25th February 2016 | International Solidarity Movement, al-Khalil team | Hebron, occupied Palestine
On the 25th of February 1994, a US citizen residing in the illegal Kiryat Arba settlement entered the Ibrahimi mosque in the early morning during the month of Ramadan. Baruch Goldstein, dressed in his army uniform, opened fire on the Palestinians that were crammed inside for the prayer. He killed 29 men and boys and injured dozens before people overpowered him and beat him to death.
That day, many more Palestinians were killed in Hebron during riots protesting the massacre that had occurred, in front of the mosque and the hospital where the injured were treated, as well as in the cemetery were the dead were being buried. In the next few days, protests and marches happened all over the West Bank and across historic Palestine. It is believed that in total, in these few days, 50 to 70 Palestinians were killed, and over 250 were injured.
Immediately after the attack, the Israeli government released a statement condemning this act and affirming that Goldstein was acting on his own behalf. The Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin called Goldstein a “degenerate murderer, a shame on Zionism and an embarrassment to Judaism.” Rabin always affirmed that Goldstein acted on his own behalf and that the Israeli military had no knowledge of his plans. Though his act was condemned, it resulted in many measures that mostly impacted on Palestinians. Instead of evacuating the settlements of Hebron, only a few of the most extreme settlers were temporarily disarmed.
A round-the-clock curfew was imposed. Shops in Shuhada Street were forced shut by the Israeli army, on the pretext of keeping settlers safe on this commercial artery. Many other shops also had to close due to lack of supplies and customers. New checkpoints were installed. Palestinians were first banned from driving and then simply from accessing most of Shuhada Street. Much of these measures resulted in the displacement of many Palestinian families.
In 1997, a protocol was signed between Israel and the PLO, dividing Hebron into two areas: “H1”, controlled by Israeli forces, and “H2”, under Palestinian control. It called for the withdrawal of Israeli soldiers from the H1, which represented 80% of the city. To this day, even though H1 is officially controlled by the Palestinian Authority, it remains under overall Israeli control, while H2 is now the home to many violent and extremist settlers. Some of them still go every year to the tomb of Baruch Goldstein to celebrate his treacherous act of murder.
22 years later, all measures that were declared in Hebron on the 25th of February, 1994 are still enforced, except for the curfew. And settlers are more than ever taking over the city, with the compliance of the Israeli government.
The last tiny bit of Shuhada Street, that was not (yet) declared a ‘sterile zone’ and thus been completely barred for Palestinians, has been under repeated ‘closed military zone’ orders since 1st November 2015. Whereas the majority of Shuhada Street has been completely unaccessible for Palestinians, the tiny strip leading from the recently ‘renovated’ Shuhada checkpoint up to the illegal Beit Hadassah settlement, is slowly resembling a ‘ghost street’ more and more, as only Palestinians registered with the Israeli army are allowed to go there.
The closed military zone order is an illegal collective punishment on the whole Palestinian population of this area, that was forced to register in order to be allowed to live in their own houses whereas settlers in the adjacent illegall settlements can walk the roads freely and completely undisturbed. This clearly is just another step in the Israeli policy of making life for Palestinians as hard and humiliating as possible in an attempt to make them leave the area and eventually drive all of them out and connect the settlements.
Every year, Palestinians in occupied al-Khalil commemorate the Ibrahimi mosque massacre and protest against the closure of Shuhada Street and the illegal Israeli occupation. The week, leading up to the 22nd anniversary of the massacre, has seen and will continue to see creative activities and demonstrations. This past week there were also many commemorations of Palestinians, most of whom have been gunned down by Israeli forces and left to bleed to death without any medical help.