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Life in Hebron: harassment and increasing poverty

17-11-2008 Feature

A Palestinian mother of six talks about her daily life in Hebron as she struggles to make ends meet in the midst of road closures and settler violence. She is one of thousands of vulnerable people receiving monthly food supplies from the ICRC.

There are cracks in the wall, the paint is coming off in large chunks and no furniture in the house seems to be in one piece. However, for Baheja Sharabati, who is bringing up her six children in this house, it is not the state of the decor that worries her. It is how to pay for food for her children, how to pay for their education and how to ensure that they are safe and sound.

  ©ICRC/A. Meier/il-e-00353    
  Old town, Hebron. This was once a vibrant commercial centre.    
    The family house lies smack in the middle of the most troubled area of Hebron, called H2. It is the centre of the city – an area where approximately 400 Jewish settlers have also chosen to live. Thus, H2 is controlled by the Israeli military, with frequent checkpoints on some roads. Other roads in the area are off-limits to Palestinians. 

Many shopkeepers have been forced to shut down their business by an Israeli army security order. Other small businesses are losing customers because of frequent attacks by settlers with flying shards of glass, urine and metal objects.

The closure of the city centre to Palestinians has brought with it a shocking level of poverty that seriously threatens the welfare of the families stuck in the middle of this violent area.

Baheja Sharabati and her family are among the people worst hit. Her husband's job as a daily worker at a gas station brings in such a meagre income that she has only has 51 USD a month for food, clothes, medical bills and other expenses for each member of her family. " The food parcel I receive from the ICRC on a monthly basis helps a great deal. But we have still been forced to go heavily into debt to make ends meet, " she said.

 Living from hand to mouth  


Palestinian women in Hebron admit to selling a lot of their dowry jewellery to raise much needed cash for their families’ upkeep. The Sharabati family is no exception. But there are no assets left to sell. Instead, Baheja’s husband is borrowing money from his employer. Their h ope is that once their eldest daughter graduates from university, she can help pay back the debt. 

In spite, or perhaps because of the permanent Israeli military post set up above the Sharabatis’ house, someone was allowed to fill the water reservoir on their roof with garbage, contaminating their water supply.

  ©ICRC/C. von Toggenburg/il-e-00730    
  Roadblock separating the old town from the rest of Hebron.    
    To ensure that their children had clean drinking water, the Sharabatis were obliged to pay 223 USD for a pump that could bring water into their faucets from an underground well. That was money they simply did not have – like the money used to replace window glass, broken on numerous occasions by settlers, or for the protective wire mesh they eventually had to install.

For now, though, the family will be living from one day t o the next. Baheja Sharabati hopes that the security situation will remain relatively calm so that her husband is not be prevented from going to work by soldiers at the Israeli military checkpoints. She also prays that the settlers, whose homes sandwich her own, stop making her family’s life difficult.

With so many troubles and so much harassment, one would expect the family to consider moving out of H2. But that is probably out of the question as they live in the house free of charge. If they lived anywhere else, they would struggle to pay rent. A Palestinian family in better circumstances than theirs rented the house to the Sharabatis 12 years ago. Now that constant harassment and violence have become part of their life, the owner is letting them stay there rent-free.

This arrangement also keeps the property in Palestinian hands. " If we were to give up and move out, the settlers would take over the house immediately. I simply do not think that that should happen, " says Baheja Sharabati.