Guns give way to games in West Bank divided city

Abu Sha'aban, a chubby, 40-year-old Palestinian in plain khaki uniform without insignia, learnt his soldiering in Lebanon, where he fought the invading Israelis in 1982. He learnt his Hebrew in an Israeli prison in his native Gaza, where he served three years for "illegal" activity in Yasser Arafat's Fatah militia.

Along the way, Abu Sha'aban picked up a Beirut university law degree. He also plays a mean game of chess. His latest adversary is Private Gilead Engel, a lanky 18-year-old Israeli national serviceman who sports the knitted skullcap associated with right-wing settlers. The score so far: Palestine 2, Israel 1. "It isn't easy to beat him," Abu Sha'aban concedes. "He's very good, very tough."

The two chess enthusiasts are based together in a cluster of white caravans surrounded by razor wire on a bleak hilltop south of Hebron, where Israeli and Palestinian security forces have surprised a sceptical world by keeping the peace for a full month since Israeli troops withdrew from 80 per cent of this incendiary West Bank city.

Mr Sha'aban is legal adviser to the local Palestinian commander. Mr Engel is the Israeli media liaison at the district co-ordinating office.

The two sides of the shared headquarters are divided by a wire fence. But the gate between them is more often open than closed. Now they drink coffee together and even play volleyball across the wire.

It has not always been so relaxed. "The first time I sat playing chess on the Palestinian side," Mr Engel said, "I found myself surrounded by 10 Arabs with Kalashnikov automatics. I was very afraid."

It is only four months since Israeli and Palestinian forces exchanged fire in Ramallah and Nablus, two cities handed over earlier to Palestinian rule. If the initial uncertainty has subsided in the Hebron base, it remained palpable on a joint patrol I accompanied through an outlying Palestinian neighbourhood.

Paramilitary Israeli border police and Palestinian police rode in separate jeeps. As the narrow road turned from asphalt to stones and rutted earth, the Israelis drew to one side and waved their Palestinian partners into the lead. Six weeks ago the border police were the hated enforcers of the occupation. They do not expect the Palestinians to forgive and forget quickly.

We stopped at Abu Sneineh, a rocky plateau overlooking the ancient, contentious centre of Hebron, a hill city sacred to Jews and Muslims. To the right was the massive shrine of the Patriarchs, where the warring faiths worship in sullen segregation. To the left was the Jewish quarter, home to 450 heavily guarded settlers. The joint patrol was there to make sure no vengeful Palestinian used the isolated site to snipe at the Jewish families down below.

"The Palestinian police have 15 checkpoints of their own to prevent demonstrations moving towards the Jewish enclave," the Israeli district commander explained. "We prevent Jewish demonstrations from our side.

"Every Palestinian police station has a rapid-response team, each with 16 men. On our side, soldiers have standing orders to stop any Israeli shooting at Palestinians. If necessary, they may open fire at him."

Asked if he fears a rerun of the gun battles between their forces, an Israeli paramilitary shrugged: "I just hope our Prime Minister [Benjamin Netanyahu] doesn't cock things up again." Hebron simmers, but for now at least the only contest is at the chess board.

n Jerusalem - Mr Netanyahu, warned by police about self-incrimination, has hired a lawyer to protect his interests in an investigation of alleged government corruption, Reuters reports. Yaakov Weinrot told Army Radio Mr Netanyahu hired him on Saturday: "He is certain the police will prove his innocence in this investigation."

Life and Style
A teenager boy wakes up.
life
Life and Style
It is believed that historically rising rates of alcohol consumption have contributed to the increase
food + drink
Voices
The erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey has already been blamed for a rise in the number of callouts to the fire brigade for people trapped in handcuffs
voicesJustine Elyot: Since Fifty Shades there's no need to be secretive about it — everyone's at it
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Arts and Entertainment
The White Sails Hospital and Spa is to be built in the new Tunisia Economic City.
architectureRussian billionaire designs boat-shaped hospital for new Dubai-style Tunisia Economic City
Arts and Entertainment
You could be in the Glastonbury crowd next summer if you follow our tips for bagging tickets this week
music
Life and Style
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Trainee Helpdesk Analyst / 1st Line Application Support Analyst

£18000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Data Analyst / Marketing Database Analyst

£24000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Science Teacher

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Group: Science Supply Teacher position...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style