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Army violently attack Hebron demo again – yet only an innocent British peace activist is charged with assault

15 August 2010 | International Solidarity Movement

On Saturday Palestinians were joined by internationals and Israelis in their weekly demonstration, asking for the opening of Shuhada Street and responding to the closure of three shops in the old city earlier in the week. The Israeli army, represented by soldiers and border police, entered from the gate leading to Shuhada Street, and pushed the protesters back up the street they came from. Several people were pushed violently to the ground without any warning or for any reason. Five innocent protesters were arrested with extreme force; one Australian, two British and two Israeli citizens, and taken away by border police and soldiers. All faced trumped up charges, including, ironically, of supposedly assaulting soldier.

In response to the closure of the three shops located in the old city, protesters were carrying banners asking: “Is the Old City becoming the new ghost town?”, referring to Shuhada Street that has been closed off for more than a decade. Some posters were also showing pictures of Shuhada Street in 1997 and 2007, showing how the street has become like a ghost town since all the shops were closed down. Although it’s Ramadan, about 60 people gathered for the demonstration.

The protesters went down to Bab al Balladyeh, and were faced by about 50 soldiers and border police. Police were also present. People were playing drums, singing slogans calling for a free Palestine and the opening of Shuhada Street, when the commander announced that it was an illegal demonstration. The border police who had lined up preventing people from moving on, started to push people back, and even though none of the protesters resisted, more and more force was used, causing many people to fall. The border police targeted one international activist, and while pushing everybody else away, they took him by the neck and pulled him violently down the street. Minutes later the same procedure was carried out on another activist, without any provocation from him. He fell to the ground and was dragged away by soldiers. Later in the demonstration two Israeli activists were targeted in the same way, though no physical contact with the soldiers whatsoever had occurred beforehand. Then another international activist, an elderly man, was grabbed and forcibly taken away.

The remaining group of protesters were then forced back along the street. People were asking the soldiers to stop pushing, which they didn’t respond to. This went on several times, and in the end the protesters walked back up the hill. The protest lasted for about an hour. Again the Israeli army proved that they don’t hesitate to use violence against peaceful protesters in Hebron.

None of the arrestees had so much as touched any of the soldiers – indeed they were in fact subjected to violence themselves – yet one British man was yesterday charged with assaulting a soldier.  Rhys Samuel stood trial in the ‘Peace Court’ in Jerusalem, with the soldiers’ false testimony the only evidence presented against him. He was not given a translator.  He was told he was banned from attending “illegal demonstrations”. Meanwhile, another British man was only released on the condition that he does not return to Hebron in the next 15 days. These court rulings, and the case of Swedish activist Marcus Regnander shows that the Israeli courts do not view the absence of evidence as an obstacle to imposing punitive conditions – but also that challenges within the legal system to unjust rulings can succeed as well. For fighting such increasingly frequent court cases designed to deter international peace activists, ISM has this week put out an appeal for funds to cover the hefty legal costs involved.

Meanwhile the violence used to arrest one of the Palestinians  was so great that he lost consciousness during the and yet soldiers dragged him unconscious for 20 meters before handcuffing him. The care he was provided with following the arrest was extremely inadequate – police refused to take him to the hospital despite multiple requests made to the paramedic for the pains in his head to be treated.

As well as the injuries incurred during the action, violence towards the Palestinians continued in Kiryat Arba Police Station when an officer named Avi lifted a Palestinian up by his neck, took him outside and began to beat him with no pretext given. This ill treatment of detainees continued with police refusing to grant access to the toilet, providing only frozen bread for food, personally insulting the prisoners, taunting them, and making racist comments. While the British and Israeli detainees were released, the Palestinians prisoners were moved to a Military base in Gush Etzion settlement. They are currently awaiting a court date.