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Hebron: we are in jail but we will not leave

10-11-2006 Feature

Abu Eshieh lives with his wife and two younger children in the Tel Rumeida sector of the old part of Hebron. His married son, his wife and their seven children live with them. They are one of two Palestinian families left on the street.

" They have done what they can to try to get us out of the house, " says 71 year old Mohammad Abu Eshieh, " but so far they have not succeeded. "

On one side of the family's house is an army checkpoint, on the other a camp belong to the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) and across the street the Israeli settlement of Tel Rumeida, consisting of 16 Israeli families.

The other remaining Palestinian family lives about 30 metres away from the Abu Eshieh family, but they are not allowed to walk there because the military camp lies between them.  At the bottom of the hill, international volunteers wait to accompany the children to school, but the volunteers are not allowed on the street between the Abu Eshieh household and settlement.

Because vehicles are prohibited in this area, all supplies including propane canisters have to be carried through the military checkpoint and up the hill to the house in front of the settlement.

" We are in jail, " says Abu Eshieh, " but we cannot leave. If we leave it will allow the settlement to expand further. "

For three years the Abu Eshieh family was not allowed to receive any visitors. Since 2004, they can receive people but visits must be approved beforehand by the Israeli authorities.

Abu Eshieh used to ow n a small shop manufacturing and selling copper products. But because of its proximity to the settlement he was ordered to close it at the beginning of the second intifada. The extended family now relies on income from the clothing store owned by his son in the commercial centre of Hebron.

The front of the house is covered with a metal cage-like structure to protect the windows, doors and stairways from stones thrown by the settlers. The family is frequently harassed by residents of the settlement across the street.

On August 31, stones were thrown at both Mohammad and his grand-daughter in two separate incidents. The girl was injured just below the left eye. A few days later stones were thrown at his 6 year old grandson as he walked to his first day of school and again as he returned home.

" None of us is safe from the settlers, " says Abu Eshieh, " They even attack the children and the elderly. "

With a proud smile, his wife adds. " Despite everything the children are still top in their classes. Because they cannot socialize and they are always inside, they devote a lot of time to their studies. "

The ICRC visits the Abu Eshieh family regularly and raises issues of concern with the Israeli authorities.

" A week doesn't pass without a visit from the ICRC, " says Abu Eshieh, " At least we feel we are not forgotten. Someone is asking about us. It gives us a certain feeling of safety " .