Mario Vargas Llosa: How Arabs have been driven out of Hebron

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Hebron is the image of desolation and pain. I'm talking of the H-2 sector, the oldest part of this ancient city, which is under Israeli military control and where some 500 colonos – settlers – live in four settlements. It is one of the holiest places of Judaism and Islam, the Tomb of the Patriarchs, where in February 1994, the settler Baruch Goldstein machine-gunned Muslims at prayer, killing 29 and wounding dozens.

To protect these settlers, the zone bristles with barriers, camps and military posts, and is overrun by Israeli patrols. But such mobilisation will soon be unnecessary because this part of Hebron, subject to ethnic and religious cleansing, will soon have no Arab residents.

Its centuries-old market, which was once as multi-coloured, varied and bustling as that of Jerusalem, is now empty and the doors of all the shops are sealed. Travelling around, you feel in limbo. So too when you walk through the surrounding deserted streets, with shopfronts shuttered with metal sheets and on whose roofs you glimpse military posts. The walls of this entire semi-empty neighbourhood are filled with racist inscriptions: "Death to the Arabs".

Some 25,000 residents have been cleared from their homes in H-2 zone in five years. In the Tel Rumeida neighbourhood alone, where there is a settlement of the same name, barely 50 out of 500 Arab families remain.

The extraordinary thing is that they haven't already gone, subjected as they are to systematic and ferocious harassment by settlers, who stone them, throw rubbish and excrement at their houses, invade and destroy their homes, and attack their children when they return from school, to the absolute indifference of Israeli soldiers who witness these atrocities.

No one told me this: I saw it with my own eyes and heard with my own ears from the victims themselves. I have a video of the hair-raising scene of children from Tel Rumeida settlement stoning and kicking Arab schoolchildren and their teachers who, to protect themselves, returned home in groups instead of individually. When I told Israeli friends this, some looked at me with incredulity and I saw they suspected I exaggerated or lied, as novelists often do. It turned out that none had ever set foot in Hebron.

Translated by Elizabeth Nash. This is an edited extract of an article that appeared in El Pais

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