On Israeli military maps, this shows up as a green road, which means that no Palestinian cars are allowed. Blue is for those streets where no Palestinian cars are allowed and no Palestinian shops are permitted to open. Then there are roads that are more restricted still: on those, no Palestinian is allowed to set foot. The Israel Defense Forces refer to such a road as a tzir sterili, literally a sterile road.
Most of the H2 Palestinians unlucky enough to have their homes on a tzir sterili have had their front doors sealed shut. To leave, they have to use a back door, which often means climbing out onto the roof and down via a series of ladders: inconvenient for those who are young and fit, difficult if not impossible for those who are old or infirm. Later I will see an elderly man, a bag of cement resting on his shoulder, walking with a boy I take to be his grandson. When he reaches a-Shuhada Street, once the main artery through central Hebron and a “sterile road” since 2000, he turns off and begins to ascend a steep series of rough-hewn steps, necessary in order to walk around rather than on the street. This will lead him through a series of unpaved, dusty paths, a longer, indirect alternative route to a-Shuhada Street. This is so neither his feet nor those of the little boy will touch the forbidden road—ensuring it remains sterili.
The street is lined with what used to be shops, now permanently closed behind green metal shutters. They are all covered by graffiti. In a short walk I see “Arabs out!” and “Death to the Arabs” as well as the less familiar “You have Arabs, you have mice,” which has been painted over but is still legible. So too is “Arabs to the crematorium,” close to the Muslim cemetery. (One notorious message, daubed in English but covered over a few years ago, read “Arabs to the gas chambers.”) The clenched fist symbol of the Kach party of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, the founder of the Jewish Defense League once ostracized as a fascist, appears in several places. But the most recurrent image is also the most shocking. It is the Star of David. Utterly familiar to Jewish eyes, it nevertheless is a shock to see that symbol—associated with Judaism itself and with the long history of Jewish suffering—used as a crude declaration of dominance, used, in fact, as an insult.