Hebron neighbours spit hate across the garden fence

HANA ABU HEIKAL threw back the net curtains from her bedroom window. 'There are the soldiers in my orchard,' she exclaimed. 'There is the road- block. Now you see how I can't get into my own own house.'

Then she tilted her neatly coiffed head to peer down towards her neighbours in the Jewish settlement of Tel Rumeidah, a row of dingy caravans across the garden fence.

Sprawled beyond was Hebron's Old City - zoned off nowadays into sectors for Arabs and for Jews - with the Tomb of the Patriarchs in the middle distance. In the Jewish sector, Hebrew graffiti had been scrawled on a wall: 'Long live Baruch Goldstein.'

Mrs Abu Heikal suddenly bristled; she had spotted the enemy. 'That one looks quite polite and kind. But she is the devil.'

A small, scarved figure surrounded by children came briefly into view. 'She lets her children attack mine. She has many children, she is always pregnant. They throw stones,' she said, drawing her four-year- old child to her, as if a rock might come hurtling through the window. 'I shout abuse every day - all the names I can think of. I protest to the military governor, the mayor and Arafat. But it does no good.'

This is the Hebron conflict in all its banality. International observers are to be deployed in Hebron to mediate, it was decided last week. But no Italian, Norwegian or Dane could mediate in a neighbours' dispute as miserable as this.

In the caravan nearest to Mrs Abu Heikal's house, Bracha Ben Yitzhak, pregnant with her ninth child, moves around a kitchen wiping a line of children's noses. She doesn't like the caravan - it is cramped, cold in winter and surrounded by hostile Arabs. But she is as determined to stay in her home, as is Mrs Abu Heikal. 'I don't care how long she says she has lived in her house. The Bible says the land here is ours.' Her eight-year- old proudly displays the yellow star pinned to her floral frock. 'To show she lives in a ghetto,' whispers her mother. Mrs Ben Yitzhak's hatred is more controlled than Mrs Abu Heikal's. She doesn't give the Arabs much thought, she says. 'We do not try to have good relations. I know the name Heikal - but I don't know who they are. The kids fight, but so do all kids,' she said, as eight-year-old Yehudit aimed at her with his toy gun. 'The Arabs don't frighten me. I let the children walk the streets on their own. If you feel this is your home, you are not afraid.'

There was a time when proponents of Jewish settlement in the centre of Hebron used to talk of 'peaceful coexistence', as if enclaves such as Tel Rumeidah might become a kind of Middle Eastern Brookside, where mothers would swap gossip, and kids would all play together. But after 10 years of living next door to one another, Hana and Bracha know nothing of each other at all. Neither woman grew up with a reason to hate. Bracha Ben Yitzhak, 36, whose father came to Israel from Sarajevo in 1949, was not brought up as a religious Jew. Her parents lived in a communal farm near Jerusalem. It was only after she left the army that she became interested in 'Jewish culture'; then she turned more and more to religion.

She married a religious scholar, Gabriel Ben Yitzhak, an immigrant from Finchley, north London. Her husband suggested that they move to Hebron - first to Kiryat Arba, the large fortress settlement, then to the centre of the town, where in the 1980s settlers had squatted or evicted Arabs to reclaim houses lived in by Jews several decades before.

Hana Abu Heikal, 35, grew up in a Hebron without Jews. She says she has never been religious. 'But I will kill someone who tries to take over my house,' she exclaims. Her family had owned land in Tel Rumeidah for 200 years. As a child, she was aware that there were certain houses and plots of land in Hebron that were called 'Jewish'. 'Nobody expected the Jews to come back,' she says. 'I don't recall anyone talking of it.'

One day in 1984, Hana came home from her work as a beautician in the town centre to see bulldozers at work. 'In one day they had put up washing lines, hung up the washing and put flowers in the windows. They were clearly here to stay,' she says.

Before the Abu Heikals could protest, the most militant settlers of all had moved in next door. Tel Rumeidah was to become the headquarters of Kach, the racist anti-Arab movement, now banned by Israel and which counted Baruch Goldstein, perpetrator of the Hebron massacre, as a member.

From the moment the settlers arrived, the Abu Heikals have been trapped. Their house sits at one end of a dead-end road. Next comes the settlement, and at the open end of the road is a full military checkpoint - 'security' for the Jews. To get home the Abu Heikals have to pass through a checkpoint, before walking past the settlers' front doors. 'When the massacre happened we went to give blood, but the soldiers wouldn't let us past,' says Hana. 'The Jews called us dogs. We could hear them laughing and celebrating.'

Since the massacre, the family have been unable to move at all. At first, they were confined under curfew. To get out to a shop, they had to traipse through a field behind the house in order to bypass the soldiers. Hebron is full of new back-tracks, trodden by Arabs circling checkpoints.

Now the curfew is lifted, the Abu Heikals remain trapped - locked in by a new security cordon thrown around all the settlements in the new Jewish sector. To get home, the they must have special permits. 'I refuse to have one,' says Mrs Abu Heikal. 'Why should I have a permit to come to my own house?'

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
musicOfficial chart could be moved to accommodate Friday international release day
Wes Brown is sent-off
Italy celebrate scoring their second try
six nations
Glenn Murray celebrates scoring against West Ham
footballWest Ham 1 Crystal Palace 3
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower