Hebron "heartbreaking for Xenophon
By John Lyons
IN an empty street in Hebron, deep in the Palestinian territories, independent senator Nick Xenophon is trying to have two conversations at once.
[10 May 2014] - A Palestinian woman in a caged balcony is explaining her plight while an Israeli settler carrying a handgun wants his say.
Both want the ear of the South Australian senator on his first visit to the region. “This is madness,” he said later. In Hebron, 800 settlers live surrounded by 180,000 Palestinians.
“I would urge any Australian politician who comes here to go to Hebron, walk the streets, run the gauntlet of checkpoints and speak to both sides,” he told The Weekend Australian.
As he walked the ghost-town streets of Hebron, the Palestinian woman, Zleikha Muhtaseb, called from the cage she has built to prevent settlers breaking her windows. “Where in the world do you need to put a cage around your house?” she shouted.
She came downstairs to shake Senator Xenophon’s hand through a security grill — the Israeli army has welded shut her front door so she can open only the back door, and the army does not allow her to walk on the street in front of her house.
But US-born settler David Wilder, carrying a Glock, says Palestinians are not allowed on to that street for security reasons — that recently an Israeli was shot dead nearby.
Senator Xenophon said later: “What I saw in Hebron was heartbreaking — the division, the segregation, the palpable fear in the community.”
He questioned whether having a civilian law for Israelis and military law for Palestinians could last. “It seems unsustainable that you have two different legal systems for people living in the same community,” he said.
In Jerusalem, he met the Likud party’s Yariv Levin, who said Israel was committed to peace. He met Breaking the Silence — almost 1000 current and former Israeli soldiers trying to reform how the army relates to Palestinians — and human rights group B’Tselem.
Senator Xenophon said: “There is some hope through Israeli groups like Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem, who show the views of the Israeli government do not necessarily represent the views of all Israelis.”
He was briefed by Australian barrister Gerard Horton from Military Court Watch about a Unicef report that found ill treatment of Palestinian children appeared to be “widespread, systematic and institutionalised”. Mr Horton said MCW had found that since the report there had been some improvements but 90 per cent of detained children were still tied and 55 per cent reported physical abuse.
Before leaving, Senator Xenophon had a message for any Australian politician who argued Israel’s settlements were not illegal. “I would urge Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten to have a good look at the International Court of Justice’s statement on Israeli settlements,” he said. “The ICJ statement is crystal clear — all settlements are illegal under international law.”