Hebron, South Hebron Hills, Tarqumiya, Sun 16.10.11, Morning
Translator: Charles K.
The photographs (see below, end of report) don’t do justice to the atmosphere, voices, odors and what morning feels like in this city.
A city overflowing with the ugliness, evil, violence and lawlessness of the settlers and the security forces, like nowhere else in Israel. A city seeking to embody ancient Jewish sanctity, tradition and culture, but which makes those passing through it feel only disgust and sorrow.
Nothing on our way to the city today hinted at what we’d find there. The trip was “normal” – the sights, the schoolchildren along the roads. We’d even recently noticed the improvements in Highway 60 after it was no longer an “apartheid” road, and is now filled with vehicles of every kind.
At the entrance to Kiryat Arba we got a taste of what was to come. The guard, a local, commented cynically, “You’ve come today also? Why?” They have the authority (or decided they do) to detain, interrogate, notify whoever must be notified, or even to deny entry to anyone they deem unworthy of entering the city of the patriarchs. He again wants to check only our driver’s ID (“I know it by heart,” he says proudly). Asks us to wait.
“Have you come because of the demonstration at the Police checkpoint?” He speaks into the walkie-talkie, sentence fragments about incitement, the situation heating up, etc. “I need authorization to let you enter.”
When we saw Ofer Ohana waiting and photographing us we understood whom the guard was coordinating with.
“What do you think?,” I ask the guard at the entrance. “That when you come to Omer to visit we’ll stop you and decide whether to let you in?” He stammers some response and allows us to continue.
All along the road from the entrance to Hebron to the Cave of the Patriarchs and its surroundings are soldiers, also on the rooftops. Buses with visitors coming for Sukkot begin arriving, although the “Jewish exception” days are only tomorrow and Tuesday. Everything’s already closed today, full of security personnel.
But when we reached the Tarpat checkpoint, which the army calls the Police checkpoint, we saw Ofer taking photographs and, as usual, talking uninterruptedly. Many peace groups and security forces are on the Palestinian side of the checkpoint. Teachers from the Cordova school are organizing a demonstration.
The IDF’s battle against the teachers of Hebron’s Cordova school:
A little history and explanation
Cordova is a private girls' school on a hill opposite Beit Hadassah and other educational institutions in Hebron’s Jewish quarter. Due to its “problematic” location, its entrance steps are blocked by concertina wire; alternative steps, steep and dangerous, have been installed on the other side of the hill. To prevent Palestinians from walking along this section of the street, they’ve all been ordered to make a detour and go up on the other side.
Our struggle to restore access to Shuhada street wasn’t successful, but at
least a railing was installed and the stairs somewhat improved. Pupils and teachers from Tel Rumeida and other neighborhoods come to school every morning through checkpoints and via detours. About four years ago the teachers requested to be allowed through without being required to pass through the magnemometer twice a day on their way to school and on the way home, because they’re known and are permanent staff members. Most of them are young, some are pregnant; they were concerned about effects on their health and also felt entitled to minimal respect and trust. The previous principal said she recognized the right of Jews to live here, but that they themselves should be allowed an equal right. After much effort, the IDF understood that security wouldn’t be reduced if a specific group of women were permitted to go through an alternate opening twice a day, without having to go through the scanner, and that’s what happened. We thought the army wouldn’t be bothered by the fact that Hebron residents might feel they’d achieved a slight victory, and that the “generosity” it had displayed would be to its benefit. It turns out we were mistaken. Recently the army decided to reinstitute the previous arrangement. “Why?,” we asked the deputy brigade commander, a tough, energetic guy who explained that there’s different intelligence information today, and everyone must go through the magnemometer.
The school has been shut since last Tuesday. The teachers demonstrate until the afternoon, and then hold classes there, not at the school. When we arrived we saw a teacher being dragged and arrested by Border Police soldiers, and forced into a patrol car. Ofer says he saw and photographed her slapping a female soldier. “Arrest her?! She should be killed!” he shouts, adding comments about us that make the cellphone blush. We speak to the deputy brigade commander who says he’ll “interrogate her and decide what to do.”
The demonstration continues (photos, middle); additional forces arrive with various pieces of equipment. After about an hour, two important Palestinian personages arrive from Area H1. They introduce themselves as Ministry of Education officials. A short discussion with one officer, and wonder of wonders: the criminal who slapped the soldier is released and goes off with the officials (photos, bottom). Someone apparently understood or realized that even if the Palestinian woman dared refuse an order to move back, that didn’t justify her detention. “But now they’ll pay. We never lose a battle,” the soldiers say.
The teacher went home and more forces came and began firing stun grenades and tear gas. Then came a rain of stones. We call the brigade commander, Col. Guy Hazut. He explains patiently and at length that there were a number of incidents in the wake of which they decided to close the alternate entry, and require everyone to go through the magnemometer.
“What happened?,” we ask. “Did the teachers do something? Allow anything? Did you find something in the school?”
“No, they caught a boy with a box cutter, and other such things.”
That’s apparently the intelligence information on the basis of which IDF officers reached the simplistic solution of punishing everyone crossing here and withdrawing the minor humanitarian concession whose previous "achievement" proved so meaningful to the local population. We continue talking to him, trying to explain that such an incident can only worsen the atmosphere in this sensitive location. We suggest they indicate the change is temporary, because of the holidays, and when they’re over the previous arrangement will be reinstated.
The brigade commander promises to consider it, while his diligent deputy continues to blow up the neighborhood.
“Right, we have to show them! Now it’s Sukkot, the people of Israel have to come pray, the day after tomorrow their prisoners are being released, they musn’t forget who’s in charge here.”
Quiet returns. Tomorrow and the following day are “Jewish exception” days. The number of soldiers everywhere, from many field units, is unbelievable. Tomorrow, probably no one will be allowed to move.
Hebron’s Jews, meanwhile, stroll dressed in white, waving etrogs and lulavs among the soldiers and at every corner. Sheltered by a true canopy of peace.
We drove to see what was happening in the area of the terrible attack which killed a father and his infant son on Route 60, near Route 35. We reached Beit Anun. Soldiers have settled on the roof of the house overlooking the road, employing the “straw widow” procedure (soldiers taking over a Palestinian home and removing its residents from the roof and/or upper floors). We went in to see whether they’d provided a document explaining their actions and confirming the inhabitants’ rights.
“Great,” they provided it. But it doesn’t include the name of the family who’s entitled to demand compensation for damages. So when they try to submit a claim, who’ll pay any attention to this non-specific document? It’s worth no more than toilet paper. The family shows us broken windows – settlers broke them a few days earlier. The police came but did nothing. The soldiers are only on the roof. They arrived today; the family doesn’t know when they’ll leave. We ask the soldiers not to further burden the family by using the roof as a toilet, with all that involves.
“We’re not animals,” they reply.
“True. But sometimes, without even noticing, people act like animals.”
We’ll follow up.
We’re treated sternly. Interrogated – where did we come from, whom did we meet, with whom did we talk. We made an appointment with Zion, the manager of the crossing, for next week. He’s insulted and angry. He says we wrote lies about him. We’ll listen, and have our say.