Al-Khalil, or known to us as Hebron. The largest city in the West Bank with a population of 700,000, as well as being the only city in the West Bank that has a settlement within it. In 1997, Hebron city was divided into two parts under the Hebron Accord; H1 – falling under full Palestinian jurisdiction, including security control populated by most of the city’s Palestinian residents and H2, subject to full Israeli control through military rule.
Where apartheid is most visible in an illustrated sense is in Hebron. The Palestinians are forced to be neighbours with illegal settlers, (not to mention the most extreme and dangerous) and everything in H2 is designed to comfort settlers, with ‘Jewish’ only streets. Unsurprisingly the roads denied to Palestinians can also be denied to tourists who are followers of Islam, a Muslim. The settler only roads allow cars and coaches to fly past, whereas Palestinian’s cannot which has a cruel purpose as Tel Rumeida, the Palestinian side of H2 is an area of many many steep hills making it difficult for the elderly and pregnant. And then there is one particular road that must be shared, one being at the beginning of Shuhada Street.
Shuhada Street has it’s own tragic story. It was once the main Palestinian street that bustled with life in Hebron, running between the origin of Hebron, Tel Rumeida, the old walled city and marketplace. It was lined with 1800 businesses, selling leather, clothing, jewellery, and handmade artisan goods. Many skilled people owned and worked in these the stores, and they all were relatively successful with apartments above the stores where they all lived.
After the Cave of the Patriarchs Massacre also known as the Mosque of Abraham Massacre in 1994, the Israeli government closed the entire street year later, barring Palestinians to ever use it. In February 1994, Baruch Goldstein, an American-Israeli settler had entered the Ibrahimi Mosque and opened fire to unarmed Palestinians who were praying their morning prayer, killing 29 of them, most children and injuring another 200. Though this massacre was committed by an Israeli himself, the government of Israel with is ironic logic as usual, decided to punish Palestinians, and closed the street to them completely. According to the Hebron Protocols from 1997, the street should be re-opened to Palestinians. This was partially implemented in 1997 and 1998. However, since the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000, the street has again been closed for Palestinians. It remains closed to this day.
As you enter checkpoint 56 you find yourself immediately facing the ghostly Shuhada street. You find yourself staring at the green doors of the stores wondering who used to run it and what type of store it was before being welded shut indefinitely. You notice the Star of David spray painted on almost every store and are immediately reminded of swastika’s. You soon understand that no Palestinians are allowed on the street past the colonial “Beit Hadassah” settlement as from then on you find yourself walking with tools of occupation dressed in uniform protecting the colonialist thieves.
H2 thus has high military presence, about 2000 soldiers for 500 settlers. Now the term ‘settlers’ refer to the Jewish people who for whatever reason (usually to ‘reclaim what is theirs’) move into occupied West Bank, with free incentives given by the Israeli government providing them with free electricity, water, medical care, essentially maintaining their colonies financially, at the expense of Palestinians who pay the highest price of all; the occupation of their land, and the set up of colonies aiming to harass, humiliate and degrade their existence until they want to flee.
You will hear some of the most upsetting stories in Hebron. Ones of brutal attacks leaving broken arms and fingers of children, the puncturing of holes into Palestinian families water tanks by settler ammunition, the taunting and searching of Palestinian children on their way to school, the list is endless. What is even more tragic is that they are completely vulnerable to any attack, whether it be from settlers or soldiers themselves. Being in H2, Palestinian Authority Police cannot do anything, and the Israeli Police will not do anything.
One of the most known and heartbreaking stories heard by internationals is Hashem Al-Azzeh’s story. Hashem’s family – his two brothers and their families live in houses adjoining his – have suffered 20 years of harassment and attacks by the inhabitants of the Tel Rumeida settlement. 7 years ago, Hashem says, a notoriously aggressive settler grabbed his nine-year-old nephew Yusuf, stuffed stones in his mouth and punched it in, destroying his teeth.
His house is on the Tel Rumeida slope, the only Palestinian to live right under Tel Rumeida’s overshadowing settlement. It is 2 minutes away from Checkpoint 56. To enter his home you must climb a stony bank then wind along a rough and narrow pathway through scrubland and up another couple of steep slopes. This has been the only way in and out of Hashem’s home since the building of the settlement 50 feet behind his house cut off access from the road. He had to carry his dead father in his arms down this way and along to the checkpoint to meet an ambulance waiting behind cp 56. The body kept setting the metal detector off, so the Israeli soldiers demanded him to be unwrapped from the white cloth, which revealed a watch on his father’s wrist. A soldier then smashed his watch with the end of his rifle – consequently shattering the wrist. I need not say explain how insolent and vile this is.
- Portkabins next to/overlooking Hashem Al-Azzeh’s house
You can see the portcabins of the Tel Rumeida settlement looming over Hashem’s house and the settlement road where illegal settlers can drive and walk as they wish with Hashem forbidden to set foot on it, as all Palestinians in Hebron. It’s not uncommon to see water running down this road, the result of settlers regularly cutting the water pipes or shooting at the water tanks of the surrounding Palestinian homes. The infamous terrorist Baruch Marzel, is his neighbour. They often cross paths, and exchange words. “Every dog has it’s time Hashem! Every dog has it’s time!” He snarls confidently. Hashem smiles. “Then your time is soon.”
Hashem and his brothers have been in Hebron’s Tel Rumeida for three generations and they are determined to stay put. “We will never go,” he says. “Never.” This is the general firm attitude of Palestinians living under occupation in the West Bank. After they tell their story of Israel’s injustice, sometimes in tears, sometimes in anger, or sometimes with defeat in their eyes, they all boldly repeat the same sentence . “No matter what they do to us, we will never leave! This is our land. It has always been our land, and it will always be ours.”
On Saturday, 9th of July 2011, I experienced a settler attack first hand myself. As an activist part of a solidarity movement in Hebron, we do ‘Patrol Strolls’. This is a simple 1 hour to 2 hour walk around Tel Rumeida mostly through every checkpoint to make sure no Palestinian is detained and if they are, to intervene in order to release as well as calling more international presence. Two female activists, Noor* and Hannah* left the apartment at 11pm for a patrol stroll. Around 12am upon passing through Shuhada street and walking up to the second guard post located outside the settler street that harbours Baruch Marzel, a group of female settlers began to shout and obstruct the activists’ way.
The settler leading the assault was an old female settler, known as Anat Cohen who had attempted to then run them over with her car, Noor and Hannah moving out the way just in time. She then got out of the car and demanded the soldiers pointing at the activists to “Kill them, kill them!” Her hissing becoming louder and louder each time, abruptly grabbing Hannah’s collar in an attempt to pull her closer and hit her. The two soldiers eventually left their guard post to walk to where the activists remained, calling another three as the settler presence seemed to keep getting larger. I then received a call from Hannah asking me to come down, as they are being harassed. I immediately left the apartment with a male activist Marcus* and rushed towards the guard post. Upon arriving I saw the activists sitting on a pavement, the female settlers pointing, laughing and swearing in broken English, with the soldiers loosely in between them looking rather relaxed and smiling.
“Is there a problem here?” I asked the first soldier that looked at me. Giving me a grin he replied “No, no problem, I don’t know”, ignoring his vague reply, I passed through the soldiers to speak to Noor and Hannah. A young female settler no older than 16, with a jeering manner asked me “Who are you, why you here? Leave my counchy!”
“Counchy?” I repeated unable to hide my amusement, “What’s a counchy? If you mean country, you’re still not supposed to be here.” And as childish as her character she yelled “Shukt the fuck up”. Looking at her as she smiled sadistically, it was impossible not to pity her or be blown away by her devoted racism.
Upon our arrival, the old female settler had called the young settler boys, a group of 10 or so were suddenly running towards us, with the intention of sparking trouble, immediately they jumped on Marcus who stumbled, spat on Noor and myself, whilst a lot of cursing in Hebrew. Freezing in shock I looked at the soldiers to see if they were doing anything. They simply continued their neutrality by just standing as a fence between us and the settlers, rather effortlessly, without the intention to actually protect us, not that we should expect them to. The boys slowly began to disperse.
One soldier looking rather informal without his military hat and bag, began to usher us back up towards the Palestinian area of Tel Rumeida, the settlers still obstructing our path. “Maybe if you tell the people you protect to move out our way, we could move,” I replied to the soldier who kept repeating “Come come, up up, come come.” Rolling his eyes he gestured for the settler boys to move to the left of the street as we walked on the right towards the Palestinian side, where we noticed a Palestinian family coming towards the guard post, downwards to checkpoint 56 which allows entry into H1. Thus we refused to return to our apartment until the Palestinians walked past safely without any harassment as the settlers were still standing around. Leaning up against a wall, I rang two more activists, Rene* and Carlos* to join us with our camera’s. Within 5 minutes they appeared, in which I immediately began taking pictures. Doing so, upset a certain settler dressed in a bright blue t-shirt and shorts with his rifle hanging off his shoulder.
He began walking towards me, pointing his finger at my face, “You! Stop taking pictures of me! You motherfucker! You don’t take pictures of me OK!” By this time he was inches away from my face, refusing to step back, Noor pushed me backwards telling him to go. He began walking away towards the soldiers still staring at me, disappointed that his automatic gun couldn’t intimidate.
Suddenly the previous young settler boys who had disappeared momentarily began running out of their street towards us. Unable to asses the situation in such a short space of time, we were bashed with spit, stones and eggs, as well as an attempt of my snatching my camera by a settler no older than 15. The soldiers eventually decided to rush in between us ushering us behind them with the boys still present laughing, clapping and hi-fiving each other. Five soldiers remained behind us telling us that we must go home. As there were no more Palestinians visible on the streets, we reluctantly agreed, slowly walking towards our apartment in Tel Rumeida. Looking back I noticed Anat Cohen get in her car and drive into a street that would lead her back round to us. The soldiers who had also noticed this walked in front of us and as expected immediately she appeared, her headlights glaring, her face emotionless, her eyes deranged. Two soldiers ensured that she pass to the right side of us as we continued walking on the left.
In the meantime I began to quiz to the soldiers. “These are the people you protect?” Silence. “I will be filing a complaint, who is your commander, give me his name.” A soldier to my left replies “Our commander cannot help you. You call the police.”
“Okay, give me the nearest Israeli Police station, and number and I will immediately file a complaint against this assault that you and your fellow friends found hilarious.” The same soldier replied “I cannot help you, I do not know.”
“Really? So then you’ve never rang the Israeli Police when you wanted to arrest a Palestinian?” Silence again. The soldier in front of him says something to him in Hebrew, in which Rene said, “That settler had a gun. He’s younger than you, he’s younger than me and he had a gun!” Smiling the soldier who initially had replied to me says “No he’s not. He’s not younger than me he’s the same age. I know him personally-”
“Oh you know him personally!?” I asked. “Well in that case you can give me his name and address and I can file my complaint even better.”
“No I cannot do that, he is in the army-” the same soldier who spoke to him before interrupts him again in Hebrew, and he no longer replies to any of our questions. As expected the crazed settler Cohen in her grey car was in front of us again, she had gone the same route in an attempt to run over us. Eventually reaching the complete Palestinian area where no Jewish vehicles are allowed, she paused, and patronizingly began gesturing us to the direction we were already walking in, a young settler sitting beside her laughing and sticking his middle finger up.
Only after this assault and sitting down in our apartment, I realized I was shaking with anger the whole time. Not because I was spat on, egged and stoned for the first time, but because this is as nowhere near as what a Palestinian goes through everyday of their existence. I not only had anger in my blood, but pity in my heart for their mental state. I felt no gratitude for the soldiers reluctant escort of the 6 of us, but a lot of hatred for the fascist system that projects nothing but injustice and state terrorism.
It is clear. Israel has created two prisons. One of occupation, and one of ignorance.
With a clenched fist and tears in my eyes, may we continue to rise, resist and revolt.