7th February 2016 | International Solidarity Movement | Hebron, occupied Palestine
February 8th marks one hundred days since Israeli forces declared the Tel Rumeida neighborhood and the adjacent portion of Shuhada Street a “closed military zone,” requiring residents to register with the Israeli military and be assigned numbers in order to be allowed to access their homes while all other Palestinians and international human rights defenders are barred from entering the area. On February 5th the Israeli military issued an order officially extending the closed military zone until the 1st of March, with the possibility for further renewal.
Throughout this period Palestinian residents have faced increased, arbitrary restrictions of movement and harassment which have no basis in Israel’s purported security concerns. While residents contend with continual threats at the hands of Israeli forces and settlers from the illegal Israeli settlements situated directly adjacent to their neighborhood, Palestinian and international human rights defenders face targeted exclusion from the area. Israeli human rights organization B’tselem reported that Palestinian resident are clearly being subjected to collective punishment. They “are suspected of no wrongdoing and are forced to suffer serious disruptions in their daily lives simply because they had the misfortune of living or working in neighborhoods the military has decided to close.” International and Palestinian organizations have called on the international community to pressure Israel to lift the closed military zone in Hebron, as it constitutes an unlawful violation of the right of Palestinian residents to freedom from collective punishment under the Geneva Conventions.
Israeli authorities declared the closed military zone on November 1st. The announcement came in the wake of the extrajudicial killings of Palestinian 23-year-olds Homam Adnan Sa’id on October 27th and Islam Rafiq ‘Ebeido on the 28th. Witnesses at both incidents reported the youths posed no threat to the soldiers when they were shot “in cold blood” and subsequently denied medical treatment. Amnesty International’s director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme had stated in late October that “Israeli forces appear to have ripped up the rulebook and resorted to extreme and unlawful measures.”
Since the beginning of October, over 170 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces; the city of Hebron suffered more deaths than anywhere other than occupied East Jerusalem. 551 Palestinians were arrested in January alone, 120 of them in Hebron, and more than 7000 Palestinians are currently being held in Israeli prisons.
On October 30th, Palestinian residents of Tel Rumeida and Shuhada Street (the short portion where some Palestinians are still permitted to live) were required to line up to register their ID numbers and names with Israeli military forces. Families were then given numbers, which Israeli forces would force them to present in order to enter their heavily militarized neighborhood. Palestinian women, children and men can be barred from entering their homes merely for lack of an ID or identifying number Israeli soldiers find acceptable.
Inside the closed military zone, as in all neighborhoods in the completely Israeli-military-controlled H2 area of Hebron, Israeli settlers from the illegal settlements inside the city are allowed to walk unimpeded, carry rifles and handguns and are not subject to any checkpoints or restrictions. Israeli forces do not permit Palestinians who are not registered in the closed military zone to visit their friends and family living inside. Journalists cannot enter to report on incidents. Not even emergency medical personnel would be allowed inside, nor can repair workers enter the area to fix Palestinian homes.
Tel Rumeida resident Abed Salaymeh was quoted in the Action Alert issued by the International Solidarity Movement and signed by over forty Palestinian and international organizations calling for an end to the closed military zone and for Israel to abide by international law in Hebron. “Soldiers and settlers are making life for the Palestinians intolerable to force them to leave their houses voluntarily,” he explained. “This is a crime under international law. They are targeting activists to silence the truth and stop the truth from reaching the whole world.”
Israeli forces targeted human rights defenders from the inception of the closed military zone, with both the International Solidarity Movement apartment and the center for Palestinian activist group Youth Against Settlements included in the designated zone. Palestinian and international activists face exclusion from the neighborhood where their presence has long been vital in responding to and documenting Israeli human rights abuses. “It is obvious that by violently forcing human rights observers out of the area, the Israeli forces are disappearing eyewitnesses to their countless human rights violations”, explains Jenny, an international human rights defender in al-Khalil, “while Palestinian residents are collectively put under these draconian measures, settlers from the adjacent illegal settlements freely walk the streets with complete impunity for whatever they do.”
Following a United Nations delegation in December to areas in Hebron including Tel Rumeida, UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Aid and Development Activities Robert Piper stated that “Human rights defenders play a vital role in promoting human rights. Protective presence organizations are on the front line of this work in the occupied Palestinian territory.” Palestinian and international human rights defenders have been subject to a succession of violent threats and arbitrary arrests after the closed military zone was declared.
On November 7th Israeli forces made life even more difficult for Palestinian Residents of Tel Rumeida by completely closing down Shuhada checkpoint (Checkpoint 56), the main travel point between the heavily restricted neighborhood and the nominally Palestinian Authority-controlled H1 area where residents must travel to work, shop and study. Even those officially permitted to enter the neighborhood were forced to take obstacle-ridden dirt paths through people’s yards or travel a long circuitous route involving paying a taxi to drop them off at a distance behind the neighborhood (Israeli forces barred Palestinians fro driving in Tel Rumeida even before imposing the closed military zone). The ability to circumvent the checkpoint, albeit via arduous and treacherous routes, underlines the disparity between the claim that the checkpoints and restrictions are put in place for Israeli security and the reality of punitive measures that disproportionately affect schoolchildren, elderly residents and those struggling nonviolently for their fundamental rights.
In late December Israeli forces reopened a newly renovated Shuhada checkpoint to registered residents. The recently expanded checkpoint often causes long waiting times for Palestinian residents as Israeli forces interrogate, check and search people inside a closed room between the turnstiles and metal detectors. Locals report the checkpoint is even worse than its predecessors, and many Palestinians have experienced harassment and intimidation by Israeli forces acting with impunity out of the view of any media or human rights observers.
Since the closed military zone was declared, Palestinians and international human rights defenders have been resisting its unjust imposition. The International Solidarity Movement in conjunction with multiple Palestinian organizations first released the Action Alert demanding an end to the closed military zone on December 13th, which over 40 organizations have now signed. Initially as a response to the arbitrary arrest and detention of Tel Rumeida resident Wafa Sharabati, Palestinian activists and families staged a sit-in on the H1 side of Shuhada checkpoint calling for an end to the closed military zone. Activists erected the protest tent daily, in a nonviolent demonstration against the unlawful restrictions on their freedom of movement. “We refuse to be registered as numbers and have our human rights violated just because we are Palestinian,” declared Issa Amro, coordinator of Youth Against Settlements.
The struggle against the closed military zone also comes as Palestinian organizations escalate the yearly campaign to Open Shuhada Street. Actions are planned in Hebron and around the world against Israel’s apartheid policy of completely closing the rest of Shuhada street, which extends past the closed military zone and was once the main thoroughfare through Hebron’s H2 area, to all Palestinians.
So far demands have gone unheeded as Israeli authorities once again renewed the closed military zone order on Friday, February 5th. The International Solidarity Movement calls on international governing bodies, nations, and people around the world to pressure Israeli authorities to end the closed military zone in Hebron and to respect Palestinians’ fundamental rights to live their lives with freedom and dignity.
Resources – reports, press releases and news coverage on the closed military zone
Arranged in a timeline in chronological order since before the declaration of the zone in Tel Rumeida and Shuhada street
Amnesty International report on unlawful killings perpetrated by Israeli forces in Palestine, including multiple incidents in Hebron (27 October)
Report on 27 October unlawful killing of Hoummam Said by Israeli forces in Tel Rumeida
Report on 28 October extrajudicial execution of Islam Rafiq Obeido by Israeli forces in Tel Rumeida
Palestinians in Tel Rumeida required to register with Israeli forces in preparation for severe new restrictions under the closed military zone (October 30)
Report – As Israeli forces increased restrictions on Palestinians, they also forced international human rights defenders to leave their apartment in Tel Rumeida and arrested one German and one US national on November 3
B’tselem report on how the closed military zone disrupts lives, constitutes collective punishment of Palestinian residents
Report on violent home raids and takeovers in the wake of closed military zone declaration, attack on Youth Against Settlements center, activists targeted as Israeli settlers celebrate violence (November 7)
Report on the November 7 closure of Checkpoint 56 for ‘renovations.
November 8 ISM issues first urgent call for international action on the closed military zone in Hebron
Article detailing harassment and evictions faced by international human rights defenders in Hebron (November 11)
Report on the second violent eviction of international human rights defenders from the ISM apartment in Hebron on November 11
Report on Israeli forces’ continual renewal of closed military zone orders and the third eviction of International Solidarity Movement volunteers from Tel Rumeida on November 21
Report on the November 22 arrests of two international human rights defenders by Israeli forces for entering closed military zone
Significant UN resolution calling for protection of human rights defenders across the world (November 25)
On 8 December a United Nations delegation visited the H2 area of Hebron, including Tel Rumeida
UN statement notes importance of work undertaken by human rights defenders in Hebron and states their targeting in “alarming” (10 December, International Human Rights Day)
Article recounting the experiences of families on Shuhada street living under closed military zone (December 16)
Press release by the UN calling for an end to unacceptable harassment of human rights defenders in Palestine, notes the targeting of the Youth Against Settlements center under the closed military zone (December 18)
Report and photo story on Shuhada checkpoint (Checkpoint 56), reopened at the end of December, rebuilt to be an even greater obstacle to Palestinian residents attempting travel to and from their homes in Tel Rumeida
Article on the extension of the closed military zone for the third month (January 3)
Press release by Youth Against Settlements on the extension of the closed military zone until January 31 (January 5)
Press release on January 7th by Youth Against Settlements on the sit-in protest against the closed military zone staged in front of Shuhada checkpoint (Checkpoint 56)
Article on the situation in the closed military zone as it was extended until January 31 (January 9)
Article on the sit-in protest for the opening of the closed military zone in Tel Rumeida and Shuhada Street (January 9)
Report after the 12th day of the nonviolent sit-in protest against the closed military zone, which was visited by multiple international delegations (18 January)
Report and audio interview on continuing sit-in protest against closed military zone (22 January)
Videos documenting life under the Tel Rumeida closed military zone and the arduous journey required to circumvent Shuhada checkpoint (January 27)
Article on the difficulties Palestinian residents face navigating the restrictions imposed by the closed military zone (February 3)
News article on most recent renewal of the closed military zone in Tel Rumeida and Shuhada street (February 6)