by ISM Hebron, 21st October
After a few hours of quiet and calm at the guard post on the top of the hill, one Human Rights Worker (HRW) worker went inside the HRW flat very briefly to retrieve a few things. Just a few minutes after she went upstairs, a group of 6-8 soldiers and a group of 4-6 young settler men (ages 17-22) walked down from the Tel Rumeida settlement and soldier station, walking about 20 yards apart. The settler men came towards the stoop where the HRW and two Palestinian men were sitting; some of them sat near the Palestinian man. The HRW soon noticed that the group of soldiers had stopped just up the hill, formed a line, and were all pointing their guns towards the top floor of a Palestinian home. There was no apparent reason for them to be doing so, so the HRW walked towards them to inquire, but was stopped by the settler men, who had formed a line across the road and would not let her pass. She walked towards the end of the line to get around them, but a settler stepped in front of her path, and pressed his shoulder towards hers to keep her from passing. She persisted, and eventually passed him as he put his tongue in her face and said rude-sounding comments in Hebrew. By the time she got through the line of settlers, the line of soldiers had dispersed. The HRW phoned the flat to request the return of the other HRW and to let another HRW know that there was a potential for problems to arise so she could film from the roof. As she filmed, the settlers continually yelled at her and gave her menacing looks. Soon, one settler walked to the door of the residential building and looked inside. At that point the HRW came down and asked the settler what he wanted, to which he replied, “Do you speak English? FUCK YOU!”, and laughed with his friends.
The HRW came down the stairs at about the same time that another HRW walked up from his post on Shuhada street. All three HRWs observed as the settlers stood around and then were joined by the soldiers. After 10 or 15 minutes, the settlers and the soldiers walked down the hill towards Shuhada street; the male HRW followed them down the hill. A group of five settlers in their mid-twenties loitered directly in front of the main checkpoint in to Tel Rumeida. As Palestinians entered through the checkpoint the settlers positioned themselves so as to obstruct the Palestinians, glaring at them and in one instance shouting at an elderly lady. When the threatening behavior of the settlers was pointed out to the soldier on duty he simply shrugged his shoulders. When a Palestinian was prevented from bringing his large crates of food through the gate that adjoins the checkpoint, the settlers shouted with glee and raised their middle fingers to the Palestinian. On complaining to the soldier on duty, the soldier replied that the settlers where allowed to be there. When it was pointed out that they were making obscene gestures he claimed that he had not seen them. After around 15-20 minutes the settlers departed.
Every afternoon a Palestinian man arrives at checkpoint 56 with a heavily loaded donkey and goes through into the Israeli-controlled H2 section of Hebron. In order to be allowed to take his donkey through the small gate at the side of the checkpoint, the man had to get an Israeli court order as otherwise the soldiers at the checkpoint might refuse to allow him to use the gate. On the afternoon of Saturday, 21 October, the four Israeli soldiers on duty at checkpoint 56 refused to open the side gate for the man and his donkey to pass through, and instead insisted that the donkey pass through the checkpoint itself, through the metal detectors. Once the man had managed to get his donkey through the checkpoint, three HRWs had to negotiate with the soldiers in order to be able to get the man’s many goods through the checkpoint too, in the end
each making two trips through the checkpoint in order to carry the goods through. The soldiers at the checkpoint made the HRWs go back through the metal detectors and empty their pockets of metallic objects, despite the fact that they were clearly heavily weighed down with boxes of bananas, large bags of flour, etc.
The HRWs first contacted the District Coordinating Office (DCO) about the soldiers, who were also only allowing Palestinians to pass through the checkpoint very slowly, but were told they must contact the police. They were told this despite border police and one policeman being present at the time, all standing around doing nothing to ease the congestion at the checkpoint. One of the border policemen overheard the telephone conversation with the DCO and the HRW’s criticism of the inaction of the border police and laughed and said, “Thank you”. The HRWs then contacted the Kiryat Arba police about the soldiers’ overly obstructive attitude but when the police arrived, they first of all stopped two HRWs further down Shuhada Street before even approaching the checkpoint. The policeman who was driving the jeep asked both HRWs their names and where they were from. After answering the questions, one HRW pointed towards the checkpoint, letting the police know that the HRWs at the checkpoint were the ones who made the call, assuming that the police had stopped because of the call, but the police merely acknowledged that they knew who called and proceeded to ask the HRWs questions. They asked how long the HRWs had been standing where they were standing and then said that they shouldn’t stand there because it could make the situation worse. The police more or less said that they want to keep everything calm and that they didn’t want the HRWs to stand there. The HRWs said that they were working for the same reason and that they are allowed to stand on the street. The police asked when the HRWs were leaving, the HRWs answered and once more reminded the police that the HRWs at the checkpoint had made a call and wanted to talk to them. A third HRW walked from the checkpoint to the police car and spoke with the police briefly before the police finally drove towards the checkpoint.
After eventually speaking to the soldiers at the checkpoint, one of the two policemen said that unless the soldiers did something “extreme, we are not allowed to interrupt their activities”. The policeman also said that the man with this donkey needed to carry the original of the court order with him in order for him to pass through the side gate of the checkpoint, although this man comes to the same checkpoint every afternoon with his donkey. After speaking to the soldiers again, the policeman said the soldiers claimed that the donkey having to go through the checkpoint was a “misunderstanding” as the Palestinian man had not understood that the donkey could go through the gate but that the goods had to go through the metal detector in the checkpoint. The policeman even maintained that the soldiers had been trying to help the man. This was not true and the HRW said this to the policeman. Another HRW was later threatened with arrest by the police for allegedly obstructing the soldiers – she had been trying to get them to ease the congestion at the checkpoint by letting the Palestinians pass through more quickly.
In the afternoon two soldiers manning checkpoint 56 between Palestinian-controlled H1 and Israeli-controlled H2 continuously harassed Palestinians passing through the checkpoint by not opening the checkpoint doors for them to enter, half opening then closing the checkpoint doors in front of their faces, not opening the checkpoint doors once Palestinians were inside the checkpoint and making even very small children go back through the metal detector one at a time. When challenged by two HRWs as to why they were behaving in this manner, one of the soldiers answered, “because it is fun; it is the best fun”. Security was clearly not the reason for their behaviour as at approximately 5.10pm the checkpoint doors were left open and both soldiers stood outside the checkpoint while one took a photo of the other with his mobile phone as a couple of Palestinians passed through unchecked. At one point the HRWs called the police regarding the soldiers’ behaviour but they failed to arrive.
At 7.05pm a female HRW alone in the ISM/Tel Rumeida Project flat in Tel Rumeida heard voices outside the door and, on opening a window in the door, saw soldiers outside peering in. The HRW asked if she could help the soldiers, to which one soldier answered, “no”. The HRW closed the window again but heard one of the soldiers saying that they wanted money. The soldiers then moved to the staircase and then, after a few minutes, they left the building and moved up the street towards the Tel Rumeida settlement. There were 12 soldiers in total. The reason for the appearance of the soldiers at the flat is unknown, although the HRW did recognize one of the soldiers at the door as one of the ones from the checkpoint with whom she had argued that afternoon about the harassment of the Palestinians at checkpoint 56.