10 September 2010 | ISM Media
During the month of Ramadan the Israeli army used various tactics to repress protest and intimidate the population of the Old City in Hebron, which illegal Israeli settlers are seeking to ethnically cleanse
When, on August 10th 2010, the Israeli Army invaded the Old City in Hebron and closed off three Palestinian owned shops located in Bab al-Balladyeh opposite the gate leading to Shuhada Street, the situation in Hebron took a turn for the worse. The shopkeepers received warning a few hours before and were told to empty their shops because they were going to be closed. The action itself involved of a high level of violence and the arrest of five people, four Palestinians and one English citizen, who tried to prevent the army from closing the shops.
After this incident the Israeli Army told the Palestinian Authorities that if the weekly demonstrations do not stop, all the shops in the Old City will be closed. This clearly is part of a strategy to split the shopkeepers from the demonstration by aiming to spread fear among the shopkeepers so that the weekly demonstrations – that have been going on since April 2010 – will be forced to end.
Over the last months Hebron has seen an increased level of army violence in response to the non-violent protests, which are calling for the opening of Shuhada Street. The process of closing off Shuhada Street for Palestinians started in 1994 after Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 Muslim worshippers. The street is used by Israel to connect the illegal settlement of Kyriat Arba to other illegal settlements inside Hebron. The street that used to be a bustling area of shops and markets now consists of sealed-up shops and army checkpoints preventing Palestinians from entering. The entire Old City is now threatened with the same fate.
The demonstrations are used as an excuse, rather than a reason, for closing off another part of Hebron so it can be given to Israeli settlers. It is important to note that every Saturday evening Israeli settler tourists are escorted in to the Old City, guarded by heavily armed soldiers, and participate in a Zionist walking tour which makes claims about the Old City’s Jewish character and exhorts Jews to ‘reoccupy’.
The shops that were closed on August 10th were used by a salesman that used to be a street vendor before the PA conducted a campaign against salesmen on the street. At that time he was offered to use these shops in the Old City, and has been there for one and a half years. When the Israeli police turned up to close the shops, they referred to a closing order eighteen months ago, but no one has actually seen this document. It is also suspected that this closing is happening at a time when the army is desperate to end the non-violent demonstrations in Hebron; it is obvious that this is part of a collective punishment and an attempt to suppress freedom of speech.
In addition to the threat of closing shops in the Old City, the army is attempting to shut down the non-violent resistance in Hebron by means of financial pressure. Every time a Palestinian is arrested, either in the demonstration or in other non-violent actions against the occupation, they risk spending weeks and months in prison unless a bail is paid. The bail money varies from 1500 to 5000 NIS, and needless to say, this causes serious financial problems for the families involved.
The army has also taken severe actions against international activists who have been taking part in the demonstrations. Violent repression of peaceful protests has worsened in recent weeks – for example the unprovoked brutality of the Israeli army at the mid-August protest documented in the video below.
Arbitrary arrests of international activists have been followed by legal persecution. Court cases based on fabricated charges without any evidence whatsoever presented to the judge, except a soldier’s false accusation, have led to dire consequences for innocent peace activists including bans, big fines and even deportation.
Israel claims that the demonstrations in the Old City are illegal, citing the so-called Military Order 101 from 1967, which essentially puts activists at risk of being jailed for up to 9 years for arranging demonstrations and opposing Israel’s occupation. The justification given is, as always, “security reasons”.
It is therefore legitimate to ask who is really living under threat in Hebron, and who has been responsible for violent actions in the years past? The demonstration and actions taken by the Palestinians are overwhelmingly nonviolent, while the army responds with brutal violence. Settlers attack Palestinians on a frequent basis, and the Israeli army does nothing to protect them. However the fact that Palestinians are daily terrorized by both soldiers and settlers is rarely reported in mainstream media, whereas the rare instances of Palestinian violence are grossly over-reported in comparison.
The weekly demonstrations during Ramadan have aimed at supporting the shopkeepers. They focused on working against Israeli army propaganda which tries to suggest to people that it is the demonstrations that are harming the shopkeepers – rather than the occupation itself.