A Different Palestinian Voice in Hebron / Jonathan D.Halevi

The city of Hebron is generally associated in media reports with the tense relations between Arabs and Jews, demonstrations, riots, struggle over the land and Intifada. On the Arab side, there are also different voices that advocate for Arab-Jewish co-existence in the City of the Patriarchs and are embedded with a willingness to adapt to the status-quo and to give the politicians the needed chance for settling the conflict in peaceful means.

The most prominent and moderate voice in Hebron’s Muslim community is Sheik Farid Khader Jaabari, the successor of the famous Sheik Mohammad Ali Jaabari. Sheik Jaabari heads the biggest family clan in Hebron, part of which resides on the seam line with the Jewish City of Kiryat Arba and the Jewish community inside Hebron in the area of the Tomb of The Patriarchs. Described as a powerful and authoritative local leader, the Sheik also serves as an arbitrator according to the tribal law in cases of proprietary, marital and even criminal issues.

Ashraf Jaabari, a family relative and close associate to Sheik Jaabari, is in practice the operations manager of the family. On behalf of the Sheik he strives to promote a dialog with the Jewish community of Hebron. His kinship to the Sheik, his background in the security apparatus of the Palestinian Authority and his being a successful businessperson grant Ashraf Jaabari a political weight locally as well as authority to take independent initiatives, which in some cases are not welcomed by Palestinian circles supporting the intransigent struggle against the Jewish community.

In an interview I’ve made with him for News1.co.il, Ashraf uttered his unequivocal objection to the premeditated and provocative weekly demonstrations in front of the houses of the Jewish community, in an attempt, according to Ashraf, to ignite tension in the troubled city. Ashraf said that local Palestinian leaders cooperate with Israeli and international anarchists who live in Hebron or arrive in the city to protest against the Jewish settlements. He mentioned in this regard Issa Amro, whom he described as an activist of the “Shabiba” (affiliated with the Fatah movement and investigator for Btselem), as the mastermind along with Ezra Nawi, of these demonstrations.

The scenario of Saturday demonstrations in Shouhada Street and the Shalala area is known in advance, he said. The demonstrators arrive at the seam line after phone coordination. Some are Fatah activists, others activists of organization such as the PFLP and PDFP, but with no attendance of The Islamic Jihad or Hamas’ activists. According to Ashraf, the organizers choose on purpose Saturdays as the preferable day for demonstrations in an attempt to create the desired pictures of confrontation with the Israeli soldiers and to harass the Jewish settlers who observe the holiness of Shabbat.

These people endanger the security and stability in Hebron, said Ashraf, asserting that good relations with the Jewish community can be maintained with no need for confrontation or demonstrations. He illustrated his argument by noting that the last olive picking season this year went smoothly because of his personal intervention which enabled the orchard owners to peacefully pick their harvest even in area close to the Jewish community. To achieve this goal he first had to drive away activists known as rift mongers who are interested in keeping the wick of the conflict burning while being inspired by foreign agenda.

Ashraf criticised ultra leftist activist Ezra Nawi for his activities in the area of Hebron that do not serve towards calming the situation. His attitude toward Nawi is reserved, to say the least, also because he is a homosexual who was convicted on sexual offences. Ashraf stressed that in Muslim society in general and in the area of Hebron in particular there is no room for an individual who adhere to values that contradict Islam. He contacted Nawi and asked him to show a negative blood test for HIV.

“We do not have any problem with Jews because of their religion,” said Ashraf. He believes that where there is will there is a way to create co-existence and build relations based on mutual respect with the Jewish community. Ashraf does not ignore the fact that there is friction between Jews and Arabs in Hebron; however, he asserted that most of the cases can be peacefully resolved. A peace agreement to the Palestinian problem, says Ashraf, should be discussed by leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority whom he criticized of failing in their way of conducting the negotiations with Israel and of seeking to intensify the friction with the Jewish settlers for political gains. This is the reason, he argues, why the Palestinian Authority is supporting the Israeli anarchists, whose values are in contradiction to the Palestinian culture, but at this stage they play an effective role to promote the Palestinian political interests.

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