The most significant recent development in Hebron and Mount Hebron is the revival of an old institution that had been dormant and inactive: the Mount Hebron Tribal Council (Majlis Asha’er Jebel al-Khali).1 Noteworthy is that its latest conference was held in Amman, Jordan, opened with the Jordanian national anthem, and was adorned with the Jordanian flag. Pictures of Jordan’s King Abdullah and the heir to the throne, Crown Prince Hussein, were displayed in the background.
According to sources in Mount Hebron, the person behind the revival of the Tribal Council is a Jordanian senator, Muhammad Khalil Dawaima, whose origins were in the abandoned village of Dawaima.2 He had circulated in the Mount Hebron area for several months; the person who helped him reestablish the council was Nafez Jabari of Hebron. Earlier this year, Jabari held an event at his home – a warm reception for the senator in which 150 notables of the city and the district took part.
Tellingly, the Jordanian senator came dressed in a cloak that was described as having belonged to Saddam Hussein.3 This should not be considered a mere anecdote; as we shall see, it sheds further light on developments in Hebron.
The city of Hebron and the Mount Hebron area display three main characteristics: the clan structure of the society, the adherence to Islam, and the pragmatic inclination of the powerful merchant class, which upholds the economic interests of the city and the district.
Sources in Hebron say it is no coincidence that the Jabari family in Hebron and the Dawaima family in Amman are playing the lead role in what is happening since there is a historical background to this state of affairs.
It goes back to the days of the British Mandate and the War of Independence. In Mandate times the village of Dawaima had a regional market that competed with Hebron’s market. The Dawaima market formed the nucleus of the rural Mount Hebron are as an entity not necessarily under Hebron’s authority. This market was a necessity because the villagers were then semi-Bedouins and would wander far from Hebron. Between Hebron and Dawaima there was the tension of economic competition.
It is no coincidence that in the new state of affairs, those active within Hebron are the Jabaris, who are the most pro-Jordanian family in the district.
The Jabaris’ connection with Jordan began during the 1948 war. When the Egyptian army entered Hebron – to the Hebronites’ distress – it was the Jabari family that invited the Jordanian Legion in its stead. Sheikh Muhammad Ali Jabari, the charismatic leader of Mount Hebron, spearheaded the unification of the two banks as part of a famous West Bank delegation that went to Jericho. Afterward, when the young King Hussein was still not old enough to rule, Sheikh Jabari was a member of the Council of Regency until the teenager Hussein reached maturity.
The tie between Dawaima and Jabari, then, is not coincidental. It reflects, rather, the linkage between the rural area and the city under Jordan’s patronage – though there are dissenters.
Clan Competition in Hebron
Not all the clans in Hebron are enthusiastic over the connection with Jordan. Naturally, there is competition between clans; the Kawasme tribe, for example, is not avid followers of Jabari.
Sources in Mount Hebron say that because large clans are involved, each with tens of thousands of members, their members are not of one opinion and there are many dissenters. Nevertheless, some basic points can be made. Whereas the Jabari family is essentially pro-Jordanian, the Kawasme family is “Palestinian,” meaning that it is inclined to preserve its Palestinian character, particularly in the fashion of Hamas but also that of the Palestinian Authority as well. What is common to all the clans is the economic interest of the city, which overshadows other loyalties and considerations. With the economic factor reigning supreme, the clans do not engage in pointless disputes.
Nevertheless, the Kawasme clan, being more “Palestinian” than others, has nurtured more terrorists than others5 and has clashed not only with Israel but also with the Palestinian Authority.6 Members of the Kawasme clan, for instance, were involved in the kidnapping and murder three Israeli teens in 2014.
One also gets the impression, though it is hard to prove statistically, that the name Kawasme pops up more among the PA officials in Ramallah than other names from Hebron.7
Because it is the merchant class that lays down the pragmatic line of the city, the institution worth focusing on is the Commerce Bureau. Its website immediately reveals two things. First, while the bureau is indeed within the sphere of the PA, signs of the PA are sparse; it is hard to find the Palestinian flag.8 Second, the bureau engages in considerable independent activity, local and international, without connection to the PA.9
A look at the political side of the bureau indicates that its leadership elections were a sham. The families of Hebron chose its leadership among themselves, thereby averting the tension involved in elections10 and in effect prevented foreign elements from influencing the nature of the bureau, including the PA in Ramallah. In an interview, the head of the Commerce Bureau, Muhammad Gazi Hirbawi, stressed its role in ensuring the city’s security,11 a role that is supposed to be reserved for the PA. The Mayor of Hebron, Daoud Zatari, who is considered close to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, also mentioned security as part of the municipality’s responsibility.12
Opposite the Hebron Commerce Bureau is the office of the PA-affiliated governor, Kamel Hmeid. Known as a Bethlehem-based figure during the second intifada under Arafat, he lives in Bethlehem to this day. The governor sports many flags of Palestine.13 A look at his Facebook page shows that he encouraged the “knife intifada.”14 Thus, while not a Hebronite, he reinforces Fatah elements in the city.
As for the Fatah movement, it turns out that it cannot muster mass rallies even though it holds the governor’s office.15 The simple reason is that the large clans, with their power and their Islamic nature, do not encourage the kind of large-scale disorderly events that are typical of Fatah’s activity.
Among the villages in the district, Sei’r is considered a “Fatah village.”16 It is the village of Abbas Zaki; a member of the Fatah Central Committee and one of the more extreme Fatah figures – he calls for forging ties with Iran. Indeed, the highest number of knife attackers who met their deaths came from Sei’r.17
However, it turns out that this “Fatah village,” too, has given priority to the pragmatic interests of Mount Hebron over the “spirit” of the “Fatah struggle.” When the militant governor of Hebron, Kamel Hmeid, came to the village to praise it for its “sacrifice,” he was surprised to find that the village notables had summoned him to a discussion behind closed doors in which they demanded that he stop sending the youths of the village to their deaths. Indeed, since then, the village of Sei’r has ceased to dispatch knife attackers.
Moreover, whereas the Islamic movements, Hamas and Hizb ut-Tahrir (the Islamic Liberation Party), generally display ideological coherence, the major Fatah figures hold diametrically opposed opinions.
Three main individuals represent Fatah in Mount Hebron. One is Abbas Zaki of Sei’r; the others are Jibril Rajoub and Nabil Amro of the village of Dura. All three, however, have relocated their activities to Ramallah. For one thing, they see themselves as qualified to compete for the leadership of the PA as a whole, not just for that of Mount Hebron. For another, the formation of the Tribal Council poses an ideological challenge to their ambitions, and in the struggle over the leadership of Hebron itself, where Fatah was once supreme, there is now a vacuum; the center of gravity of the Hebron leadership has shifted to Ramallah. The Mount Hebron Tribal Council filled the power void.
Jibril Rajoub and Abbas Zaki, despite having moved their operations to Ramallah, have not forgotten their origins. Rajoub, for example, as head of the Palestinian Football Association, has built the Palestinians’ main soccer stadium in Dura, and sources in Mount Hebron say Zaki arranges jobs in the PA for young people from Sei’r.
From an ideological standpoint, however, there are clear, essential differences between Nabil Amro, who was editor of Fatah’s Ramallah-based mouthpiece Al-Hayat al-Jadida, and Abbas Zaki. Whereas Zaki is a radical Palestinian nationalist who calls for ties with Iran, Amro, in his recent statements, relates more to the collapse of Sykes-Picot, and appears to have reconciled himself to the loss of the idea of the Palestinian state in the changing Middle East.
The Islamists Can Pull Out the Masses
Nevertheless, the Islamic parties set the tone in Hebron, and it is Hizb ut-Tahrir that succeeds to muster the largest rallies.18 In the past, the party organized violent clashes with the PA which resulted in deaths and injuries.19 Apparently, to avoid clashes, the clans of Hebron have subdued Hizb ut-Tahrir. It continues, though, to hold large – though quiet – gatherings, and the Hebron institutions do not interfere with these so long as they do not cause the sort of economic damage that more fiery rallies typically entail.20
In one case, the Commerce Bureau – whose composition, as observed earlier, is determined by the large clans – undermined a stance that Hizb ut-Tahrir had taken. The Islamic party has a worldwide reach, and it has clashed with Russia within Russia itself and also, of course, in Syria.21 After Hizb ut-Tahrir organized a demonstration against Russia in Hebron,22 the Commerce Bureau still invited a Russian delegation for an official visit.23
As for Hamas, because of its terror activity,24 there is security cooperation with Israel to containing it. Moreover, Hamas is unable to compete for popularity with Hizb ut-Tahrir.
Hamas has another problem: the division between the worldwide Muslim Brotherhood movement and Hamas in Gaza. The person most representative of Hamas is Dr. Aziz Dweik, who was head of the Palestinian Legislative Council.25 According to the Palestinian Basic Laws – which, of course, will not be upheld – Dweik is supposed to succeed Abbas if he resigns or falls ill. But Dweik is not really a clear-cut Hamas representative; he is more affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.26
According to Palestinian security officials, when Ahmed Jabari was commander of the Al-Qassam Brigades in Gaza, he tried infiltrate Hamas terrorists into Mount Hebron to bolster the military wing.27 At the same time Dweik relocated to Nablus28, and today he is mainly active in the northern city. Are these matters connected? Is the Hamas military wing in Gaza threatening Muslim Brotherhood political figures in Hebron? It cannot be said for certain.
Yet, in an effort to maintain its political appeal in the city, Hamas has surprisingly issued words of praise for the man who organized the Mount Hebron Tribal Council, the Jordanian Senator Dawaima.29 Hebron sources say the senator is believed to have connections with Hamas in Gaza, is involved in efforts to remove the blockade from Gaza, and that Hamas appreciates him for it. Will Hamas try to infiltrate the Tribal Council? Will it make use of the Islamic winds that are blowing in Mount Hebron to bend this body to its own purposes? It is a possibility that bears watching.
The Cloaked Jordanian Factor
Hamas and the Tribal Council may have a common denominator. It is suggested by the senator wearing at the event in Hebron a robe identified with Saddam Hussein. It was not only Saddam’s popularity among the Palestinians that played a role here; the senator’s attire also revealed one of Jordan’s major considerations in latently supporting this process.30
The Arab storm left Jordan with threats along its borders. In Syria to the north, both Assad and his enemies are enemies of Jordan; in Iraq to the east, the pro-Iranian Shiites are getting a dramatic boost; and to the south, the Salafi mood of the Bedouin tribes in Saudi Arabia has been permeating the Jordanian Bedouin tribes. Jordan cannot permit a hostile entity to develop on its western border as well. The expulsion of the Jordanian dignitaries from the Temple Mount has shown Jordan that this is indeed what can happen. Hence, it has begun to organize its friends on the West Bank with the aim of ensuring a friendly Palestinian neighbor.
In private conversations between the author and Jordanian sources, it was clear that officially Jordan did not want to renew ties with the Palestinians on the West Bank. It is important to maintain the internal balances within Jordan, but they confirmed that Muhammad Khalil Dawaima’s initiative was not opposed.
A Saddam Hussein robe is a message aimed at Iraq. The heads of Saddam’s army are known to form the backbone of the Islamic State, and Jordan may be trying to fortify its borders on the Iraqi and Syrian sides with the help of its old friends from that army.
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This was not the only event linking Hebron to both banks of the Jordan; another, for example, was the participation of former Jordanian Prime Minister Maruf al-Bakhit in a Hebronite event in Amman.
According to the Tribal Council’s Facebook page, as well as a listing of those who are behind the initiative.
4 Hebron University, https://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B4%D9%8A%D8%AE+%D9%85%D8%AD%D9%85%D8%AF+%D8%B9%D9%84%D9%8A+%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AC%D8%B9%D8%A8%D8%B1%D9%8A&tbm=isch&imgil=18cgp1O1o2oGvM%253A%253BPluhtOsOJ35SnM%253Bhttp%25253A%25252F%25252Fwww.hebron.edu%25252Findex.php%25252Far%25252Ffounder-2&source=iu&pf=m&tbs=simg:CAESzQEJ18cgp1O1o2oawQELEKjU2AQaBAgDCEIMCxCwjKcIGmIKYAgDEii6GaAFuRC6EPkE3g63EKEF4A65GcY6qC6kLqcuxTrjOa0voy6lLqIuGjBcfyY6Yw_1pxcrP40mzj0_1vxMYSmaUL75DtjxndsOZaQkHmduYsxpQDZakTZ3jWuzcgAwwLEI6u_1ggaCgoICAESBEnhNOUMCxCd7cEJGi0KDAoKcGhvdG9ncmFwaAoKCghzdGFuZGluZwoHCgVzdGFmZgoICgZmYW1pbHkM&fir=18cgp1O1o2oGvM%253A%252CPluhtOsOJ35SnM%252C_&usg=__fvsO2ySUN0xsXzgfxUhniFhhvLQ%3D&biw=1280&bih=662&ved=0ahUKEwiBsfLg153OAhWE2BoKHcR9A7UQyjcIRw&ei=pOydV4HPDISxa8T7jagL#imgrc=18cgp1O1o2oGvM%3A
7 See, below, the chapter on the civil society in Ramallah.
10 http://hebron-times.com/ViewDetails.php?PID=1761 Interview given by the head of the Commerce Bureau, Muhammad Gazi Hirbawi, to the Hebron website.
15 Al Watan http://www.alwatanvoice.com/arabic/content/print/669698.htm
A rally in Hebron to open a barricaded road. The above photo shows Fatah trying to recruit large gatherings – an attempt that ultimately did not succeed.
24 On the depth of Hamas’ involvement in the terror originating from Hebron, see the website of the Israel Security Agency (Shabak):
27 In a private conversation.
30 In private conversations between the author and Jordanian sources, it was clear that officially Jordan did not want to renew ties with the Palestinians on the West Bank. It is important to maintain the internal balances within Jordan, but they confirmed that Muhammad Khalil Dawaima’s initiative was not opposed.