24th February 2017 | International Solidarity Movement, al-Khalil team | Hebron, occupied Palestine
On 24th February several hundred people joined together for a demonstration in al-Khalil (Hebron) in occupied Palestine. Palestinians, Israelis and international activists protested together against the occupation of Shuhada Street and Tel Rumeida in the heart of the city, closed by the military after the massacre of 29 Palestinians in the al-Ibrahimi mosque in 1994. The protesters marched from the centre of the city to the military base at the entrance to the closed zone but were fired upon with tear gas and stun grenades within minutes of the start of their peaceful protest. The protesters were immediately forced to disperse with many suffering from tear gas inhalation. Some needed treatment on site and some were taken to hospital.
ISM activists attended in groups of two and three to support, document and protest. Here are some eyewitness accounts:
“After midday prayers people started marching towards the old city, chanting slogans against the Israeli occupation and the settlers. After about ten minutes, the march was faced by a sizeable group of Israeli soldiers and border police. They marched towards the Israeli forces nonetheless, but were soon met with two stun grenades thrown towards protesters in the front line and teargas canisters shot throughout the street. I saw a teargas canister hit a north American army veteran below his left shoulder: it is entirely plausible that it was shot intentionally into the crowd. Shooting these canisters directly towards people is not only in direct contradiction of Israeli ‘rules of engagement’ but also potentially lethal.”
“I was in front of the demo when the teargas canisters were fired directly into the first lines of protesters. Stun grenades exploded next to me and I couldn’t hear anything for the next minute. Everywhere on the street were clouds of teargas expanding and the demo turned into a big escape. I and many other protesters took refuge in the side streets, hiding from Israeli soldiers and tear gas.”
“Our group started near the back. Tear gas started in great quantity within minutes and together with a large number of Palestinians and other internationals, we scrambled up a side set of stairs and spent the rest of the demonstration trapped there, tear gassed frequently and running in different directions to escape. There was no possibility of rejoining the march route. Red Crescent ambulances, with paramedics in gas masks, attended to the large number of people who were suffering from excessive gas inhalation and some were taken to hospital.”
“Emotion, censored freedom, pain, oppression, … these are the words which describe the commemoration of the Ibrahimi mosque massacre, fifty years of occupation and the closure of Shuhada Street for over twenty years. After just ten minutes, the Israeli forces showed up in front of the crowd. They immediately stopped the demonstration, leaving no freedom to Palestinians and internationals to commemorate the Ibrahimi mosque’s victims. The atmosphere was tense as Israeli forces started to throw teargas into the crowd. Once again, Israel pretends to be a democracy but leaves no freedom to Palestinians to express themselves and to commemorate those they lost.”