November 27 | International Solidarity Movement | Hebron, occupied Palestine
The Jewish holiday of Shabbat Chayei Sarah (Sarah’s day’) took place in Al Khalil (also known as Hebron) over the weekend of 22-23 November. Over the two days around 50,000 Israeli settlers flocked to the city, to celebrate the festival in the place that Zionists believe is their religious right (despite the fact that it is historically Palestinian and is clearly within the demarcation of Palestinian Territories).
For weeks the area was being adapted and prepared to accommodate the thousands of visitors. Israeli settlers from nearby illegal settlement Kiryat Arba were to be joined by other observant Jews from across Israel, as well as from countries abroad such as France, the UK, and the USA. The mood was set by blatant Zionist propaganda adorning the streets, such as a banner proclaiming “Palestine never existed – and never will”. Whole areas of the old city and surrounding areas were taken over by gazebos, tents and caravans for the weekend. Exclusive and expensive VIP tickets to celebrate ‘Sarah’s day’ were available for hundreds of US dollars, enabling attendees to meet and dine with religious leaders, alongside Knesset members, and IDF commanders.
By Friday afternoon, thousands of celebrants had arrived in the city and the already extensive Israeli Occupation Force (IOF) presence (normally 4000 IOF soldiers guard the 400 Israeli settlers) was even greater than usual. Enhanced security measures were in place and major roads were blocked off, obstructing Palestinian movement around the city, and forcing Arab shops to close for business in an already suffocated economic environment (due to businesses and areas being closed by military order, and commerce/tourism heavily suppressed by restrictions on movement through checkpoints).
Many of the visiting settlers were visibly armed, with handguns or automated weapons, in stark contrast to Palestinians for whom it is illegal to carry a weapon, tightly enforced at all of the numerous checkpoints.
Each day International Solidarity Movement (ISM) received reports of serious, violent attacks on Palestinians living in or passing through vulnerable areas where settlers filled the streets.
On Friday evening, on the ‘Prayer Road’, leading up to the large settlement of Kiryat Arba, a group of 8 Palestinians were attacked in a barber shop. ISM spoke to one of the victims, Fayed, who reported a large group of settlers forcing entry to his father’s shop. Despite attempts to persuade the settlers to leave, more arrived to join the attack. Up to 100 settlers sprayed pepper spray, threw stones, chairs and pieces of wood, damaging property and injuring Fayed, his brother, his uncle and father. Fayed’s 21 year old cousin suffered a broken hand, whilst he and his uncle and father sustained injuries to the head and arms, resulting in hospitalization. The police eventually moved the settlers on however no arrests were made. Only basic details of the attack were taken down and there has been no further investigation of the crime.
Later that night there were further reports of violent attacks by groups of settlers in the same area, including an assault on a young old child, who was kicked and sprayed with pepper spray, requiring him to be taken to hospital. A Palestinian bride was also harassed and attacked by settlers as she celebrated her wedding day.
Despite the heaviness of occupation pressing down on them, the brutal and unprovoked attacks from the settlers, and frustration at the lack of protection from the authorities, Fayed and his family are quietly resistant. “Our life here is hard, but we have to resist. We try to be nice to everyone… to treat them nice, we don’t want any violence. Violence is not the solution….the settlers carry M16 guns. It’s normal for us and our situation here – to be attacked, arrested, killed. We grew up like this. What can we do? We don’t have a lot of power or support. We can’t fight with guns or knives, this is not the solution. How many Palestinians have been killed? Guns and knives are not free, they do not make Palestine free. We are not against Jews, we are against Zionists and settlers, and those that occupy our houses. ”
The following day, the entire old city plus large swathes of the normally unrestricted area (known as ‘H1’) was locked down, making way for thousands of settlers to be given religious tours of the city. Many were intoxicated, chanting provocative anti-Palestinian songs, shouting abuse, and urinating on Palestinian property. As the day progressed, their behavior became increasingly violent, with numerous incidents of settlers throwing rocks, bottles and other items at Palestinian people and homes, as well as unlawfully entering or climbing on Palestinian property. IOF remained passive, merely supervising the passage of the crowds through Palestinian areas.
In one shocking incident, a group of settlers attacked the home of a known Palestinian activist, Imad, who has been frequently targeted since speaking out against the murder of a Palestinian by the IOF several years ago.
Imad and his family are some of the few Palestinians brave enough to continue living in Tel Rumeida, part of an area in the heart of the old city which has been designated a restricted military zone (known as ‘H2’). Since 1968 Al Khalil has been subject to the establishment of illegal Jewish settlements, and over the last 20 years, the area has seen a huge influx of hardcore settlers who believe for religious reasons they have a right to occupy the land. These are some of the most extreme settlers in Israel, who routinely perpetrate abuse and violence against Palestinian residents, including children going to school. Many Palestinians have been forced out of their homes and for those who remain, living in this area is extremely dangerous for Palestinians. There is a daily threat to life and limb.
On Saturday, as the streets of Tel Rumeida were inundated with thousands more armed settlers, the violence and intimidation escalated. There were multiple reports of attacks on Palestinian people and property. Footage was recorded of large groups of drunk settlers climbing on the roofs of Palestinian homes, and abusing and intimidating residents.
On Saturday Imad remained confined at home with his grandchildren, due to the large numbers of settlers who had been marching and congregating in the streets outside, making it unsafe for Palestinians to leave the house. Imad heard settlers climbing on his roof, and trying to enter his home through the entrance way. He called friends to come and help. and unsuccessfully tried to convince the settlers to leave. The large group were shouting abuse, spitting and throwing stones at bottles. Moments later Imad heard crying from where his 18 month old grandson was sleeping. As he ran into the room he discovered that a settler had thrown a stone through the open window, striking the child on the head and wounding him.
Due to the closed and restricted nature of this part of the city, an ambulance was unable to reach the house to attend to the child. The child had to be carried through the streets, protected by a circle of local people from the settlers who continued to try to attack the group as they tried to reach the ambulance.
Imad explains that the IOF soldiers arrived at the house during the attack, however they only stood watching, and failed to intervene to stop the violence. When local Palestinian’s arrived to provide support, the soldiers pushed and held them back, threatening to arrest them. The IOF also failed to provide any first aid or show concern for the injured child.
Despite the heavy IOF and Israeli police presence throughout the city during this weekend, it was abundantly clear that they were there to protect the settlers, and not the Palestinian residents. There was a complete failure to protect the Palestinians under attack. Police also failed to undertake any investigation into the various incidents, or attempt to bring to justice those settlers engaging in violence against Palestinians.
This raises concerns that the IOF are turning a blind eye to the violence, sanctioning and enabling it to occur, or alternatively that they simply have no power or authority to control the settlers’ violence. The risk for Palestinians trying to resist the occupation and violence, such as Imad, is to be punished, singly or collectively, for their defiance in the face of the creeping genocide of the Palestinian land and people.
Whilst trying to document and observe violence and abuse, ISM experienced hostility and aggression from both settlers and the IOF, incuding physical and verbal threats, restriction of movement as well as having our passports photographed by police and threatened arrest, in a clear attempt to deter us from our work. Pro-Palestinian activists in Israel risk deportation, including a 10 year ban from the country, serving to silence and prevent the documenting of human rights violations in Palestine.