israeli soldiers "as a rule refrain from protecting the Palestinian residents from attacks by settlers."
More than 40 percent of Palestinian homes in Hebron's centre are vacant while seventy-seven percent of Palestinian shops and other businesses have been shut, nearly a quarter of them due to Israeli military orders, said the report.
The Israeli military said measures it has taken in Hebron have been aimed at confronting worsening security threats posed by Palestinian militants against Israeli civilians and soldiers.
Nidal Awawi, who lives in the market area of Hebron's old city, said he fled his home because of the Israeli restrictions but returned after the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee help him renovate his house.
"The aim was to tempt the people to return to the old city because there was no regeneration for a long time and so many people left. So, a committee was created to rebuild some houses so that people would return to them and I was one of the people who came back to live in the market," he said.
Efforts by the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee seem to be paying off as more and more Palestinians are now returning to their homes and businesses in the city.
"(In 1996) the population of the old city was 400 residents while during the fifties the population was 10,000. So, around 96 percent of the residents emigrated. Now there are around 4500 residents living in the old city," said Hamdan.
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