By Avital Aboody
On April 24, 2010 at around 15:45 a group of approximately 50 Palestinian, Israeli, and International activists gathered in Hebron next to the checkpoint gate separating Shuhada Street from the Casbah. The protest was organized by a Palestinian group in Hebron called “Youth Against Settlements” and the organizers hope to hold these protests every week with the intention of disrupting the army-accompanied settler tour that goes through the Casbah (Old City) every Saturday. The Casbah is within H2, an area that comprises 20% of the city of Hebron and is considered Zone B, meaning that it is receives Palestinian municipal services but is under Israeli military control. Both Palestinians and Israelis can access the Casbah, but Palestinians are restricted from walking just a fewer meters further, beyond the imposing gate/checkpoint to the sight of the former marketplace, Shuhada Street.
The protestors stood in front of the gate where the settlers’ tour usually enters, holding signs and chanting slogans in Arabic, English, and Hebrew.; this continued for some time without any disturbance. Soldiers and Israeli police looked onto and videotaped the protest from pillboxes and rooftops nearby and eventually, when the settlers and soldiers never showed up, the protest was declared over. However, within minutes, the protest was suddenly reignited with news that the settlers had managed to enter the Casbah through another entrance. The protestors then began to advance through the marketplace alleyways to where the tour was said to be but they were met by a line of soldiers who blocked their path. They continued chanting and tried to push past the soldiers claiming that it should not be a crime to walk through their own city. Protestors also tried several times to run around to different entrances into the market to prevent the tour from progressing, but each time they were met by a chain of soldiers and the face-off /pushing began again.
Amidst the chaos of running back and forth, one Israeli activist was arrested for no apparent reason. When the protesters re-grouped at the original location alongside the checkpoint gate, they formed a human wall in front of the soldiers by linking arms. The soldiers stood in front of the protestors, blocking them, in order to create a clear path for the settlers to exit the Casbah and pass through the gate back to Shuhada Street. Some Israeli protestors tried to speak with the soldiers, saying that this was not what they were raised to do and that they can refuse and join us. The soldiers know very well that the settlers are fanatic and that the Palestinians have every right to be there, yet they too are trapped within this insane reality that effectively strips them of their ability to think and feel and act in the way that they know to be right.
I found myself standing mere inches from the young soldiers, looking directly into their eyes to catch a glimmer of their discomfort and their acknowledgment of both my humanity and that of the Palestinians who held my hands. They could not return my gaze and continued to use their guns and thick vests to push us back and “do their job”. The police then arrived and arrested two more Israeli activists as well as a Palestinian activist and well-known resident of Tel Rumeida, Hebron. One of the arrests was particularly violent as the protestor, a former soldier who had himself served in Hebron during the second Intifada, was pushed to the ground and then dragged/carried away. The protest ended shortly afterward; the Israeli arrestees were held for approximately 8 hours while the Palestinian arrestee is still being held in the Kiryat Arbah police station, nearly 24 hours later. The protestors will return to the scene again next Saturday and all the Saturdays thereafter until the occupation of Hebron ends and its residents are free to live without constant harassment.
Video of the protest: