Sooner or later it was bound to happen; and the other day it did. It occurred when I was
attempting to lead a small group of international fact finders down a mile stretch of street along which the four tiny Israeli arch orthodox arch nationalist Israeli squatter-settlements in Hebron are situated. The name of the street is Shuhada Street, and it runs along the western perimeter of the Old City. By the late 1990s all four of the small neo-Jewish neighborhoods had been staked out, firmly established, and built up. Then protected by the Israeli army and police they continued to expand by stealth and force into neighboring Palestinian areas overrunning homes and shops. This despite the fact that Oslo I and II “peace process” bargaining was supposed to have put a lock on squatter-settlement expansion everywhere in the Occupied Territories.
To celebrate and commemorate the so-called Oslo “peace process” in Hebron, USAID, the United States Agency for International Development, poured millions of dollars into improving Shuhada Street for the use of everyone living or visiting there: Palestinians, Israelis, and
Internationals. But CPTers who have been in Hebron since the mid 1990s will tell you that even after the street was rebuilt, squatter-settlers with the connivance of the Israeli military and
police have been giving the bird to USAID and its naïve intentions by trying to make Shuhada Street Arab and interntionaal free…and still are. So, as I was saying, sooner or later it was bound to happen; and just the other day a dreary decade after the big US AID fix-up project, an Israeli sentry, like a puppet on a string relayed telephoned orders from a high ranking army commander that my little group of fact finders had to leave the street because it is “for Jews
Of course, that is not strictly true, the handful of Palestinians living there, who have not succumbed to the violent pressure to pack up and leave that is constantly being exerted by squatter-settlers as well as their Jewish supporters from out of town, are allowed to stay on. But they must show special identification cards to get into and out of the zone. But no other Palestinians, including relatives, are allowed in; and, of course, while the squatter-settlers are allowed to speed menacingly along the street in their cars, often scattering Palestinians and internationals in their wake, the Palestinians are obliged to carry every thing they need, all the necessities of life, in on foot.
Meanwhile at the end of Shuhada Street where the Ibrahimi Mosque (the site of the tombs of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their wives) are located, the Israeli army pressured by the squatter-settlers and their supporters outside the city have been successful in breaching
agreements reached years ago as to how many days a year the mosque and the special security zone in which it sits are to be “for Jews only.” The mosque and the area are supposed to be closed to Muslims approximately thirty days a year. The understanding was reached in order to accommodate the large number of ecstatic Jewish visitors that pour into the area on the most significant Jewish religious and festival days.
But over the years the number of “for Jews only” days at the mosque has increased fifty percent, up to approximately forty-five days. Nidal Tamimi, secretary to the Mayor of Hebron, complains that the Israeli military doesn’t just close the mosque and the area to Muslims; they also give the visiting Jewish multitudes free run of the mosque. Loud triumphant singing, clapping, and dancing can be heard coming from inside the normally solemn and prayerfully reverent structure. Meanwhile the Israeli military is allowing Jewish wedding celebrations and other kinds of loud partying to take place in the large garden and open space situated alongside the mosque. Particularly obnoxious to Muslims is the serving of alcohol-based drinks in such a sacred precinct. Moreover, often as the partying progresses, the drinking contributes to an inevitable rising of the noise level. The lavish sound-amplified catered affairs last well into
the night disturbing Muslims families living close by. But there is no authority to which they can turn for help when their peace is thus disturbed.
Squatter-settler children are being raised on the principal that Shuhada Street should be “for Jews only;” and their elders continue to encourage them to do something about it, namely throw rocks – not just stones – at Palestinians and internationals trying to make their way along it. This continues to be a terrible problem for Palestinian boys and girls who must make their way from the Old City or other parts of Hebron into Shuhada Street and then cross it in order to get to school. The problem is especially acute on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. Packs of squatter-settler boys on their way to and from religious services at the synagogue that was carved out of the Ibrahimi Mosque in the mid 1990s often gang up on defenseless Palestinian kids usually much younger than themselves. They not only stone the children but often kick and push them down and about as well.
In fact, on Saturday, “Shabbat Shalom,” the ancient Hebrew Sabbath salutation of faith and peace that one hears constantly being uttered along Shuhada Street is the opposite of reassuring to its defenseless Palestinian residents and those trying to help them. On that day the
squatter-settlers exponentially augmented by throngs of visiting often violently militant co-religionists ratchet up their campaigns to emphasize the “for Jews only” character of the neighborhood they would like to impose. Indeed it was a foreign co-religionist not a
squatter-settler who recently seriously injured an international human rights activist on Shuhada Street by hitting her cheek with an empty bottle. It was clear something was up when the visitors started shouting loudly at the internationals. “Do you think Jesus was gay?” and other such taunts. Then some of the men began spitting and kicking the internationals. The sneak attack quickly followed. The international, a teenage girl, was struck hard. Her cheekbone was shattered and required plastic surgery.
Throughout the ordeal the Israeli military and police were ineffectual. After the girl was hurt, the attackers were allowed to stay close by cheering and clapping while attempts were made to attend to the girl’s bloody wound. Others were allowed to stand close enough to her, as she lay prone in the street, so that pictures could be taken of them grinning and giving a gleeful “thumbs up.” Although settler medics refused to give her direct medical attention, an Israeli army medic did. After considerable delay she was taken to a hospital in Jerusalem. Neither the Israeli military nor police interfered with the foreigner responsible for the injury.
In fairness to other Jews present, when a CPTer asked one of the soldiers why the settlers and visitors cheered, he responded somewhat shaken that it was because “someone had been hurt.” Then he added disgustedly, “They are sick.” Also a Jewish onlooker approached the group of internationals huddled around the injured woman and said, “Excuse me. I am sorry. This shouldn’t have happened.”
So much for Shabbat Shalom in Hebron. In fact, one friendly soldier recently advised a CPT colleague to stop wishing settlers passing by a heartfelt and respectful, “Shabbat Shalom.” “You know,” he said quite sincerely, “you shouldn’t say `Shabbat Shalom’ to these people. It only makes them angry.”
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