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Tel Rumeida Birthday Circus

Yehuda yells at some soldiers who don’t want us to go to the Abu Haykal house

by Shlomo Bloom

July 24th: Today was the 16th birthday of two girls in the Abu Haykal family who live at the end of Tel Rumeida street, surrounded by the extremist Jewish settlers of Hebron. This Palestinian family is constantly under attack either by the settlers directly or though intimidation by Israeli Occupation Force (IOF) soldiers. The family was recently informed that they are not allowed to use the paved road to their house, instead they must walk up a long, rocky dirt path that leads to the back of their home.

A birthday party was organized by members of CPT (Christian Peacemaker Teams) and Breaking the Silence (a group of Israeli ex-soldiers) which included members of ISM, ICAHD (Israeli Committee Against Housing Demolitions) and other Israeli and international activists. Altogether, there were over 30 activists and with Yehuda of Breaking the Silence leading them up Tel Rumeida hill, the marchers proceeded past the soldiers’ station, through the Tel Rumeida settlement to the Abu Haykal house at the end of the road. The soldiers panicked and attempted to stop the group. Yehuda, with a balloon in hand, explained the purpose of the visit, and refuted the soldiers in Hebrew when they tried to prevent the group from passing. There were just too many people to stop, and while the soldiers scrambled, the activists made it all the way to the Abu Haykal’s gate where they came upon a disgusting barrier blocking the way.

Settlers had piled a large heap of random garbage and razor wire in front of the gate to the house, preventing safe passage. The activists had to move some of it aside, and climb over the rest in order to pass though.

Over 12 IOF soldiers, 10 police, and 6 military police eventually arrived, and although they had no invitation to the birthday party(!), they entered the family’s porch where they had what appeared to be a discussion on whether or not this birthday party was legal. Some of the activists made it though the gate and into the house but the rest were forced by the police to turn around and walk over a quarter of a mile down the street and around Tel Rumeida hill to enter the house through the back entrance (about a 10 minute walk).

“Is this birthday party illegal?”

Once all of the guests were inside, Hani, the father, thanked everyone and shared his story about last Saturday, when settlers attacked his home with rocks and he called the police but they never came. Last week, not one police officer came when the house was under attack, but this week they showed up in full force when friends and activists, invited to the party, used the most convenient road which has been designated a closed military zone. Only settlers are allowed to use this road because use by anyone else is said to be a provocation to the settlers.

Cake and punch was served to all, and gifts were given to the girls. Hani said his home was open to anyone, Muslim, Christian, Jew, whatever their religion or color, as long as they respected human rights for all, and harm no one. Hani’s sister gave a speech saying that “my family sheltered Jews in 1929 and we want to do the same now. If anyone from the North [of Israel, where the threat of rocket attacks continue now], wants to come here now for shelter I will welcome you again, this is a house of peace.” A man from Haifa said he was afraid to return to his home at the moment, and that he was glad to be here.

The birthday girl

So there we were, Muslims, Christians, and Jews having a birthday party together for two young women with their whole lives ahead of them. With tears in their eyes, the family apologized for the difficult entrance to their home and said they hope we can all return in the future – for another party, this time without having to go through any gate, and with no soldiers or police trying to prevent us.

After the party was over and people were filing out, the police were still waiting outside the house. They escorted the guests down the rocky path (through the back way this time) and Hani explained that the reason the police remained was in order to provide protection for the Israelis activists who the police felt were in danger of being kidnapped by Palestinians!