Occupation 101: Hebron

Hebron, the ancient city in the West Bank that holds historical significance to both the Muslim and Jewish traditions, is perhaps the city that best epitomizes the continuing strife between Palestinians and Israelis. For the Israeli occupation is nowhere more evident than in the heart of this once thriving metropolis, whose hillsides hold 166,000 Palestinian residents but whose central streets are a ghost town patrolled by the Israel Defense Force, there to protect the 1,000 fundamentalist settlers who are taking over the city, inch by inch.

Last year I was given a personal tour of Hebron by Mikhael Manekin, co-founder of Breaking the Silence, a remarkable human rights group made up of former Israeli soldiers who participated in the occupation. The exclusive footage (embedded above) succinctly tells the story of what Palestinians face in their daily lives under Israeli occupation.

Some highlights from the piece:

• The video shows Palestinian houses where the residents have not been allowed to leave through the front doors of their own houses for the past seven years. They've had to crawl through the roof or a hole in the back walls.

• During the military curfew imposed during the second intifada, soliders in Manekin's Golani unit were ordered to kill any Palestinians who were out in the street between 8 at night and 6 in the morning. A few soldiers have come forward to discuss the murder, torture and harassment of Palestinian civilians.

• At all times during our visit, the Israeli soldiers were friendly and convivial. I was fascinated to learn that the unit that patrols Hebron -- the 50th Batallion of the Nahal Brigade -- are made up of soldiers with the greatest sympathy to Palestinians and who come from socialist or semi-socialist youth movements that generally oppose the occupation.

• Manekin and his colleague, Breaking the Silence executive director Yehuda Shaeul, are routinely subjected to harassment by by the activist settlers of Hebron. Manekin says in the piece: "I've actually been attacked as a soldier and as an activist, by settlers when the father actually yells, 'Only kids under 14 can attack.' Under Israeli law, youths under 14 cannot be held accountable for their actions in a court of law. On this afternoon, Shaeul and his group of German members of Parliament were attacked by rock-throwing settlers. (At night, Manekin added, the settlers come with sledgehammers to ruin Palestinian buildings.)

This work of citizen journalism serves to throw a spotlight on what's happening; fashioning a solution is certainly much more complicated. I set off for this highly unusual personal tour (Manekin usually takes busloads of 30 Israelis, not a lone independent U.S. journalist) with just a Samsung palmcorder, with no lights, no wind guard and no spare battery pack, so I captured as much as I could in 90 minutes of footage, edited down to:

Part 2: Occupation 101: Hebron (22 minutes) On Vimeo (embedded above) On Ourmedia (H.264 QuickTime)

Earlier, Part 1: A drive through the occupied territories (19 minutes) On Vimeo (Flash) On Ourmedia (H. 264 QuickTime)