Tension high as Hebron deal looms

The black of the slogans, spray-painted in crude Arabic by Jewish settlers on the Cordoba Arab girls' school, is still legible through the Palestinian whitewash. "Arabs out!" reads one. "Death to the Arabs!" another. "Baruch Goldstein - may he blot out your name!" a third.

Goldstein, an American-born settler, was beaten to death by angry worshippers nearly three years ago after massacring 29 Muslims at prayer in what the Arabs revere as the Ibrahim Mosque and the Jews as the tomb of their Patriarchs.

On the brink of an Israeli redeployment in Hebron, the last West Bank city under occupation, he remains a symbol for both communities - a heroic martyr to many of the 450 settlers, the ultimate oppressor to the 150,000 Palestinians.

Under an agreement expected to be sealed this week, Israel will hand over 85 per cent of Hebron to Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority. The Cordoba school, which draws its 205 pupils from all over the city, will remain within the Jewish enclave, under Israeli military rule, as will 15,000 Palestinian residents.

A red, white, black and green Palestinian flag flies defiantly from the window of the headmistress's office on a rocky hillside overlooking Beit Hadassah, the settler stronghold five minutes' walk from the disputed burial site of Abraham, the common ancestor of Arab and Jew. The headmistress, Firyal Abu Haykal, is emphatic: her school will not move.

"This school," she says, "belongs to the Palestinian Authority. It will continue to belong to the Palestinian Authority. The settlers curse our children, they beat them, they throw stones at them. But we have no choice but to stay."

But will the parents continue sending their daughters? "The authority has barred our pupils from transferring to other schools on the Palestinian side of town," Mrs Abu Haykal said. "They won't be accepted. I brought three of my own children here, aged 7, 13 and 14. All the parents I've talked to say they will make the same sacrifice."

Like many of the Palestinians who are standing their ground among the settlers, Mrs Abu Haykal does not see, perhaps does not want to see, redeployment as the last word.

"I believe the final goal of the Oslo agreement is to end the occupation. Eventually, it will come to an end. We've waited 30 years. Why not wait another five?" Below the Cordoba school, Arab labourers are building an extra storey on a settler yeshiva seminary. In a nearby coffee shop, Yusuf Sharabati, a 70-year-old in a black and white chequered kefiyeh, says he is angry with them, but can't bring himself to interfere. "They have to live," he admitted, "and we have no work for them".

In the fruit and vegetable market between the yeshiva and the mosque, Arab traders are worried that they will soon have no customers. "Business is very bad already," said Muhammad Rajabi. "People are afraid to come to this area because of the police and the settlers. It will be worse after the redeployment. We shall have to move."

Up to 2,000 sympathisers came to reinforce the Hebron settlers over the Sabbath, but most of them had left yesterday. The city was frozen in uncertainty. Arab youths lobbed a couple of ineffective petrol bombs at Israeli checkpoints.

The Jews, like the Arabs, are still unconvinced that anything is going to change. "There isn't going to be a withdrawal," said Moshe Ben-Zimra, a settler leader.

Last night, the Israeli Defence Minister, Yitzhak Mordechai, met Mr Arafat in an attempt to resolve the problems before the New Year.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
A poster by Durham Constabulary
news
Arts and Entertainment
books New York Times slammed over summer reading list
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine