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Human Rights Defenders targetted in Hebron again

by ISM Hebron, December 31st

An international Human Rights Worker (HRW) was arrested by the IDF in the Hebron district of Tel Rumeida at 1:40 p.m today. He was accompanying five Palestinian men along Shuhada Street in their attempt to exercise their right to walk past the Beit Hadassah setlement as stipulated in a recent Israeli High Court ruling. Three Palestinian men succesfully crossed this boundary on Friday 29 December which has been off-limits to Palestinians for the last six years. To travel from the Bab Al Zawiye market district in the north of the city to the south, Hebronites have to either drive around, taking 15 minutes, or walk, which takes over an hour. The roads on this circuitous route are often clogged with traffic. Walking from Bab Al Zawiye down Shuhada street to the other side of the Old City takes around 10 minutes.

As the five men and the HRW reached the settlement, the soldier on duty stated that they were to wait to be “escorted” by his commander even though this condition is nowhere in the ruling which was shown to the soldiers. The commander was however in a meeting and only arrived 50 minutes later. By this time three of the five men had already left as it was raining heavily. The commander escorted the remaining two men down Shuhada Street as far as Gross Square, but stated that the HRW was not allowed to use this road. The HRW obeyed and followed the group from a pathway above the road, which is perfectly permissable.

The HRW reached the end of the pathway and was observing the Palestinian men who had passed through Shuhada Street succesfully with a IOF escort. A bypassing Jewish settler colonist who noticed the HRW stopped his car, rolled down his window and began shouting at the HRW in Hebrew. The HRW did not react to this in any way. The settler then put his car indicator on and began making a U-turn in order to approach the HRW. Being trapped, and fearing attack, the HRW ran onto Shuhada Street in the direction of the soldiers in the hope that this would deter the settler.

Upon reaching the group of soldiers the HRW immediately apologised to the commander and told him that he had only run down Shuhada Street because he was being threatened by a settler and sought protection from the soldiers. The commander refused to listen and ordered the HRW to stand and place his hands against the wall. The HRW was searched and his hands then tied together behind his back. He was then put into the back of an IOF Jeep and blindfolded. These actions of the IOF are illegal as they are not allowed to arrest internationals – according to Israeli law this has to be done by the border police.

After being driven around and waiting in the Jeep the HRW was taken to a police station where the blindfold was removed and plastic tie-wire cut from his wrists. He was then charged with “disobeying a soldier’s orders” and finally released at 4:00 p.m on condition that he not enter Shuhada Street again, or would be liable to pay a fine of NIS 2000.

After this HRW was arrested another nine Palestinians adults and four children waited for almost one hour in the rain to be allowed to walk down Shuhada Street. In this time they were all extensively searched. Whilst walking along the street two settler girls started throwing stones and hitting them. The police approached but didn’t do anythng and the Palestinians continued walking.

One Palestinian who had already had his ID checked and been searched, was being detained again on Shuhada street. Mary Baxter, the HRW who was arrested two weeks ago, asked the soldiers why he was being detained again. She was shouted at to move away and asked to show her passport. On doing this the soldiers snatched her passport from her hands and refused to return it. They also refused to let her shelter from the rain and cold for over half an hour. The police arrived to take Mary away in a police jeep to the police station where she was told she was charged with assaulting a police officer. She was however also told that she hadn’t been arrested but would be summoned to appear in court. Mary was released an hour later.

HRWs who spend an extended period of time in Tel Rumeida are regularly targetted by the police. This involves being detained and taken to the police station on trumped up charges before being released after a few hours.