26th March 2016 | International Solidarity Movement, al-Khalil team | Hebron, West Bank, occupied Palestine
After completely closing Shuhada checkpoint to Palestinians in occupied al-Khalil (Hebron) on Thursday, 24th March 2016, Israeli forces have now returned to the practice of ‘numbering’ Palestinian residents in order to restrict access to the adjacent neighborhoods. Soldiers are now barring all Palestinians without numbers, and sometimes even those already registered as residents, from entry into the closed military zone.
The neighbourhood of Tel Rumeida and the tiny strip of Shuhada Street that remains accessible for Palestinians after the closure of the rest of the street following the 1994 Ibrahimi Mosque massacre have been declared a closed military zone since November 1st, 2015. Palestinian residents – in contrast to the Zionist extremist settlers living in the illegal settlements nearby – were forced to register with the Israeli forces as residents, and each given a number used to identify them. The closed military zone was designed deliberately to include the Palestinian neighbourhoods while excluding illegal settlements, thus facilitating settler movement on roads that connect the settlements inside the city center of al-Khalil with the Kiryat Arba illegal settlement on the outskirts of the city, roads that only settlers and Israeli forces are allowed to drive on.
Israeli forces completely closed the checkpoint on March 24th, barring any Palestinian from entering, after soldiers gunned down and killed Abed al-Fattah Yusri al-Sharif and Ramzi Aziz al-Qasrawi, both 21 years old, summarily executing al-Sharif with a shot to the head after he was already lying incapacitated (warning: graphic footage including execution in video captured by Palestinian B’Tselem volunteer). Throughout the day, Palestinians trying to go back to their homes were denied passage through the checkpoint and Israeli forces at times forced people to wait for more than twenty minutes only to tell them that they would not be allowed in – even though they were officially registered, numbered residents. An elderly woman was repeatedly told by Israeli forces to ‘wait’ when trying to walk to her home through the checkpoint; only after waiting for more than twenty minutes was she finally told that no-one would be allowed to pass that day. She had to turn around and leave after standing outside the checkpoint for close to half an hour. Watch this video taken by the local activist group Youth Against Settlements of the old lady denied access.
As of Saturday, 25th March, Israeli forces entirely returned to the practice of ‘numbering’ Palestinians, checking the numbers of anyone attempting to cross the checkpoint against a list of numbers of residents that have previously been registered. Many Palestinians were forced to wait for hours outside the checkpoint, only to be denied to go to their homes – even though they had registered and thus did appear as a number on the soldiers’ lists. The soldiers were extremely aggressive, yelling at Palestinians in the closed-off ‘room’ inside the checkpoint loudly enough to be clearly audible to anyone waiting outside. When Palestinians tried to seek shelter from the pouring rain in the vicinity of the checkpoint, soldiers exited the checkpoint, yelling and screaming at them to move back. All of the soldiers had removed the orange pin that acts as a safety on their Israeli-government-issued assault rifles – a practice that seems to have become common policy throughout occupied al-Khalil.
When a woman and her four children tried to pass Shuhada checkpoint, the three smallest children were initially allowed through. When Israeli soldiers delayed the mother and older daughter inside the checkpoint, continuously yelling at them, the young girl on the other side of the checkpoint started crying as she was waiting in the rain for her mother to be allowed to go home with them. After an ordeal of more than ten minutes, soldiers arbitrarily decided that the mother would not be allowed to pass – even though she is registered and numbered – and yelled at her till she finally left. Her children that had been allowed to pass earlier came back to be with their mother, the girl still crying. With many extremist settlers gathering and walking freely on Shuhada Street, the children were too terrified to go home without their mother.
This practice of assigning numbers to Palestinians clearly demonstrates the intent to dehumanize them, to make them solely into ‘numbers’ as if they were not human beings. For the Israeli forces – and thus the government supporting and commanding them – this is precisely the case: Palestinians are not considered as human beings, but rather solely as ‘terrorists’ and potential threats. How this influences the behaviour of the Israeli forces was clearly demonstrated when on March 24th soldiers gunned down two Palestinian youths in Tel Rumeida and then executed one of them with a shot to the head at point blank range. A shot in the head of an unarmed man, struggling for his life and being denied any medical assistance, did not cause so much as a twitch from the soldiers looking on.
This practice of ‘numbering’ Palestinians in Tel Rumeida and Shuhada street, and of dehumanizing the entire Palestinian population, is a government policy that intends to force Palestinians out of the area declared a ‘closed military zone’ in particular and ultimately the whole of the occupied West Bank. These policies pave the way for the brutal actions must recently exemplified by the killings in Tel Rumeida, practices falling under the internationally recognized definition of ethnic cleansing which the Final Report of the Commission of Experts established pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 780 defines as “a purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas.”