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Patrolling Al-Khalil during a tense Jewish holiday

1 November 2010 | International Solidarity Movement

Soldiers in the old city don't like to be followed

Old City, Al-Khalil

Saturday in Al-Khalil much of the city was under alert for another Jewish holiday; the old city was overwhelmed with thousands of settlers and Jewish tourists. The atmosphere was tense and internationals were restricted from entering the area surrounding the Ibrahim Mosque until 4 p.m. Access to the mosque was completely denied to Muslims for the entire day as settlers had the whole mosque to themselves.

Due to the massive presence of settlers in the city, the weekly Shuhada Street demonstration was canceled. During the day a Palestinian activist working for B’tsellem was arrested while monitoring settlers and released only late that night.

On Sunday, ISM volunteers patrolled the city all day, following soldiers stopping Palestinians at random to check their ids, and monitoring children on their way to school. Wadi Al-Hussein is a Palestinian neighborhood close to Qiryat Arba, the settlement with a population of 5000 people.

On one of the settler-only roads, an old man approached us and told us about the situation of his 11-year-old grandson, Karam. One day while Karam was walking to school, settlers threw stones at him so he ran home scared. Shortly thereafter, soldiers arrived at Karam’s house to arrest him and bring him to prison in Ramallah. He was held for a week and released only on a bail of 2,000 shekels and house-arrest. He’s spent the last five months confined to his uncle’s home. Once a week the teacher brings the whole class to have a lesson with him. His family goes to visit him regularly but his mood is very low.

Since there are few internationals monitoring that particular area regularly, the ISM is going to step up its presence there. We spoke to the headmaster of the school who told us that sometimes during the night, settlers break into the school to destroy property and shoot live ammunition. Teachers are often stopped by soldiers on their way to school, and have been strip-searched, or forced to drop their trousers, take off their shirts, and stand for an hour in front of the school while kids pass by. Israeli Soldiers often interrupt lessons by coming into the school, and in one case broke a teacher’s hand.