This article was written by Chris Cox, a friend, a journalist and currently based in Hebron with EAPPI. Chris will be blogging throughout his stay in the West Bank.The art of surrealism involves mastering the element of surprise, the jarring juxtaposition, and the perfect non sequitur. This week, a judiciary panel appointed by the Israeli government proved themselves to be gifted surrealists: boldly breaking with decades of legal consensus to the contrary, the panel concluded that Israel is in fact not occupying the West Bank.One of its arguments, in a nutshell, is that occupations only last for short periods. Because Israel has been ‘a presence’ (or, in the language of unanimously-approved UN resolutions, ‘an occupier’) in the West Bank for over four decades, the situation no longer qualifies as occupation.
Try telling that to Hazem Abu Rajab, who shares his Hebron home with the Israeli border police. Since March this year, the Rajab family – nine in total, including Hazem’s parents – have had armed police occupying two-thirds of their house. Two of them sit outside the front door around the clock, while another mans the roof – on which flies an Israeli flag.
That would be enough to make anyone’s life miserable. When I visited Hazem last week – along with my EAPPI colleagues – he told me that the border police routinely pretend they do not know his family members, making them wait up to 20 minutes while they ‘confirm’ their identities before allowing them into the house.
But this is not an occupation, of course. It’s essential to remember that.
The Rajab family are in this situation because Israeli-Jewish settlers broke into their home in March this year, claiming to have purchased it from a Palestinian man – a claim the Rajab family flatly reject. Hazem told the Guardian how his family were woken at 1am by Israeli soldiers, armed and wearing black, who broke down three doors. “Within five minutes, 100 to 150 settlers were inside,” he said.
The settlers have since been evicted, but their claim has led the Israeli authorities to classify the property – which has been in the Rajab family for generations – as ‘disputed’.
“It’s going to take forever,” says Hamed Qawasmeh, a UN human rights officer. “It’s always like this. Once a home is ‘disputed’, no one can move into it.”
Hazem has spent the last seven years converting the basement of the house into an apartment, so that he can get married and live there with his wife. He works as a labourer, on low wages, and had painstakingly laid the foundations for the next phase of his life.
Now, Hazem and his family are trapped in limbo while the case makes its glacial way through the Israeli courts. His basement apartment was welded shut by the settlers when they moved in, and remains so.
Meanwhile, Hazem says, the border police humiliate his family in dozens of ways on an almost daily basis. He tells me the guards urinate in front of his female family members, swear loudly and play music, and make the Rajab family keep their windows closed on hot summer days.
“Each one of them is a government on his own,” says Hazem.
But this is not an occupation. Remember that. This is not an occupation.