Arab shopkeepers peer out at an embattled city
HEBRON, ISRAELI-OCCUPIED WEST BANK — PATRONS visiting Fadel Eskafe's restaurant around the corner from Hebron's downtown Jewish settlement are never disappointed with the tasty Arab food.
But there is little respite from Israeli occupation and the constant threat of violent clashes between residents and settlers at the nearby complex at Beit Hadassah.
The open-fronted restaurant is directly opposite an Israeli sentry post - part of an elaborate security network designed to keep Hebron's Palestinian residents and Jewish settlers apart.
Mr. Eskafe goes about the business of cooking with a zealous sense of mission and his patrons appear to move at the same pace.
They come in off the street, borrow his prayer rug for a quick round of prayers in the relatively secluded back part of the restaurant, and then hastily eat their food in the hope that they will get away before another confrontation takes place.
``Staying here is like a strategy for me,'' says Eskafe, whose brother is still hospitalized from injuries that occurred in February in the attack on the Cave of the Patriarchs mosque by Jewish settler Baruch Goldstein that killed 29 worshipers.
``I am determined to stay here,'' he says.
Will the peace process resolve the problem eventually?
``Islam is the only answer,'' Eskafe replies. ``Victory will come only from God.''
Both sides live in fear of attacks from the other. Settlers on the Palestinian side of the Jewish complex have protected their windows with wire mesh to protect them from flying stones and bottles.
And the Palestinian shopkeepers have built ceilings of wire fencing to protect them from the stones and bottles that, they say, periodically rain down on them from the settlers.
The shops in the lane below the Beit Hadassah building have been fenced off in an attempt to get them to close and thus lessen the chance of conflict with the settlers above them. But the shopkeepers have cut holes in the fence so that customers can still reach them. Some use the fence as a backdrop to display their wares in the hopes of attracting passing trade.
``The fence was put up by Israeli soldiers in 1982 in an effort to get us to leave our shops,'' says Abdek-Hawad Hanini, who says that his business has suffered drastically as a result of the conflict.
``We also want to have our security,'' says Mr. Hanini, noting that the presence of the Israeli soldiers was solely aimed at protecting the 450 Jewish settlers.
``People don't like the Jews living here because there is no freedom and security. Since the [Feb. 25 Hebron] massacre, people feel more hatred toward the Jews. We want them to move,'' says Hanini, who says he has stopped praying at the Abraham Mosque since the imposition of security restrictions following the Goldstein massacre.
``Before the massacre, I used to go every day. Now it takes about an hour to get in and out,'' he says.
Israeli soldiers guard the route to the cave from razor-wire- enmeshed roof-top sentry posts, sidewalks, and in heavily armored vehicles that continually patrol the town.
When a reporter tries to enter the Cave of the Patriarchs from the Jewish side with a Palestinian colleague, he is told no Muslims are allowed.
At the Muslim entrance, Israeli soldiers initially turn away the reporter on the grounds that he is not a Muslim. After explaining what happened at the other side, they change their minds.
Inside Abraham's Mosque, an official of the Muslim authority admits that the new arrangements have resulted in many worshipers going to other mosques.
``It's easier to get into the White House,'' says Muhammad Ishak, an official with WAKF, the Islamic authority for administering religious sites.