Hebron, South Hebron Hills, Sun 3.3.13, Afternoon
Translator: Charles K.
14:04 Curve 160, Hebron
We stopped because we saw a gathering of paratroopers, Border Police, police, including officers, a police vehicle, a settler vehicle, two settlers. One of the settlers said shots had been fired at the checkpoint. Those present appeared to be engaged in consultations or an investigation. We waited. The senior paratrooper, Avi, the Hebron brigade commander (religious), said he’d explain to us what was going on after he completed the investigation. He also questioned the settler off to the side, who seemed to have been an eyewitness. Then the settlers drove away in their vehicle. It turned out that a Palestinian youth set off about 30 fireworks directly toward the checkpoint from between the concrete barriers along the side. The brigade commander was very critical of the way the force at the checkpoint behaved – “they didn’t try to make contact; they should have gotten him.” I said to him, grinning, that it was probably because there were no female soldiers there… He also said that a police vehicle that passed by also didn’t catch the shooter. Bottom line – a failure. We should note that Palestinians kept going through the checkpoint during the investigation. We also note that everyone involved behaved politely toward us, except for one of the policemen – maybe the one who’d just been reprimanded by the brigade commander.
14:30 Tel Rumeida
A conversation with Issa Amru, the Palestinian who runs a neighborhood cultural center in the building above Beit Rumeida. He’s an electrical engineer; he teaches courses dealing with electricity. Issa is a model of non-violent resistance to the occupation by, among other things, strengthening Palestinian civil society. Michael, Tzipi’s son, lived and worked there with him for a while.
The building belongs to a family holding a blue ID card which has a house in East Jerusalem; they moved there at the beginning of the second intifada. The army turned the house into a fortress for a while. After the army left, settlers entered, but the building was in very poor condition and not habitable despite their wish to take possession of it. Finally Issa rented it from the owner, but the settlers didn’t let him move in; he received legal assistance from Michael Sfarad, the attorney. The driver transporting the settlers’ children was caught in the yard with a gun; he’d planned to fire into the building. The water pipes were sabotaged, a couch was set on fire, abusive graffiti was sprayed on the walls, rocks thrown. Boys and girls once exposed themselves before the residents, claiming that if the onlookers are gentiles the Torah permits.
Hebrew classes for women are offered there, at the women’s request, and also English classes. Na’ama, from Psychoactive, comes from Jerusalem to teach. Friendships have developed, including mutual family visits. There are spare time activities for children, doll-making. There are classes in still and video photography, how to upload to Facebook, to document their daily lives, their dreams, not only the problems with soldiers and settlers. Palestinian volunteers teach journalism courses to activists. The Association for Civil Rights helps teach legal subjects such as the rights of detainees – Limor Yehuda and Gabi Laski. They show films. Girls learn English, and also the samba (drumming, not dancing…)
The security forces back up the settlers: the land adjoining Beit Romano is privately owned by a Palestinian, the settlers are nevertheless building there and the new structure completely blocks an adjacent Palestinian house. It’s no surprise; why, in the base on the main road soldiers and settlers live together. Issa reminds us that, according to international law, civilians living in the base become legitimate military targets. The settlers at Tel Rumeida regularly violate Israeli law. They raise horses and other animals, plant crops and trees and refuse to leave the Al-Bakri house despite a High Court order. The army and police claim they’re unable to stop them. The security forces’ support of the settlers explains the recent decrease of settler violence against Palestinians – they don’t have to be violent as in the past because the security forces are essentially doing what they ask.
The powerlessness of the police: Only two policemen, with one vehicle, are stationed in Hebron, in the area for which Israel has full responsibility. The Palestinians know that the policemen stationed in Hebron keep requesting transfers. An Arabic-speaking policeman told Issa that the police are not allowed even to issue citations to settlers for traffic violations – driving without lights, transporting more than the permitted number of children, not wearing seat belts, speeding, etc. And the police certainly don’t defend the Palestinians even though they’re fully subject to Israeli sovereignty. Saturdays and Jewish holidays are the worst times – performances, thefts, uprooting trees. Even when the settlers invaded the building they call Beit HaMachpela, the police claimed they didn’t see anything.
The case of the spring below Tel Rumeida: Anat Cohen had dreamed it was a holy site and the settlers continue to take it over and build around it despite the Turkish land registry ownership document possessed by the Palestinian owner of the land. His complaints to the police about trespassing do no good. When he tried to dismantle what the settlers had built the police made him put everything back and submit another complaint.
The case of the Abu Ayesha family: They used to live in Beit Hadassah. Before 1929 they were partners with Jews in a business making yogurt. During the riots they protected their Jewish neighbors and other Jews, and the account of their heroism appears in Sefer Hevron. Instead of receiving gratitude they were forced out of their home to Tel Rumeida, but the settlers took that over as well and their home is fenced for protection like a cage. Their story became known when they photographed a female settlers yelling “bitch” through the window bars at the woman of the house. The old man still living with them says he knows Jews; these settlers aren’t Jews… His sons, who live elsewhere, aren’t able to visit him without a special permit. Nor are they even able to obtain a permit to renovate the crumbling interior of the old house. Another family that saved Jews in 1929 is convinced that the settlers, not Hamas, are the ones destroying the state of Israel.
The importance of video documentation: Channel Two accompanied Baruch Marzel’s election campaign in Hebron (he was number 3 on the “Otzma LeYisrael” list). Issa ridiculed him before the cameras for not dressing in a dignified manner as befitting a Knesset member. Marzel invaded Issa’s home and hit him in the face. The video showing that Issa didn’t even hit him back wasn’t any help – the police backed Marzel and accused Issa of attacking him even though the police know him and are aware he never behaves violently. In another incident, when soldiers were jogging as usual in Hebron, a Palestinian was arrested because it was claimed he hit the soldiers; he spent a month in jail until the judge agreed to watch a video documenting the incident that proved the soldiers had beaten him, not the opposite – and although the man was released the soldiers weren’t punished. Another incident: One day Issa went through a checkpoint and a soldier called him a “motherfucker.” Issa berated him, saying that unlike the curses he gets from settlers, who are private individuals, a soldier in uniform represents the state. The argument with the soldier got worse when Rav Levinger’s daughter-in-law happened to come by and accused Issa of sexual harassment. A crowd gathered, the Nahal commander in Hebron pushed him against the wall and threatened him. Issa told him he’s recording everything on his cellphone, and everything’s being recorded on video. Issa was arrested and insisted on providing the evidence – the cellphone recording – only to a policeman, not a soldier. But the policeman gave the cellphone to the soldier who erased the recording. The military police investigation of the incident will probably take forever.
The “security requirements” excuse is a lie: Fact, Marzel entered Issa’s house to hit him, knew there were many men in the house; had he feared for his safety he wouldn’t have done so. Another example: When Dov Hanin came to Hebron as part of his Knesset election campaign, Issa wanted to march with him in the street. The police didn’t let him. He walked in parallel instead on the wall of the Moslem cemetery bordering the street and called down to them from above – Where am I more dangerous? When I’m above you, or when I’m walking beside you?
We returned via Tel Rumeida. We saw the neighboring Palestinian house that the settlers didn’t succeed in taking over; they’re “only” throwing garbage into its yard. Next door is the house the settlers did manage to take over and aren’t leaving despite the High Court decision, and then the caged-in Palestinian home whose residents, the descendants of the Righteous Gentiles from 1929, live in fear every day. A bored Border Police soldier up the road plays with two settler toddlers, teaching them to climb a fence and giving them marching drills.
16:15 Below the Eshtamoa outpost we see construction underway to expand the settlement. Then a caravan of decorated Palestinian cars drives toward us, apparently celebrating the release of Palestinian inmates. A van with Palestinian license plates passes, slogans in Hebrew – Shalom Haver, Ahava LaNetzah. The flow of laborers returning from Israel flows through the Meitar crossing; a bustling vegetable market awaits them on the other side on their way home.