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Closed Military Neighborhood

Internationals challenge Israeli repression in Tel Rumeida

by Joe Carr

Due to the effectiveness of our work in Tel Rumeida, the Israeli military and police have increased their efforts to rid the area of internationals. Volunteers from a variety of international organizations have been doing full-time accompaniment, documentation and physical intervention work to deter constant settler violence in Tel Rumeida, a Hebron neighborhood colonized by around sixty of the most fanatic Israeli settlers.

Volunteers from the Tel Rumeida Project and the International Solidarity Movement have been especially targeted for violence by settlers, and harassment by Israeli military and police.

Israeli Police detained four international volunteers on the evening of Sept. 9 while they were documenting and intervening in Israeli settler attacks on Palestinians. At the Kiryat Arba Settlement police station, officers said that they weren’t arresting the internationals, but wanted to make it clear that they would not allow internationals to live in Tel Rumeida anymore. After two hours, the police agreed that they could spend one more night in their apartment but could not go out. “If I see you in the street again, I’ll arrest you” an officer threatened.

When they arrived back at the house, they found two Israeli soldiers blocking the entrance. The soldiers took their passports and demanded that they unlock the house and let them search it. The internationals refused, and then four soldiers began banging on the doors and windows trying to break in, so they began yelling at them to stop. The soldiers stopped abruptly and left.

This morning, we went out at 6:45AM as we do every day to help protect Palestinian girls on their way to Cordova School, located right across from an Israeli Settlement. Afterwards, we began our usual patrols around Tel Rumeida, being especially vigilant because it is Saturday, the settlers’ most violent day. By 11AM, every group of internationals had been stopped by Israeli police and military and threatened with arrest if they didn’t leave immediately. They explained that nearly all of Tel Rumeida had been declared a “Closed Military Zone”, which only residents are permitted to enter. Our house falls within the closed zone, and we tried to argue that we are residents, to no avail.

Around noon, Tel Rumeida Project volunteer Luna and I went to buy food from a store located next to a military post. The Israeli police were there waiting for us, suddenly excited that they’d finally get to arrest us. However, when the commander came and we explained that we were only trying to buy food, he let us go assuring us that we’d be arrested if we went out again.

We must continue to document and protect Palestinians from Israeli violence and we refuse to be banned from Tel Rumeida. Three volunteers from the International Solidarity Movement (two Swedes and one Brit) decided that they were willing to challenge the ban by getting arrested and taking it to court. We decided I would videotape from a nearby hill, and the three would do a patrol in an area near soldiers and refuse to leave when threatened with arrest.

I positioned myself on the hill with the camera as the three set-off. “May the force be with you” I hollered, right as a passing Israeli military patrol came strolling down the hill. They noticed me of course, so I waved and showed them my video-camera so they wouldn’t think I was a sniper. The six soldiers all came up and detained me of course, while I noticed the other three disappear around a corner down the hill out of sight. “What a great plan” I thought.

Turns out, the other three had gone to intervene in a situation of settler violence down the street when they got a call informing them that tomorrow is the change-over of power in Gaza and the media will be very distracted. They aborted their mission and headed back up the hill to find me surrounded by soldiers. Eventually, the police came and again explained that this area is closed and I’m not allowed to be in it. I maintained that I misunderstood and thought that I just couldn’t be in the street, so they let me go after 15 minutes.

We stayed the rest of the night under house arrest, planning to go out again the next day as the Closed Military Zone order expired at midnight.

On the morning of Sept. 11, four internationals set off to Cordova School to protect the children, while Luna and I went up the hill to patrol another area of constant settler violence. The police arrived after about 10 minutes. An officer I recognized from the day before pointed at Luna and said “I’m arresting her now, she knows she can’t be here.” We protested that the Closed Military Zone order had expired and that we could legally be there, but the officer threatened to arrest us anyway. Luna warned him that if he arrested her illegally she would call her lawyer and file a complaint against him personally, and the police then got significantly less aggressive. We tried to walk away, and the officer yelled and ordered us to stay. We waited while he talked on his radio, and then he said we could go but warned that he would arrest us if he saw us again.

The four internationals at the school had also been hassled, but the police admitted that there was no current closure order but they were going to get one. By 9AM, they had the new closure order which they said was good until 6PM tomorrow (normally they’re only for 24 hours but this was a special one).

Meanwhile, teachers and students from Cordova School refused to pass through the recently fortified Tel Rumeida checkpoint. Palestinians entering Tel Rumeida have been forced to pass through an armored trailer with electric sliding doors and metal detectors for about two weeks now. Fed up with the inconvenience and humiliation, around 25 Palestinians demanded that they be allowed to go around the checkpoint. Israeli soldiers said they’d allow the children and four pregnant women to go around, but not the others. The group decided they would not be divided and all sat down and refused to leave until school ended. School let out early because three armed Israeli settlers parked outside the school in a pickup truck, which terrified the young girls.

Three internationals decided to violate the new closure order and join the teachers protest from the Tel Rumeida side of the checkpoint, and to accompany them to school if they got through. After around a half hour of threats, the police finally arrested the three. They are currently being held in the police station at Kiryat Arba Settlement in Hebron.

The arrested internationals will likely be held for several days and be pressured to sign conditions that they will never enter the area again (or possibly Palestine at all). ISM lawyers are working on it, and I will keep you updated. Meanwhile, we will remain under house-arrest and have to sneak in and out to get food and internet access. But we will not be intimidated into leaving, but only double our efforts to support Palestinian resistance to Israeli colonization.