HEBRON – “As you can see we live in a cage,” Arwa Abu Haikel sighed as she walked up the steps of her home. “Because of the continuous attacks by settlers, throwing stones, breaking windows and causing injuries, we had to build the bars around the windows.” Based in Tel Rumedia, a neighborhood of Hebron, Arwa’s home possesses one of the most contentious postcodes of the occupied Palestinian territory. Hebron has been the epicenter of burgeoning violence since the outbreak of the so-called “Third Intifada” at the beginning of October, and a few weeks ago the Israeli military declared the whole of Tel Rumeida a closed military zone.
Despite this, Palestinian residents told Ma’an that Tel Rumedia’s difficulties long precede the recent spate of violence, and can be seen in the fight over the area’s archaeological ruins.
The troubled neighborhood has been at the heart of a longstanding battle — between settlers in the area, numerous rights groups and the Palestinian municipality of Hebron — over the development and management of an archaeological site that’s thousands of years old.
Critics say that the site is being used by a state-funded body for the benefit of extremist Israeli settlers living in the area, who have been aiming for decades to push local Palestinians out of their homes and out of the neighborhood.
A front for settler expansion
Based on archaeological surveys, the Tel Rumeida archaeological site dates back to the formation of Hebron in the middle Bronze Age. The site also has remains originating in the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods. Excavations by the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) began in 1967, but last year new excavations started in what many criticize as a political move taken to support the presence of settlers in the area. Yonathan Mizrachi is an Israeli archaeologist who used to work for the IAA, but left the body in order to establish Emek Shevah, an organization which monitors the role of archaeology in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yonathan says the importance of and contention over the site in Tel Rumeida come from the possible implication it has for the demographic balance of the area. “In 2014 the IAA began a new excavation in Tel Rumeida on behalf of the settlers in order to make the site an archaeological park,” Yonathan told Ma’an. “When we started to monitor activity in Tel Rumeida, we began to see different ways that archaeology is used as a political tool,” he said.
“First of all, the idea of developing an archaeological park is the best way — from the settlers’ point of view — of how they can take over the land. They also realize that it can increase their power and their legitimacy over this place,” Mizrachi added.
The IAA — supported and sponsored by the Israeli government — received 7 million shekels ($1.8 million) last year from Israel’s Ministry of Culture and Sport for the Tel Rumeida project, according to Mizrachi.
Abu Haikel told Ma’an that her family owns segments of land in Tel Rumeida, parts of which have been confiscated by the Israeli military and are threatened by the expansion of the archaeological park. “Our daily life is difficult. To live in Tel Rumeida you have to be very strong, very patient and very peaceful,” Arwa said. She spoke of her fear from increasing numbers of settlers in the area, and the problem that a large influx of tourists to a settler-run archaeological park may pose for Palestinian residents. “Through the years, we have been attacked many times by settlers, especially by buses of Zionist extremist tour groups. They cause a lot of trouble for us and have physically assaulted us many times… I have a problem in the nerve of my eye from being attacked by a settler,” Abu Haikal explained to Ma’an.
The manipulation of history
Dr. Ahmed Rjoub is the director of the Department of Site Management at the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. When speaking to Ma’an about his concerns over the management of Tel Rumeida, Rjoub explained that “the conflict is all on history, and as such Tel Rumeida is a conflicted place, not just in terms of the physical space but a conflict over history and culture, heritage and identity.
“We have a lot of fears that the history, the archaeology and the remains of this site will be faked for the interests of Israeli heritage,” Rjoub told Ma’an.
Rjoub had grave concerns over the conservation of the site, especially regarding any artifacts that might be related to Islamic heritage. “They actually found some tombs and ruins relating to the Roman and Islamic period and removed them,” he claimed. Rjoub said that such excavations — their methods in particular — violate standards put in place by both Palestinian and international law, and are “against the ethics of archaeology.
“Such excavations, especially the methods of excavations, violate the international standards of Palestinian and international law, and are against the ethics of archaeology.”
“As members of the PA we tried to interfere,” Rjoub told Ma’an.
“In Oslo there is an article saying any project in Area C should be coordinated with the PA. But unfortunately Israel violates even the Oslo Accords, and refused our official requests to visit even as technical and professional archaeologists,” Rjoub said.
Explaining how the political motivations behind the excavations go against the grain of archaeological convention, Rjoub said: “They have preconceptions and interpretations over this site before they have even started the excavations.
“This is very wrong, and it isn’t a scientific method to interpret the remains before you’ve even finished excavating.”
Mizrachi also raised misgivings over the integrity of Israeli archaeological practice in the occupied Palestinian territory.
“We [Emek Shevah] are monitoring all kinds of activities of the Israelis in the West Bank,” Mizrachi said. “Based on previous and present cases that we know about, we have a lot of criticism in regards to which periods are being emphasized and narrated to the people.”
Mizrachi told Ma’an that there are those who attempt to identify the layers of ruins with a “specific culture of today,” labeling the area as a “Jewish site” or a “Muslim site.”
“In this land you might find an ancient synagogue, church or mosque, obviously it is very dear to a specific culture, but it doesn’t mean that you can claim sovereignty over it. It means that it is part of the heritage of a place and you should protect it according to the international convention,” Mizrachi said.
After lobbying efforts — carried out by the Palestinian municipality, Tel Rumeida residents, Emek Shevah and Israeli rights group Breaking the Silence — the Israeli Civil Administration in the West Bank agreed to cancel the lease of the site to an pro-settlement organization, Association for Renewed Jewish Settlement in Hebron, a few weeks ago. However, this does not signal that the struggle in Tel Rumeida, or for archaeology throughout the occupied Palestinian territory, is over. Rjoub spoke of a move to raise the issue with UNESCO due to the universal value of the site. “The international community has a responsibility to protect this site as part of everyone’s history”, he said.“It’s not just Palestinian cultural heritage either — this heritage is for all,” Rjoub added.
Seeing as archaeology does not conform to contemporary political borders — such as Israel’s separation wall, the Green Line, or the West Bank’s delineation of Areas A, B and C — conforming excavations to a framework of military occupation has rendered the practice problematic. There is little structure in place to enforce accountability regarding archaeological conduct, and other sites such as as the City of David’s national park in occupied East Jerusalem as well as the Tel Shilo national park have been criticized for their current management. Israeli excavations in occupied Palestinian land appear to systematically abuse the occupation force’s power and flout International Law, whilst alienating Palestinians from their cultural heritage.
Megan Hanna is a freelance photographer and journalist based in the occupied Palestinian territory.
Attempt by settlers to begin construction of walking path on Tel Rumeida. The blue fence is on the
On 24 March 2014, settlers attempted to begin construction of a walking path outside the fenced “archaeological” dig near the Abu Haikal home on Tel Rumeida. The settlers pounded in metal stakes in an area just below the fence erected by Israelis around what was once the orchard of the Abu Haikal family, and is now an archaeological site to which Palestinians, including Palestinian archaeological experts, are denied access. The stakes are a first step in an apparent attempt to link the settlement of Tel Rumeida to the fenced area of the archaeological dig.
Palestinians living in the building adjacent to the land on which the settlers were trespassing called the police, who ordered the settlers to stop. However, the following day, 25 March, soldiers arrived at the home of the Abu Haikal family and threatened them with arrest.
Feryal Abu Haikal had just finished hosting a group of neighbors, along with the Palestinian Liaison Officer and an officer from the Hebron Governor’s office, when soldiers arrived at her home and began to dispute the ownership of some of the land on Tel Rumeida, showing her a map that contained false information. The soldiers told Feryal Abu Haikal that no visitors are allowed on the land surrounding her home, and threatened to arrest and deport any internationals there, including members of the Abu Haikal family.
For background on the settler archaeological dig on Tel Rumeida click here
To see a map of multiple land-grab efforts by settlers in Hebron click here.
|The Al-Rajabi building.
Settlers have won a victory in their ongoing attempt to grab land for a new settlement in Hebron. On 11 March 2014, the Israeli Supreme Court agreed to hand over the Al-Rajabi building in the Old City of Hebron to settlers, despite the grim humanitarian impacts of the decision on Palestinians living in the neighborhood. The Hebron Rehabilitation Committee (HRC) has appealed to the international community to speak out against this violation of Palestinian property rights, and to use all means available to prevent the creation of a new settlement in the Old City of Hebron.
Settlers claimed ownership of Al-Rajabi house on 19 September 2007, when a group of them stormed into the building in the middle of the night. In November 2008, the court found that the settler’s purchase documents were forged and evicted them, placing the building under military control pending a final decision. In reaction, Hebron settlers set fire to Palestinian homes, farms, olive trees, and vehicles in the area. Six Palestinians were injured, two with live ammunition. On 11 March 2014, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the Palestinian owner of the building must, against his will, accept payment from Israeli settlers in the amount specified in the forged sale documents.
A thirty minute walk from the Al Rajabi building settlers are using “archaeology” to rewrite the history of the city and take control of two large plots of land on top of the hilly neighborhood of Tel Rumeida. On 5 January, Israeli settlers and soldiers uprooted fifty almond trees belonging to the Abu Heikal family, and began digging on two plots of land that surround the family’s home, and which the family has leased and cultivated for sixty-five years.
Since January, the settlers have used heavy earth-moving equipment to remove truckloads of soil from the orchard. Tall metal fences now cut the Abu Heikal home off from the orchard, leaving the house accessible by only a narrow drive. Fencing off the land, which soldiers have declared a “closed military zone,” has also isolated portions of the Tel Rumeida neighborhood, making it difficult for residents to walk to shops and the nearby mosque.
|Israelis have unearthed and desecrated what Palestinian archaeological experts believe are three Muslim graves,
constructed on bedrock with stones pointing toward Mecca. Pictured is second of three Muslim graves unearthed by
settlers digging on Tel Rumeida. In this photo, the grave has been partially removed.
|This public footpath has been fenced off
and replaced with a longer path with a
gate at each end, leading to these steep
and precarious dirt steps
According to Hamed Salem, chairperson of Birzeit University’s archaeology department, the dig is illegal and is merely an attempt to “advance the settler’s political agenda by using archaeology to justify their presence in Hebron.” An archaeologist from the Palestinian Ministry of Antiquities recently attempted to inspect the site but was denied access. The Israeli Culture Ministry and Civil Administration are financing the dig, and expect it to cost an estimated NIS seven million. Residents of Tel Rumeida fear that because such a large sum has been allocated there may be plans for much greater destruction of surrounding ancient olive trees and orchards. The Abu Heikal family is currently challenging the legality of the excavation in the Israeli Civil Court system.
Roughly midway between the Al Rajabi building and Tel Rumeida, near the Ibrahimi Mosque, settlers are attempting to gain control of five buildings: the Bouderi House and the Tomb of Abner, both directly outside the entrance to the Ibrahimi Mosque, the Ashhab Shops, across the street from the Gutnick Center, which is directly in front of the Ibrahimi Mosque, the Abu Rajab house near Checkpoint 209, and the Al-Sharif House, the front door of which opens onto the street just below the Ibrahimi Mosque. In recent months settlers and soldiers seeking to access the Al-Sharif building have attempted to open the house from the front directly below the mosque by breaking open a welded door, and have repeatedly invaded the home of the Al-Atrash family, which shares an enclosed courtyard with the Al Sharif building. If settlers are allowed to occupy these seven sites the humanitarian impacts on residents of Hebron’s Old City neighborhoods will be devastating. The targeted properties are links in a chain that, if completed, would effectively encircle the Ibrahimi Mosque and link the four existing settlements inside the Old City to the larger settlement of Kiryat Arba, which borders the Old City. This connection would cut off Palestinian neighborhoods and homes from access to schools and services, and would put all of the Old City under increased risk of settler incursions and violence. Currently about 500 settlers live in the four downtown Hebron settlements of Beit Hadassah, Avraham Avinu, Beit Romano, and Tel Rumeida. An additional 7,000 live in Kiryat Arba.
Hebron, Occupied Palestine – On the afternoon of February 11, 2014, settlers in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood of Al-Khalil (Hebron) cut down trees belonging to the Abu Eisheh family. While attempting to film the destruction of the trees, four human rights activists were arrested by Israeli police.
At approximately 3:30 p.m., three activists, a Swiss-American, an American, and an Italian, were sitting in their apartment in Tel Rumeida when they heard a commotion outside. Outside the apartment, they found a group of settlers, Palestinians, Israeli soldiers and Israeli police. They were informed by the Palestinians that a group of settlers was cutting down trees at a house just up the road.
The three activists began filming but were not allowed up the road to where the tree-cutting was taking place. While filming, the American activist was physically assaulted by a settler. None of the soldiers or police officers present intervened. Instead, the Israeli police took the passports belonging to the American and Swiss-American and told them to sit on the ground.
At this time, the Italian citizen returned to the apartment, where she was joined by a fourth activist, an American, who had just arrived. Shortly thereafter, a group of soldiers and police officers attempted to enter the apartment. They were not allowed entry, but briefly questioned the two activists outside the apartment door. The Israeli police then confiscated the passports belonging to the American and the Italian.
Not long after, all four activists were transported to the police station near Kiryat Arba, where they were interrogated and threatened with deportation. After seven hours, the activists were released.
The following day, February 12th, two activists from Christian Peacemaker Teams visited Tel Rumeida to document the destruction of the trees. They were not there long before several Israeli soldiers approached them, told them to stop filming, and took their passports. They were held for two hours before their passports were returned. Israeli soldiers informed the two activists that if they approached the trees again they would be arrested.
The destruction of Palestinian trees by settlers is a chronic problem, not only in Tel Rumeida, but all over the West Bank. In the past month alone, more than 2500 trees in the village of Sinjil were destroyed by settlers. Trees have also recently been destroyed by settlers in Qusra, Ramallah, and Nablus. Fruit trees are an essential resource for the Palestinian community, and their damage causes serious economic loss. It takes as long as 12 years for an olive tree to reach full maturity.
Hebron, Occupied Palestine – One international was arrested after settlers fenced off the Asseh family home for a second day in a row in Hebron’s Tel Rumeida area.
Yesterday, early Saturday morning, settlers tied a fence across the exit of the Asseh family home with a wire gate to prevent them from leaving for a second day. After the family and internationals removed the gate, settler children threw rocks, water and water mixed with faeces at them. Two Israeli soldiers stood close and did nothing. The police arrived but also took no action despite being informed of what had happened.
Within an hour of the Asseh family and the internationals dispersing, the gate had been reassembled and reinforced. One adult male settler stood over the gate and prevented anyone from passing through or disassembling it. After 20 minutes the Asseh family and internationals finally managed to remove the gate despite repeated physical attacks by the settler. A number of internationals sustained minor injuries. During this, soldiers continued to stand by and do nothing.
The police arrived and first questioned the settler and then two soldiers who were present. After being shown video footage by an international, police demanded that four internationals accompany them to the police station to file a complaint. When the internationals requested to file the complaint later, police became violent and arrested one international. Other internationals were thrown to the ground by police and soldiers who assisted the arrest. The arrested international was eventually released after being questioned in the police station at the illegal settlement of Givat Havot.
Illegal settlers prevent family from leaving their home and attack internationals whilst Israeli soldiers watch
Yesterday, 11th October at 7 pm, a group of settlers of the illegal settlement of Tel Rumeida surrounded the entrance of the Azzeh family property and built a wire fence to block the exit. Young settlers fixed the fence in place using plastic cable ties.
Hashem Azzeh and his family were about to leave the house when they found the gate blocking their way and the settlers confronted them saying they couldn’t go out that way any more. A group of Israeli soldiers were present but did not stop the action.
Two international activists arrived on the scene and were surrounded by settlers and physically and verbally attacked by them, one of them had water thrown over his camera and another was kicked. An international journalist also present was hospitalized after a settler threw bleach into her eyes. After more international activists arrived, they managed to remove the fence. Despite multiple appeals to the Israeli soldiers to prevent the settler violence by both the Azzeh family and the international activists, they took no action. Jewish Defense League leader Baruch Marzel, was left free to verbally attack Hashem Azzeh.
The Azzeh family has long been a target of settler intimidation and harassment. Last Thursday during the night settlers trespassed on the Azzeh family property and stole about 400 Kilos of olives from 40 olive trees. Hashem Azzeh had been prevented from starting his olive harvest pending a permit from the Israeli Civil Administration. Four days after his olive trees had been raided, he was suddenly informed by the administration that he should start his harvest immediately, but unfortunately he doesn’t have any olive trees left.
On 23 September 2013, in response to the death of Israeli soldier Staff Sgt. Gal Kobi, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for illegal settlement expansion in the Old City of Hebron.
At 1:00 a.m. on Tuesday 24 September, the Christian Peacemaker Team in Hebron received reports from the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee that Israeli settlers had re-occupied the Abu Rajib house west of the Tomb of the Patriarchs. Settlers had been evicted from the building in April of 2012.
The resettlement of the Abu Rajib house is a direct and significant risk to the community of Hebron, international law, and human rights, as settlements are illegal under international law and impede the ongoing peace process.
In addition to the illegality of the settlement, the location of Abu Rajib will constitute a severe threat to the freedom of movement for Palestinians. The house sits between two Palestinian Schools and Israeli military checkpoint 209, which CPT monitors every morning as part of its school patrol. If the settlement remains, it will be in the middle of an area hundreds of Palestinian children must pass each morning to attend classes.
Over the past week of the Jewish holiday of Sukkoth, the Israeli military has increased its presence with additional soldiers on the ground, occupying Palestinian homes and turning them into military outposts in and around the area of the Abu Rajib house. As a result, school attendance at Al-Faihaa girl’s school and Al-Ibrahimmiye has dropped.
On Monday, 23 September, the Al-Faihaa girl’s school was shut down completely since so few students were able to attend classes. The added Israeli military presence installed around the settlement will continue this trend.
Israeli settlement expansion has led to several cases of violence between Palestinians and Israelis, including near the settlement of Tel Rumeida.
“For the residents of Tel Rumeida, living next to settlers means living under constant threat of attack,” said a representative from the human rights observer organization, the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). “The Abu Shamsiyeh family who live in Tel Rumeida is particularly vulnerable to attacks, as settlers and Jewish tourists tend to enter their roof and even invade their garden without permission. Most use this private Palestinian roof to enjoy the view of the city, but incidents have occurred where settlers threw stones and garbage down at the family, urinating into their garden and verbally harassing the family.
“Last month, settler youth entered the family’s garden, threw stones at them, and beat their thirteen-year old son. When Abu Shamsiyeh asked the soldier stationed outside their house for help, he came down and watched as settlers kicked Abu Shamsiyeh, and another soldier pushed his wife, who was videoing the incident, to the ground.”
If the Abu Rajib settlement is allowed to stay, in breach of international law and during the ongoing peace negotiations, the rise in settler violence against Palestinian youth and adults will escalate.
Hebron, Occupied Palestine – Sukkot is a joyful festival in Judaism; however its impact upon day-to-day life in Khalil has only caused greater problems for the Palestinians. Many residents of Khalil have commented that it is during this holiday period every year where daily life in the city becomes all the more difficult.
Last week soldiers began preparations for taking over a house next to the container checkpoint 209 (Quatoum/Abu Rish), which belongs to a Palestinian family. The family received a military order informing them that this house would be occupied by the Israeli army until Tuesday 24th September, the end of Sukkot. Due to the large number of Jewish tourists visiting Hebron during Sukkot, reinforcement brigades have been sent to Hebron, and due to lack of accommodation for these additional soldiers, the army decided to take over this Palestinian house and use it as a military base for the duration of the holiday. Residents of this area have stated that since the soldiers began occupying the house, child detainment and arrests have increased, and there are further concerns that checkpoint 209 may be moved in an attempt to increase control in the surrounding area.
Today, Saturday 21st September, several clashes and attacks took place between settler youth and Palestinian children and teenagers in Tel Rumeida. Additionally, as on every Shabbat, settlers invaded the roof of the Abu Shamsiyeh family and verbally attacked international activists who, at the request of the family, were monitoring the entrance to the roof as it is often entered without family permission. In the past, settlers have attacked the family by throwing stones, spitting at, beating members of the family and urinating into their garden.
On Friday 20th September, clashes erupted in the afternoon as Palestinian youths threw stones at checkpoint 56. After the PA (responsible for this area of Hebron which is part of H1) chased away the stone-throwers, the clashes moved into the OldCity and souq of Hebron, which is part of H2 and thus under Israeli military control. Throughout Friday evening and most of Saturday, Palestinian youths were throwing stones and Molotov cocktails, whilst Israeli soldiers responded with sound grenades, teargas and rubber-coated steel bullets. International activists witnessed border police shooting teargas canisters directly at protesters, as opposed to shooting it in an arch as they are supposed to under Israeli army regulations. Further clashes are expected tomorrow as settlers and Jewish tourists invade area H1.
On Sunday 22nd and Monday 23rd September, tens of thousands of Jewish tourists are expected to descend upon Hebron for Sukkot celebrations. On important Jewish holidays, there is a tradition of the settler community, alongside Jewish tourists, visiting a house in H1 (the Palestinian-controlled part of Hebron) which they claim used to be the home of a rabbi and thus holds religious significance. The Israeli military has ordered the closure of the road outside checkpoint 56 leading to Yatta between 10am and 3pm on Sunday 22nd September. The house that the settlers and Jewish tourists pilgrim to is located on said road, however it is the first time ever that the Israeli military has formally ordered the closure of the road and the shops located there. This order is a clear violation of the Hebron Agreement, signed in 1997 by the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government, which divided the city into areas H1 and H2 under Palestinian and Israeli military control respectively.
“They consider us as the enemy. These are extreme settlers.”
Hishem, a Palestinian, sits with us in the shade of an olive tree in front of his home in Wadi al Hussein, Hebron. His children are playing on the hill behind us, and directly behind them stands the vast Israeli settlement of Kiryat Arba. There, a man – a settler – is standing on his balcony watching us.
It is hard to know where to start when trying to explain the settlers of Hebron. They are at the heart of the problems here. One of my first encounters with them was on my second proper day of work, when I was walking down Shuhada Street and found myself on the wrong end of an egg thrown by a little settler boy of 7 or 8 years old. One of the local shopkeepers, Munir, has now nicknamed me ‘Umm Baydah’ or ‘Mother Egg’, for being the first of my group to be hit by one. He said “now you are a Palestinian”, and told me to start a tally count.
You might think, what kind of parents give their children things to throw at people walking down the street? But eggs are the least of it. Hishem’s extended family has been attacked, had their windows smashed, their homes set on fire and even been shot by their settler neighbours.
The settlers of Hebron are a religiously motivated group of Israeli Jews who occupy four areas, known as settlements, in the centre of H2 (Israel-controlled), Hebron, and two settlements in the Wadi where Hishem lives. They are known for their willingness to use violence, harassment and intimidation against those they perceive to be standing in the way of them achieving their goals, which are primarily to rid the city of Palestinians. The settlers never refer to Palestinians, always to Arabs because they deny that there was ever such a place as Palestine or such a people as the Palestinians. They say that the Palestinians should leave and go to one of “their own” Arab countries.
All settlements, including those in East Jerusalem, are illegal under international law. Every country in the world recognises this except Israel. From some of my stories so far, it might seem like there is one set of rules for Israelis and one for Palestinians. That’s because there actually is. In the West Bank the Israeli authorities enforce Israeli civil law on settlers, but military law on Palestinians.
The settlers believe in Eretz Israel – greater Israel – that Israel should permanently encompass the Palestinian territory of East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. These are the areas currently occupied and/ or controlled by the Israeli army. Some settlers believe that Israel’s borders should stretch even further afield than this into other countries. Their beliefs contradict all international understandings of where Israel’s borders should be.
These are the nuts and bolts of the daily battle being played out in H2. Everything is about who owns what, who can walk or drive where, even who can stand where. Hebron is the only city in the West Bank to have Israeli settlers living in its centre. The city is of religious significance because it is where Abraham and his sons and their wives lived, and are buried. It is the second holiest site for Jews, the fourth holiest site for Muslims, and is also of significance to Christians.
The settlers believe that they are doing God’s work in ridding Hebron of Palestinians, and dream of turning it into a Jewish city. But I don’t know of any God that would approve of their behaviour. Ironically, there tends to be most trouble on Friday nights and Saturdays – the Jewish Sabbath. One of my jobs is to be present whilst hundreds of settlers walk from Kiryat Arba through a Palestinian neighbourhood to pray at the synagogue on a Friday night. Dozens of extra soldiers are bussed in to protect them but some of the settlers carry their own rifles too. I find it quite bizarre, and certainly one of the least holy sights I have ever seen.
On the Sabbath last week, a colleague from another international organisation saw a group of teenage settler girls spitting at a group of Palestinian girls on Shuhada Street. Again, not so holy. I met Nadar, Noocha and their family, who showed me their windows which were smashed by settlers. They live next to the synagogue in Hebron. A Palestinian I meet called Hani tells me he does not believe that the settlers follow the true Jewish faith.
The settlers seem to be willing to do almost anything to achieve their aims. This short film clip, from Israeli human rights organisation BT’Selem, first shows one of the settlers explaining things for herself, and then some of her actions. At least watch the first 2 minutes if you can – I’m pretty sure you’ll be shocked.
You might have noticed the solider standing by whilst the settler abuses her neighbour and then the solider pushing the Palestinian woman, rather than dealing with the settler children attacking her home. Palestinians often report that soldiers do nothing whilst settlers are on the attack. I have already seen for myself the close relations between many settlers and soldiers, with settlers bringing food and drinks to soldiers throughout the day, and even settler children playing in military watch points whilst soldiers are on duty there.
In March this year, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said,
“settler violence continues to be perpetrated with impunity… Israel needs to hold perpetrators accountable. While investigations are not opened into most incidents of settler violence, between 2005 and 2011, only 9 per cent of the investigations opened resulted in an indictment.”
Hani, Reema and their family live just past the caged house in that BT’Selem film clip, by the settlement of Tel Rumeida. They have to walk past the settlement and through the yard of an Israeli army base to get to their house. They can’t take a car to their house. They have been harassed and attacked by their neighbours many times. The settlers have even tried to burn down their home, and have come in the night to smash it up. About a month ago, they tried to burn down the family’s 300 olive trees for the ninth time, scorching the land, and making some of it impossible to harvest this year. Burning and chopping down olive trees is a common tactic of settlers across the West Bank.
“Aren’t you frightened?” I ask Reema and she replies, “At the start we were frightened but now we are used to it.”
One of our duties on the Sabbath is to spend time sitting on the roof of the Abu Shamsiya family’s home in H2. The flat roof of the family’s home backs onto Shuhada Street, and has a small Israeli army watchtower on it which does not appear to be used at present. From the roof you can look out across the city of Hebron, and down onto the family’s terrace below. The terrace has a cage around it to try and stop the family being struck by objects thrown by settlers on the roof. In the past, these objects have included eggs (they seem to be a favourite) and stones, and settlers have even urinated on them.
So the reason for our presence is to deter settlers from coming onto the roof. The first time I sat there, we prevented three settler groups from coming onto the roof. A teenage boy in one of them had a rifle slung across his person. On Tuesday, we were unable to prevent one settler coming onto the family’s roof when we were there. He pointed at the view of the Palestinian city, “This is Israel” he said. ”It’s Palestine” I said. “Lo” (no) he said. Another group that my colleague saw gestured at the view of the Palestinian city and said “All of this will be Jewish”.
Virtually every Palestinian home in H2 has a kind of cage across the windows to try to guard against settler attacks. It is hard to get used to seeing children waving and shouting hello to us from behind these cages.
On Monday last week when I was doing the lunchtime school run (accompanying Palestinian children to Cordoba School down Shuhada Street) about 150 settlers, most of them teenagers, arrived apparently on some kind of tour. Remember – they can go anywhere in H2 but the Palestinians are very restricted as to where they can even walk. The settlers were congregating at the bottom of the school steps. When it came time for the kids to go home from school, many of them were scared to go down the stairs because of the settlers. I walked up and down the steps with them, to try to make them feel more secure, and it seemed to give them confidence to be able to get home. Although the truth is that I had no way of knowing whether the settlers would cause trouble. Luckily, the worst they did was to stare at us all, and shout and throw things at the feet of my male colleague who arrived to help me.
Not all Israeli settlers are religious extremists like those in Hebron. Some, who live in settlements in Palestinian East Jerusalem for example, are economically motivated. They are attracted by the housing subsidies that the Israeli government provides in many settlements.
Wherever they are located though, there is no doubt that the settlers and settlement expansion, are a major barrier to peace between Israel and Palestine.
Hani and his son have both spent time in prison for retaliating when settlers have attacked them. But Hani tells me that he now believes in non-violent resistance because it gets more positive results. He says it helps him to separate hatred for a policy from hatred for a people, and believes that it can help those in other countries, especially Jews, to see what is happening here.
You might ask, how do the Palestinians put up with this? Why don’t they give up? How can they carry on living where they do, facing such violence and harassment on a daily basis? I asked a few of the people I met whether they would ever think of leaving,
“At the end of the day, it’s our right to our land,” says Hani.
“We are here, and we will stay here. This is our land.” says Hishem.
“We will stay here in a tent if we have to, we will not leave,” says another.
Many of them could not afford to go elsewhere, and where would they go anyway? Over 60% of the West Bank is directly under Israeli control. And many of them, like Hishem’s family, have already been refugees once from the time that the State of Israel was created. And why should they leave? As international law confirms, this IS their land.
But there is another reason, one which is about the Palestinians as a people.
The truth is that they must not leave if the dream of having a Palestinian state is ever to be realised. The settlers and the soldiers must not succeed in cleansing Hebron – or anywhere else in the West Bank – of Palestinians.
I hope that my presence here, and that of my EAPPI colleagues, somehow helps to make it a tiny bit easier for them to stay. One man tells me, “When settlers see people like you they are less likely to cause problems, especially on a Friday and Saturday.” And Hani says, “Before, we were alone as Palestinians with the Israelis but because of the internationals – people like you – we have witnesses to the violence of the settlers. This makes things a bit better for us.”
Just knowing that makes being here worthwhile.
- Four young boys arrested and beaten in Hebron (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Soldiers assault a twelve-year-old Palestinian while settlers invade family rooftop in Hebron (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- “Shabbat shalom” – no peace for Palestinians in Hebron this Saturday (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Yom Kippur – Illegal Israeli settlers attack Palestinian farmer attempting to harvest almonds (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Israeli settlers torch Hebron family’s property for eighth time (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Hebron, Occupied Palestine – Saturday August 3rd was not a peaceful Saturday for the Palestinians in Hebron. At approximately 16.30 two settlers invaded the roof of the Abu Shamsiya family in Tel Rumeida, whilst three soldiers attacked a twelve year old boy in the street nearby.
When the settlers on the roof were approached by internationals and told that they were on private property and therefore had to leave, they refused and said they came there every week. The fact that they had entered a private home without consent of the family did not concern them, on the contrary they expressed that they felt it was their right. When asked to leave the settlers behaved aggressively by yelling and continuously refusing to do so. After having argued with internationals one of the settlers threatened to lie to the soldiers and say that they had been hit by the internationals. He argued that even though it was not true, the soldiers would believe him over the international activists.
As seen in the video below, in the meantime three Israeli soldiers assaulted three young boys just down the street. The soldiers started by harshly pushing one boy, afterwards they grabbed a second boy, Islam by the hair and kicked him. Thereafter a third boy ran to his house chased by the soldiers. When internationals asked why the military was chasing the boy, they lied and said the boys had been throwing stones. The boy said that he had simply ran because he was scared after having seen his twelve-year-old friend, Islam being brutally attacked by soldiers for no apparent reason.
These are not unusual events. The Abu Shamsiya family is often victim of settler and military harassment, the family’s roof is on street level and settlers often go there to throw stones, harass the family and break their property. Saturdays are particularly violent in Hebron, only last week both Abu Shamsiya and his son Muhammed were attacked by settlers whilst the military was watching, with Abu Shamsiya then being arrested on false charges while the settlers were freed without charges.
Hebron has large settlements in the middle of the city housing approximately 500 settlers some of whom are extremely aggressive and violent. Additionally there are 2500 Israeli occupation soldiers stationed in the city.
Hebron, Occupied Palestine – Stone and egg-throwing, beating and kicking, headscarves torn off and an arrest based on two soldiers lying. This sunny Saturday in Hebron (Al-Khalil) was all about settler youth attacking innocent Palestinians and internationals while soldiers looked the other way.
Today, 27th of July, the Shabbat started as usual in Hebron with the settler tour through the Old City. A group of settlers surrounded by soldiers entered the Old City through the Peace Garden and went through the streets, preventing Palestinians from passing. The soldiers invaded several Palestinian houses in order to access the roofs. After an hour, the “tour” left the Old City through the entrance to Beit Romano settlement.
Later, at around 4pm, whilst walking down Shuhada Street international activists had stones thrown at them by two settler teenage boys. When they returned an hour later, they were attacked again by settler youths who jumped at them and violently pulled off their headscarves outside Beit Hadassah settlement. When the internationals complained to the soldier stationed at the nearby checkpoint, he showed no sympathy and said his job was only to protect the Jews living in Hebron.
About half an hour later, three international activists were passing by the Qurtoba School when a masked settler ran up the hill towards them, throwing eggs. One activist was hit in the face with two eggs whilst soldiers looked on from the watchtower above the school – they took no action against the settlers saying only “What do you want us to do?”
At around 6pm some settlers – who had previously been bathing in the Abraham spring close to the Islamic cemetery next to Shuhada Street whilst being guarded by a group of soldiers – tried to steal a home-made kite off two Palestinian kids. A Palestinian teenager managed to prevent them from taking it.
At around 6.30pm, a group of about thirty settler youths entered the property of the Abu Shamsiya family in Tel Rumeida. They threw stones at the family who were outside on the veranda preparing food for the iftaar fast-breaking meal. They also beat the 11-year old son of the family, Muhammad. When his father, Abu Shamsiya, went to the soldier stationed at the checkpoint just outside his house to complain and ask for help, the soldier simply told the settlers to go ahead and continue attacking the family.
A settler youth then ran up to Abu Shamsiya and violently kneed him in the stomach right in front of the soldier. Another soldier grabbed Abu Shamsiya’s wife Fayseh, who was filming the incident, by her hair and pulled her to the ground. The police, who happened to be parked in their car just up the road, finally decided to intervene. Abu Shamsiya complained against the two soldiers who had attacked him and his family and were complicit in the settler violence.
In a rare turn of events, the police believed Abu Shamsiya’s story – although the soldiers denied it – and took these two soldiers to the police station for further questioning. However, they did not arrest any of the settlers, who escaped into the Tel Rumeida settlement and the police chose not to follow them. The group of settler youths returned soon after and although Abu Shamsiya and various other eyewitnesses clearly pointed out the attackers to the police, they took no action.
Abu Shamsiya himself was later taken to the police station in order to file an official complaint and so that the police could examine his video footage of the incident. The Abu Shamsiya family were initially hopeful that this might lead to some positive result, but two hours later they got a phone call that Abu Shamsiya was now being detained in the police station on the charge of spitting at soldiers. Clearly the two soldiers whom he complained against wanted revenge and made up this story to incriminate him. His family is deeply worried and hopes he will be released by tomorrow.
During the same incident, which attracted a lot of onlookers outside Abu Shamsiya’s house, Palestinians, settlers and internationals alike, a settler woman who is notorious for being extremely aggressive and has attacked internationals and Palestinians on several occasions, started pushing and shouting at an international activist as well as pulling at her scarf to strangle her. This happened right in front of a group of soldiers who chose to just stand by and watch, and even mocked the international activist when she complained and asked whether they thought it was okay for her to get strangled in the middle of the street.
Although the settler attacks in Hebron are not always as numerous and severe as they were on this particular day, none of what happened today is new or unusual to the residents of Hebron. Hebron is the only West Bank city that has settlers living inside the city itself. It is home to a particularly extreme and aggressive settler community, numbering about 500, that constantly harasses, intimidates and attacks Palestinians with near impunity and the protection of about 2,500 Israeli occupation soldiers stationed in Hebron.
Update 28th July: Israeli authorities are demanding 1000NIS on bail to release Abu Shamsiya. He will have a court hearing soon (exact day still unknown).
- Jabari family once again facing harassment from settlers and soldiers (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Soldiers invade two Palestinian houses – for training only (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Live ammunition shot at Youth Against Settlement house in Hebron (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Palestinian activist detained in Israeli raid (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Hebron, Occupied Palestine – Last night, Israeli occupation soldiers invaded two houses in Tel Rumeida, Hebron, one being the Sumud house and the headquarters of the Palestinian human rights organisation Youth Against Settlements.
At 21:15 pm three groups consisting of four Israeli soldiers each invaded the Sumud house from different directions. The heavily armed soldiers took the residents of the house completely by surprise, as they had been sneaking through the nearby olive groves. After harassing the people at the Sumud house and creating some mess, the soldiers retreated into the olive groves, only to invade the neighbouring house’s back-garden using the latter to climb over the wall surrounding the property. The aim of the exercise is unclear but soldiers seemed to have practised how to break into a house.
Activists from Youth Against Settlements as well as the International Solidarity Movement who were present at the scene strongly believe the invasion to have been a training exercise, as the soldiers could not show a court order justifying the invasion, nor did they arrest anyone. The precise goal and nature of the exercise remain unclear. By 22pm, all soldiers had gone, leaving a trail of confusion and broken property.
Although this is the first time the Sumud house has been targeted in what is clearly a training excersise, such incidents are not uncommon in the H2 area of Hebron, where 35,000 Palestinians live under the constant presence and control of a couple of thousand Israeli soldiers. “I am not training material. I am not an object,” local human rights activist Issa Amro commented after the incident. Amro subsequently called the Israeli DCO (District Coordination Office), which did not seem to know about the harassment and were unable to offer any explanation for the invasion of the two houses.
- Father and 7-year-old son illegally detained in occupied Hebron (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Jabari family once again facing harassment from settlers and soldiers (alethonews.wordpress.com)