Hebron, Sansana, South Hebron Hills, Fri 25.4.08, Morning
Translation - Tal H.
In view of the current publicity, in spite of my close familiarity with Hebron, and in spite of our having intended not to monitor the town during Passover week, I decided to join the Bnei Avraham tour and see what things look like there these days.
We traveled out of Beer Sheva in a van, nine people in all.
Sansana Checkpoint took on a festive appearance – numerous large flags up on the poles, flats of both Israel and the Israeli army's 'crossings' unit.
We saw not a single Palestinian vehicle traveling this road (neither taxis nor private cars). Could the Palestinians possibly be trying to remain out of sight during the Jewish holiday? The blockages are still in place and some of them even seem to have grown higher. A new row of concrete slabs has been added to the existing barrier in Samoah South.
Dura al Fawar – open.
The Sheep Junction – after our having noticed in our last shift that the passage has gotten a bit wider than it used to be, someone took the trouble to add a boulder in between the large ones, and now the passageway is really narrow.
At the roadsides everything has already yellowed. Several tankers stand back to back near the watering spots that have not yet been fenced in and made out of bounds.
Obviously the summer will be very harsh for the residents of the South Hebron Hills and whatever damages are left undone by the colonists will be wrought by the drought this year. It might force many of the region's dwellers, those residing in small hamlets and making their living herding livestock and farming to move to the larger towns, which will make it even easier for the colonists to take over more land.
We stopped close to the Cave of the Patriarchs. An additional busload of visitors arriving for the Break the Silence and Bnei Avraham tour arrived within minutes. We were about 100 persons present.
At the entrance to the site, a Palestinian woman yells at the soldiers. The ID of a man standing nearby has been taken from him by the soldiers. She tells me, first in broken English and then in Arabic that the soldiers won't let them open the door to their home on the other side of the road, directly opposite the entrance to the Cave. I have a hard time grasping when instructions were given to prohibit entrance and close it off. The man's ID is returned and a Border Patrolman arrives. He is extremely aggressive and unpleasant. He tells the Palestinian to move over to the side to speak with him so I will be out of hearing distance. I walk away, taking the woman's phone number and set a time to talk with her at the end of our tour. In any case, my presence does not help matters any.
We walk in a group of 10 people from Beer Sheva. Yehuda Shaul of 'Breaking the Silence' tells us about the history of the Jewish colonization of Hebron and its impact on the lives of the Palestinians. I was more or less familiar with this history, but I was not aware of the fact that there is no official instruction forbidding Palestinians to walk on Shuhada Street (behind Hadassah House and all the way to the junction before the Pharmacy Junction Palestinians always avoid moving although pedestrian traffic is not forbidden in this part of the street). Yehuda tells us there was correspondence on this matter and although there are official documents stating movement is allowed here, Palestinians simply refrain.
With him we reach the home of Issa, uphill on Tel Rumeida. There we meet the rest of the visitors. Apparently the plan is to walk from the upper part of Shuhada Street all the way to the Cave of the Patriarchs – Jews and Palestinians together.
Preparations are brief: someone has brought shirts, someone else brought signs and we do it. From Tel Rumeida to the Cave of the Patriarchs we march, a group of some 30-40 people, including several Palestinians – adults and children. Near Beit Romano a police car and some soldiers arrive but decide not to confront the marchers and only accompany us. A Nahal officer asks one of the Palestinians to show him his ID. He does so, and the officer explains to him very inanely that this time he will overlook the offence, but (in the kindness of his heart) woe to him if he is seen again on this road.
We continue our march and reach the Cave of the Patriarchs in relative calm. Some of the marchers board the bus. I go over to meet the couple I left near the soldiers earlier. The situation now is that their house door, which was open before, is sealed with plastic shackles and no one answers it. I call them.
They have left. I try to fix a meeting for Sunday but not sure the woman understands me.
At this point I join my friends from Beer Sheva who have gathered around our van. We begin to travel towards the city exit, rather happy with out success: 6-7 Palestinians have marched for the first time in 8 years down Shuhada Street. But the colonists have different plans for us. The Anarchists group that continued to walk on towards the House of Contention was joined by Ofer, a Hebron colonist who did not cease to pipe in the policemen's ears that this is an illegal assembly. From afar I see that several BPmen try to stop him and distance him from the marching group but he pushes, hits, and escapes them to continue filming the group.
From here on I was not present so cannot give an eye-witness report, but a group of the Anarchists Against Walls blocked the road ascending to the House of Contention in protest of A's arrest (the organizer of the tour on behalf of Bnei Avraham). Apparently they confronted colonists who had gathered at the spot and after a delay of about half an hour traffic resumes. The bus which the Anarchists boarded drove to the police station. We later found out that the policemen decided this had been an illegal assembly (I don't recall anyone telling us not to be where we were, except for Ofer steadily buzzing the policemen's ears to have us arrested).
Our vehicle is escorted by a police jeep and an army vehicle and we drive towards the gate separating Hebron and Kiryat Arba. At the gate, the guard demands our driver's ID. At this point Ofer plants himself in front of our car and prevents its moving. The gate is closed, too. I disembark and ask the policeman to move the people there for we want to get on our way. He explains to the guard that we're with him, but at this point we are already surrounded by 50 colonists, most of them men, boys and children. The vehicle becomes a target for spitting, rocking, yelling, threats and curses. There are 6 policemen and some soldiers standing about outside the car but none of them do anything to prevent the damage done to our car or to stop the escalating violence. A decidedly stressful situation.
An additional police car arrives with 3 more policemen. We hope that something will not be done, but it is not. The police driver gives one of the rioting colonists a hug, and the riot continues. Someone has let out all the air from the van's back tire, and some minutes later someone else knifes the front tire. A young boy begins to run, chased by a policeman. The policeman gives up soon. Another policeman is pushed and hit by a group of 5-6 colonists. Again no one does anything to open the gate, move the people blocking our car and let us get away. Instead, over half an hour later one of the policemen boards our vehicle and we are ordered to reach the police station. We are all detained for having attended an illegal assembly.
With two punctured tires we drive uphill to the police station. Note that for the duration of our stay inside the car none of the policemen seemed to take the matter seriously. The boys who hit policemen were not arrested, and nothing was done by the police to document the crowding or violence taking place.
Our impression was that the policemen are simply terrified of confronting the colonists. We were detained at the police station for over 4 hours. Our driver used the time to file a complaint about the damages done to his car. Another young man testified.
Some of our people would not identify themselves claiming this was a vain detention since no one had told us at any point that ours was an illegal assembly. Some of us did give their IDs and boarded the bus hoping to go home. But the police disappointed us again. The bus leaving the police station came back, having been attacked with eggs and stones. The policemen could not (or didn't even try) to disperse the rioters. Again, none of these was arrested, detained or documented by the policemen. An hour later, the passengers try again, this time they succeed. And us? We have no way to get away since two of our tires are punctured. Our driver tries to get us two spare tires but cannot reach us since the rioters would hurt him. Obviously we are held at the police station not because anyone wants to question or detain us but simply because the police can do nothing to displease the colonists. The policemen are quite simply terrified of them. They prefer to hide behind the station gate, against which some colonists are now crowding and only waiting for another chance to assault us.
It was quite a frustrating situation, and especially saddening to realize how helpless one becomes, and actually sense this symbiosis so often talked about between the 'security' forces – army and police – and the Jewish colonists. (Some of the passengers have photos of the stone throwers, and we also have some snap shots of the rioters who hurt our car). Around 5:30 p.m., having given our ID particulars and fixed the two tires, we exit the station accompanied by a police car. At the exit from Hebron towards Kiryat Arba, an army vehicle stands securing the junction, then another and another.
Our former feeling of success is long gone.