Tag Archives: Youth Against Settlements

The Daily Ordeal of Getting to School in Hebron

copied from my Electronic Intifada article here

 

Palestinian children in Hebron are forced to pass through Israeli military checkpoints in order to get to school.

(Osama Qawasmi/APA images)

The Qurduba School in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron is once again a target for harassment by Israeli occupation forces, as new restrictions on freedom of movement bring a wave of settler attacks and soldier violence.

Established in 1984, the Qurduba School sits surrounded by five Israeli settlements on a hilltop in central Hebron. To get to school every morning, pupils between the ages of 6 and 13 — and their women teachers — must navigate a maze of checkpoints and dangerous settler-inhabited streets.

Curfews, checkpoints, land confiscation, home demolitions, army and settler harassment, and other aspects of occupation within Palestinian life in Hebron intensified after February 1994 when extremist Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein, from the nearby settlement of Kiryat Arba, gunned down 24 Muslim worshippers at the Ibrahimi Mosque in the center of Hebron.

In the years following the massacre, the mosque was split into two parts, becoming half-mosque, half-synagogue. In 1997, the settler-populated area around the religious compound was cordoned off by Israel as H2, designating full Israeli military control, while the rest of Hebron was designated as H1, and remains under administration of thePalestinian Authority.

Since 2005, teachers with the Qudruba school coming into the Israeli-controlled H2 district from the H1 area of the Old City had secured the right, through demonstrations, to bypass the daily metal detector scans and bag inspections at the checkpoint. Instead, they were able to pass through a side gate to reach their school.

On Tuesday, 11 October, the army revoked this right for no apparent reason. “Through this special teachers-only gate,” school principal Ibtesam al-Jondy told The Electronic Intifada, “we were able to reach our school easily. It took only five minutes from the checkpoint to the school. Then suddenly, we were stopped for nothing. So all the teachers refused this order, because it’s our right [to pass through].”

In response to this injustice, teachers refused to submit to inspection, and held a demonstration with more than one hundred of their students, who left their empty classrooms to join their teachers at the checkpoint. In a shocking display of brutality, Israeli soldiers sent nine children to the hospital with injuries.

Eleven-year-old Yazan Sharbati, who was injured that Tuesday, told the International Solidarity Movement that “the army told us to go back to school, and we told them that without teachers there is no school … I was so afraid that something bad was going to happen. The soldier pushed me very hard” (“Hebron school demonstrates for third day: “Without teachers there is no school,” 13 October 2011).

Protest struck a chord

The brutal repression of the 11 October checkpoint protest struck a chord in the Hebron community, and inspired an outburst of support in a city all too accustomed to violations of the right to freedom of movement. Over the next two days, community members and representatives from the Hebron governor’s office, along with the director of education in Hebron, stood in solidarity outside of the checkpoint with the students and teachers of the Qurduba School, who held the school day’s lessons outside of the checkpoint. On the third day of demonstrations, soldiers projected the high-LRAD sound cannon, nicknamed “the scream,” and fired rounds of tear gas to forcibly scatter the crowd. One teacher was arrested, and five students and demonstrators were injured.

Students, teachers and demonstrators returned to the checkpoint — Checkpoint 56 — every morning for two weeks. “During this period,” said al-Jondy, “many establishments tried to help us, but we got only promises, without solutions to our problem.” Though settlers had little to do with the events, the protests also inspired many settler attacks, as Palestinian news agency WAFA reported (“Settlers, soldiers continue attacks on Hebron schools,” 20 October 2011).

Inside the Israeli settlement of Tel Rumeida, said al-Jondy, “the settlers began to warn us … that they will settle in the empty school, and keep us away.” To save the school, coveted by settlers for its strategic hilltop location, the few teachers who lived inside H2, and did not encounter the checkpoint during their commute, reopened the school, while the other 13 Qurduba School teachers kept up a daily vigil outside the checkpoint.

Eventually, when all attempts to reason with the authorities failed, the teachers began using a much longer alternate route to bypass the checkpoint every morning. “Except for the Israeli soldiers,” lamented al-Jondy, “nobody has any power. The Ministry of Education spoke with the commander, but there is no solution. The Israeli army claimed they closed the checkpoint because of security. But every day for five years the same teachers come to the checkpoint. They have their names and identity numbers. They are on a list. They are not a security threat.”

Constant physical and psychological assaults

The students and teachers of Qurduba School are no strangers to the travails of occupation. The school sits atop a hill in the middle of downtown Hebron, within ample view of the Beit Hadassah, Tel Rumeida and Admot Yishai settlements, each of which consists of a few buildings and a handful of settler families. Across the street from the entrance to the Qurduba School, a door has long been adorned with graffiti reading “Gas The Arabs!JDL [Jewish Defense League].”

The building and its inhabitants are constantly physically and psychologically assaulted by settlers and soldiers. “There were about 450 pupils in the 1980s,” said al-Jondy. “Because of the occupation, because of the settlers and the bad situation here, this number began to decrease. This year we have only 149 pupils.”

Defence for Children International-Palestine Section (DCI-PS) stated in a 2008 report about the situation in Hebron that the area around the school and the settlements “is often the scene of violent confrontations” between Israeli settlers and Palestinian schoolchildren. “Settler schoolchildren … routinely verbally harass, chase, hit and throw stones at Palestinian schoolchildren under the watchful eyes of Israeli soldiers. Their parents and other adults engage in similar behavior, blocking the school steps with their cars to make it difficult for students to pass or setting their dogs loose to chase and terrorize young children” (“Under Attack: Settler Violence Against Palestinian Children in the Occupied Territory,” November 2008 [PDF]).

Hebron has been under occupation since 1969, when the first religious settlers, who had barricaded themselves in a downtown hotel room and refused to leave, were coaxed out by the Israeli military and given the nearby settlement of Kiryat Arba. Ten years later, the act was repeated in an abandoned hospital, and this time Israel allowed the squatters to settle in downtown Hebron.

Restrictions on Palestinian life in Hebron accelerated after the 1994 massacre, and the expulsion of Palestinians and their livelihoods from the heart of Hebron’s Old City became an institutionalized process after the area became Israeli-controlled H2 in 1997.

Now, at least 500 settlers and at least 2,000 soldiers have shut down Shuhada Street, the economic heart of both Hebron and the entire southern West Bank. The gradual takeover of Shuhada Street, beginning in the 1980s and culminating after the second intifada, has turned the once-bustling marketplace into a ghost town, and has caused the (often forced) abandonment of over 1,000 housing units and over 1,800 shops and storefronts — which now, in a cruel and ironic twist of history, are graffitied with the same Stars of David that once marred Jewish storefronts in 1930s Germany.

“Sometimes many students come to the school very late,” said al-Jondy. “When I ask them, ‘Why are you late?’ they tell me, ‘Last night I didn’t sleep, because the settlers threw empty bottles and stones at my house.’ So they come here drowsy and sleepy, and they can’t concentrate on any subjects during the day because of what happened during the night. Most of the students’ houses are close to the houses of the settlers, so they are very vulnerable .. sometimes as head teacher I come early to the school, and the settlers chase me with dogs, and I have to run from their dogs.”

The DCI-PS report cites the testimony of Raghad Hashim Younis al-Azza, a ten-year-old student of the Qurtuba School:

“About a year ago, I was going to school with my classmate Ruwand who lives on Shuhada Street. I was with my cousin Ahmad and our neighbour’s daughter, Abrar. On the road, we came across a group of settlers, about 10 of them. They were about the same age as me except two girls who were around 18 years old. The two (older) girls attacked me and hit me. They asked the boys to make a circle around me and beat me. My cousin and the neighbor’s daughter ran to the checkpoint to inform the [Israeli] soldier. When the soldier approached us, the settlers ran away. He asked me what happened. I told him everything, but he did not respond to me.”

Settlers also frequently attack the school itself. To cite one of myriad examples, Ma’an News Agency reported in November 2007 that “right wing Israeli settlers broke into the courtyard of the Qurduba school … attempted to set fire to the building … attempted to rip the doors off the building and succeeded in knocking over walls, trampling flower beds and blocking the path to the school with rocks … a group of children, armed with axes, attempted to break the water pipes that supply the school. They were urged on by their teacher” (“Israeli settlers attack girls’ school in Hebron,” 26 November 2007).

In 2008, a previous director of the Qurduba School, Reem al-Shareef, moved the school’s start time from 8:00 to 7:30am, so the students would not be harassed by the settler children as the latter headed to daily study at their yeshiva. Today, because teachers and administrators must take a long route to avoid Checkpoint 56, “it takes about 45 minutes to reach the school,” said al-Jondy, “so most of the teachers come here late. Three of the teachers have injured themselves because of the new route. One of them hurt her leg, one hurt her back.” Because teachers are late, it is harder to enforce the 7:30 start time, leaving teachers and students once again vulnerable to early morning settler attacks.

Various challenges to education

“It’s very hard to have education in H2,” explained Mohammed Abuthereim, Hebron Municipality Director of Education, referring to the Israeli settlement district of Hebron. “The occupation affects [the children’s] social health. The students suffer from fear, worry and sadness. How to get an education, how to learn to read when you are attacked by settlers on the way to school? The same for the teachers … we need students to learn in safety, and not to have to worry about these things.”

Now that school has reopened, students and teachers are greeted with almost daily settler attacks. “In October, I filed a complaint with the Israeli police at the [nearby settlement of] Kiryat Arba, and they promised that in the future they would stop the settlers, because they don’t have the right to do these things,” al-Jondy told The Electronic Intifada. “But so far, the police have done nothing for us … [On 7 November,] the school’s guard phoned me at nine in the morning and told me there were settlers around the school, throwing empty bottles and big stones on the school and on the garden. So I quickly phoned the police, and they eventually came, but they did nothing.”

For now, the Qurduba School is pushing the Hebron municipality, as well as organizations like the Temporary International Presence in Hebron, to demand that the Israeli military ease its draconian restrictions of freedom of movement, not only for teachers but for all residents of Hebron.

In the meantime, resilience, steadfastness and hope remain the driving forces, in spite of the occupation, that keep the Qurduba School open day after day.

Badia Dwaik, a Hebron resident and the deputy coordinator of the local activism groupYouth Against Settlements, told The Electronic Intifada that the students and teachers of the Qurduba School have begun peaceful protests against the new closure policy.

“Over the years they have struggled for freedom of education and for the right to education enjoyed by all other children in the world, and this continues today,” she said. “They will not give up.”

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Interview with Prison Rights Journalist Raed Atrash and Activist Issa Amro

Today myself and fellow ISMer ‘Alistair George’ walked over to the Youth Against Settlements outpost on a sunny Hebron hilltop, in the middle of a windy fall afternoon. We expected to interview a recently released Palestinian prisoner, but instead we were greeted with Raed Atrash, a human rights journalist who writes extensively about the rights and plight of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons. He works with Al-Arabiya broadcasting on a radio programme as well, covering mainly Hebron and Gaza occupation-related news. We interviewed him extensively about the condition of Palestinian prisoners, and our translator, nonviolent resistance organizer, Youth Against Settlements activist and ISM co-founder Issa Amro, used the opportunity to talk to us at length about his own political views. I am putting up the interview- which touches on everything from prisoners’ rights, education in prison, prison resistance, media censorship, the Gilad Shalit deal and the Third Intifada- as it occurred, mostly unedited.

Issa Amro with Israeli activist Jonathan Pollak in Hebron

——————
Raed-
Life inside prison is organised very well. Every prisoner who is arrested by the Israeli army will go to the prison and he will have to put [align] himself with a party. The responsibility of this prisoner will be on these parties. For each party, there is a leadership committe which organises the life of these prisoners.

Prison is divided into many parts, in each part there is a commitee from all the parties which  control and organise the life. Inside every part this committee decides laws which the prisoners have to follow in order to organise their life. There is a cultural committee in order to raise the awareness of the prisoners of what’s happening outside and inside to give them the experience to deal with their situation. There is also a management committee to solves clashes between prisoners if something happens.
There is a religious commitee which will conserve the right to pray for every prisoner.

[There are] rarely [clashes/rivalry between different political groups in prison].
There are a lot of problems between the prisoners and the Israeli management of the prison. They interfere and they try to make problems for the prisoners. They try to interrogate them in the night in order to annoy them and not to create stability in their lives. They also try to strip search them. They try to take the electronic machines which prisoners use – televisions or hot-plates. It’s not easy to continue the life without these things.

There is also an educational committee. There are very intelligent [and well-
educated] prisoners inside the prison who have a very high level of educational
abilities. The task of this committee is to teach the prisoners how to read and write, simple education.

Before 5 years ago the management allowed papers and pens into prison. After Shalit [was captured] they prevent books, pens and paper from entering. There were books in the past but now new books cannot enter the prison. They are allowed now to buy pencils but not new books.

[Are any prisoners studying for degrees or taking high school exams?] Absolutely none.

Issa – In the past they were letting the schoolchildren take the high school exams but not anymore – not the high schools or even any degrees as a collective punishment for all the prisoners for Shalit. After Shalit was captured they launched a new law (‘Shalit’s Law’) against the prisoners. After he was released everyone thought they might stop Shalit’s Law, to let the Palestinian prisoners study, to let the families from Gaza vistit their family members. Until now, nothing has changed – only the isolation because of the hunger strikes.

Raed- Many prisoners volunteer to teach the other prisoners but the main issue is to have a formal education – to have a degree at the end of the education and they are not allowed to do it. They call it self-education, the prisoners teach each other many subjects. It’s continuous and working well – you need education to fill your time, otherwise you will go crazy.

Criminal Palestinian prisoners are put in an Israeli civic prison..

Issa – in 2010 I was arrested but they put me with the civic prisoners! This was a form of punishment [for me]. Criminal prisoners are equal to any Israeli prisoners, they have many rights. They have as many rights as Israelis.

Raed– Around 30% of the Palestinian prisoners are political prisoners; they didn’t participate in any armed resistance. We have more than 250 adminstrative prisoners, around 5% of the prisoners, which is illegal. I [personally] know 10 journalists in jail but there are a lot more.

They teach the prisoners about the Palestinian cause in general, about the history of the Palestinian people and the tragedy and teach them many case studies in the world, Che Guevara and these kind of revolutions – the French, Indian, Colombian – to use them as a case study for revolutions across the world. There are many political meetings, debates, discussions among the prisoners to teach them and empower their discussions. For many prisoners this is a form of steadfastness for them and a form of remaining in their cause and supporting their motivations and their willingness to learn more and more. Without this kind of education and empowerment I don’t know if they can survive.

[Resistance in prison] Usually they have many steps and they have their own
nonviolent resistance history – the hunger strike and disobedience. They have
representatives in there, a structure, people who negotiate with the authorities, they try to talk to them and convince them. They start with boycotts, not listening, not going for the count, missing meals until they go to the hunger strike. After the hunger strike is the disobedience – they ignore the security completely and they don’t listen at all – which makes it very hard and its not easy to count the prisoners every three hours without their willingness.

Issa – Historically nonviolent resistance was very successful inside Israeli jails.
Many writers have written about the prison resistance – it’s nonviolent resistance. They got many achievements – they got right to education, to family visits, more TV channels, reading, writing, food – prisoners negotiate about every small detail of their lives. It’s a continous conflict and it’s about who will give up first and usually the prisoners get their rights through many hunger strikes – many people died because of their resistance. If you are strong they [the Israelis] listen to you.

Raed- Israel considers children older than 15 as adult – although from 15-18 they put them in a special jail, they don’t want them to let the political prisoners affect them politically. In many countries they have special arrangements for the children that are detained, in Israel they treat them as adults.

All the prisoners consider the jail as a school. Prisoners in Israeli jails learns political issues, languages, religion – anything you can imagine. It’s not optional for the prisoner not to study or participate in these courses – all the Palestinian parties/ factions oblige their members to join the educuation system both political and other education. There are some optional courses, which are extra, but the basic education is compulsory. This obligation fulfills the prisoner’s needs, so you don’t have anyone refusing this.

Many prisoners go into jail without any political education. When they go in they have a lot of time to study why they are doing this [resisting] and they study thetheory behind their practice. They give them all these case studies and international law, tactics to resist and they share their experience fighting the occupation.

Because of the division that happened between Fatah and Hamas, the West Bank and Gaza, the institution that created the unity charter was the prisoners. The prisoners from Fatah and Hamas inside Israeli jails had a meeting and published a unity charter and now all the Palestinian factions are implementing it outside jails.

Issa – The prisoners are creative in what they do and they have a huge influence on the outside, this is why you saw all the people were more than happy when the Shalit deal gave them hundreds of prisoners, it was 10% of the Palestinian prisoners but the happiness was much more [than this] as if all the prisoners were released. All Palestinians are united in listening to the prisoners – they see them as holy people, in spite of their political background or agenda. All of them are equal and all of them are heroes in our eyes.

Raed- [Is the Shalit deal good?] It’s a very good achievement to release [even] one prisoner. This deal released 315 prisoners on life sentences in Israeli jails and usually they don’t give them a release date – even their bodies usually stay in Israeli jails [after they die], they keep them in special freezers or they bury them in cemetaries – just to punish the families. It was a good achievement.

Issa – I have a poltical concern about the deal. I thought that if they insisted to
release Marwan Bargouti he would make a change in Palestinian political life,
especially to Fatah. Marwan Bargouti will start the third intifada for sure. He’s the only one who can unify Fatah and all the Palestinian factions, everyone agrees on his leadership. He was leading the second intifada and sentenced to six life sentences. It gives him uncountable credit from the Palestinians from all factions. All the factions consider all the prisoners as heroes. If he is already a leader and he is high up in Fatah – this will make him the future President of Palestine.

[There will be a third intifada] next year or the year after – we are very close. It will for sure be an nonviolent intifada, as the first intifada. The Palestinians learned from the second intifada and the political factions, even Hamas, are now talkign about nonviolence and the influence from the Arab Spring is so influential and we have very good experience. The second intifada was problematic for us. It was not normal – we were led to the second intifada. I was one of the people starting the second intifada because I was a leader in my university. How it became a violent intifada or an armed resistance, I don’t know. I stopped following it after it became an armed intifada. I can’t use arms. The majority of the guns were from Israel – Israel wants us to be violent and to keep us violent to justify killing our children and killing us. In the beginning of the second intifada the students were demonstrating in the streets and
one day 10 people were killed in Hebron and they were only nonviolent
demonstrators. More than 100 people injured. They were shooting at us with rubber bullets – I was injured – from zero distance [point blank range] which made it hard for the intifada to stay nonviolent – it was not proportional force. They deal with us as gunmen – they don’t have any methodology to stop the nonviolent resistance, they are only trained to shoot, and to kill, and to be violent. The hatred inside them is so high. Blind support from the UK, USA, Germany – if you know that all the strong countries support you, why follow international law. Gaddafi described his people as rabbits – they don’t [even] see us as rabbits, they see us as less than rabbits or mice. They don’t see us as human beings, so we deserve to die. A rabbi in Kiryat Arba wrote a book syaing that you are allowed to kill Palestinian children, you are allowed to kill Palestinians even if they are not attacking you. He is a religious leader and he
is trying to transmit this poison to his followers. Hate speech in Israel is illegal….I filed complaints. You can’t challenge violence, even with all the evidence – you will not achieve anything in Israeli law [if you are Palestinian] it will vanish in Israeli courts.  Everyday in 2008 I went to the police station to make complaints. I went once to the court last year and they found him [a settler] guilty – he confessed that he broke my camera. I had the video to prove that he attacked me. The prosecutor representing me didnt [even] want him to go to jail or to do voluntary work, she just wanted to send him to the behavioural officer where they tell him ‘how come you let him film you doing that, next time don’t leave evidence’ – this is the behavioural officer! To file complaints to the same authories that are violating the law – it’s useless.

Raed- [What motivates him to work with prisoners] It’s my patriotic duty, my national duty. I am supporting human rights and the prisoners cause is a human rights case, it’s not even a political thing. I have been in jail in 2009 for six months for ‘incitement’ against Israel, through my work.

Issa – If he was in a political party or in a poltical movement they would not accuse him of incitement – as a journalist or an activist these are the only charges that they can use. They use it for many other Palestinian activists and journalists.

Raed- When I was released, one of the intelligence commanders told me ‘I hope not to listen or hear you on the radio again’. I work with 10 radio [stations] now! During the investigation they showed me the timetable of my programmes and they were following my media programmes.

Issa – This shows for me that it is not about terrorism or violating Israeli law. On the contrary, putting a journalist in the Israeli jail is violating Israeli law and international law and the Geneva Conventions. He has special protection as a journalist. This is one of the main violations of the Israelis and why you don’t have many Palestinian journalists working hard against the occupation as you are a target. Even if you are not a terrorist and you don’t believe in violence, if you are a journalist, a writer, a musician, a football player – whatever – you are a target. They are targeting any active member in the Palestinian community, it’s about destroying Palestinian society and this is why we [Youth Against Settlements] are a target here because we are trying to empower the
community. They want the community to be without a leader, without a guide. All the Palestinian leaders, in spite of their ideology, are a target for the Israeli security in a different way. If you are within the law they put you in jail according to the law – I was accused of incitement and it wasn’t a mistake – it is a systematic way to kill any voice against the occupation. Take Abu Mazen’s step to go to the UN [bid at UN] it is a completely nonviolent step, he is allowed to do it according to international law, and they can oppose him politically, not to threaten to destroy Ramallah or the West Bank or to cut the money. Because the international community is silent. The Israeli security forced are the real terrorists, not us.

Raed- I was once in the studio giving my programme – I was live – and the Israeli forces came and stopped the programme and raided the radio station and detained me for an hour. This is normal for the Israeli security. There is more harassment when I am out working in the field; they detained me many times. I was detained at one of the checkpoints after I participated in the journalists forum election. They detained me for 2 hours even though they knew I am a journalist and I showed them my ID as a journalist.

Issa – You are a terrorist in spite of any identity you have. All the Palestinians are terrorists – this is how they treat us. We are all Bin Laden! This is how they try to show us to the world.

Raed- [On media coverage of prisoners/Shalit] – The international media covered the Shalit case and put him equal with 6000 Palestinian prisoners. Some media agencies ignored the 6000 and only mentioned the victim who was Shalit, and the majority of the Palestinian prisoners are political prisoners and they didn’t participate in killing Israelis, however Shalit was inside a tank [as part of an occupying force that killed people], he was captured from his tank, not from his house, or his city or his school or his university. The Palestinian media was talking about him as a normal prisoner and telling him that he should be treated according to our Islamic culture and that he should be safe and treated well, not as happened to our prisoners in Israeli jails who are suffering daily.

Issa – All of the big international media agencies are biased, all of them are pro-Israel and pro the Zionist movement and even they lie and manipulate and they hide a lot of obvious facts. We use social media [to get past the media agencies], it’s our method to teach all the people in the world what’s happening. [On being challenged] – let’s say that all international journalists are either pro-Israel or neutral. I see the neutral people as biased – when you see violations, when you see oppressed people and you are neutral, you are biased and participating with the oppressor. I meet many journalists who are pro-Palestinians but they are a tiny amount compared [to pro- Israelis]. I’m not against Israel by the way – I am aganist the occupation! This is very important – if you are against the occupation, it doesn’t mean that you are against Israel – on the contrary, if you are against the occupation you are going to protect Israel in the long-term. No solution [to the occupation] doesn’t help Israel.

[Why is this?] People are afraid of [being called] anti-semitic. I met one
of the main journalists from the Washington Post. He said either you are pro-Israel or you are silent, this is how to be successful’. What about transparency, freedom of information etc and what about funds – they will cut your salary. Usually rich people are cowards. I don’t think Obama is against out
cause, I think he is pro-our cause but I don’t think he thinks his country’s interest is with our cause. This is when we will reach our freedom, when our cause will be connected with the national interests of the UK, Sweden, USA, China, Russia – it’s about politicians, not about pricnciples, morals or anything like that. There are many good people in Israel who want to live in peace and love with the Palestinians but they are controlled and hidden [by the media].

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Education as Resistance for Palestinian Prisoners- Interview with Badia Dwaik, 10/28/2011

Badia Dwaik is Deputy Coordinator of Youth Against Settlements, a grassroots Palestinian organization dedicated to the nonviolent struggle to resist the Israeli occupation of Hebron. This Friday I went to Youth Against Settlement’s headquarters, nestled, next to a 2,000 year old olive grove, in between 4 Israeli settlements. Throughout the interview, we observed on multiple occasions soldiers patrolling through the fields around us, a normal occurrence these days for the center of downtown Hebron, plagued now for 30 years by an illegal military and civilian occupying force.

With the release of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners due to the Gilad Schalit prisoner swap, and the end of the Palestinian prisoner hunger strike, still lingering in the air, I decided to ask Badia about his days as a prisoner inside the Israeli prison system. I particularly wanted to learn how the prisoners organized their own educational system within the prison walls, how they managed to learn together about politics, philosophy, history and literature while imprisoned, and how this knowledge strengthened their will to resist. On the way, we talked about everything from how he felt walking home from work at dark as a little boy, to ways of transmitting messages in and out of prison, to the hunger strike as a method of resistance, even to the nonexistence of God!

Freedom

When I woke up in the morning, the sunlight tickled my golden-brown skin
My eyes burned from its rosy rays and moved at the gusts of air
The intensity of the winds undulated
By this remedy, hope for the hopeless was reborn

And it began to smile on me from afar, as if I have a promise to keep
So I took my pen and my paper as my mind fled
A strange feeling seized me
I began to scribble these words
Maybe I will find something in them to express the emotions of my heart and that which
turns in my mind
The golden sun whose rays began to shine came up in the morning
The rays penetrated through the small window, making me question and seek inspiration
My pen turning the pages of memory
Standing on the dews of the near and distant past
The sun became a roll of burning bread
Come, come slowly

Here and there, mocking laughter
Memories of the past awakened in beautiful aching reality
My heart poured forth
The arteries of my heart were jammed with emotion
My eyes flooded, soaking the furrows in my cheeks
My thoughts began to turn and turn in my mind
Between optimism and pessimism, in a bitter struggle of resistance
At last the sun appeared from far away, but in a new robe
After I had drunk cups of bitterness to the dregs
Then I began to breathe with new appetite
And the seas and rivers and trees whistled the melody of freedom

Thoughts from Hebron Prison, by Badia Dwaik

——————————–

My father was arrested before me. My father was arrested in 1988 and I was around that time like fifteen or fourteen years old. I am the oldest one of my family, and I grew up in a poor family, so my parents decided to send me to work when I was 9 years old. So I didn’t have any childhood or young life because even when I became younger I was arrested, so I missed my childhood, and then the time of my youth I spent in jail.

Did you have education when you were 9 years old, or were you pulled out of education to work?

I was working on the side. My life was to work and study in the same day.  So I used to go to the school, and when I finished my school I would have lunch at home and then go to work, until i finished work at 9 in the evening. I was alone, and it was dark on the way home, and I was very scared. I would hurry back home very quickly, running, because it was scary and I was a child at the time, and I felt uncomfortable to walk around. Especially when I had to work in the old town in Hebron, it was not lit up like it is now, it was dark, and it made it even more scary when I had to get home. And i had difficult experiences, there were bad people, trying to do bad things with me and abuse me.
So I grew up in this situation even after my father was arrested. When my father was arrested I was 15 and I was the oldest one in the family, and in our culture the oldest one usually takes responsibility for the family, so I had to take responsibility for everything in the family. My father was in jail for six months and then he was released, but when he was in jail i joined the First Intifada, as a reaction. Because I was angry, and I just wanted to express my feelings about what happened to my father, it was something personal. So I joined the First Intifada, and I was very young at that time, around 15 years old. My father was in jail, so I continued protesting, and I was very active, demonstrating, organizing demonstrations, and I was also part of the Fatah movement. This was the first of my political life, was the Fatah movement. When they started to negotiate about the Oslo agreement, after the First Intifada, I moved to PFLP because I did not like the Oslo agreement.

So by the time they signed the Oslo agreement you were already in PFLP.

Yes. I was arrested three months after the Oslo agreement, but I joined PFLP before I was arrested. I got a scholarship to study in Baghdad before I was arrested. But after I was registered for the scholarship, while I was preparing my documents to go to Baghdad, I was arrested the next week. So the army and Shin Bet were at my home, it was like after 2 in the morning, they arrived, knocked on the door, and we opened the door. Then they were asking my father about the names of my family, my father named the names, and the man stopped him and said ‘We need Badia.’ So I woke up, my father came to wake me up because I was sleeping. I was young, I was 19 at the time. So my father woke me up, I was still in my pajamas. And then I saw sodliers and Shin Bet with them- its easy to recognize the Shin Bet because he speaks Arabic, and wears civilian clothing. He started talking to me, he asked me about the Quran text, about the Bakra sura, and how many lines were in the Bakra sura. I said I didn’t know, I didn’t care about religious issues. He said there were 286 lines in the Bakra sura. He surprised me with this question because he wants to convince you that he knows everything, even the Quran. That is the idea.

But you weren’t religious, you didnt care.

In the beginning of my life i was super religious! I was praying all the time in the mosque, before my father was arrested and even after he was arrested, I was praying all the time, but I did not have good knowledge about Islam, about the religion and about the life in general. So I wanted just to pray and to practice, so I didnt care if i knew what I was practicing or not, i just wanted to be with the culture. The change happened with me when I joined PFLP, and especially in the jail. Because even when I was in PFLP before I was arrested I was still praying. I continued praying for a year and a half in jail and then I stopped.

Why? Because PFLP is a secular movement?

Yes, PFLP is a secular movement. I was young at the time and it affected me. I grew up in a religious place, religion effects Hebron so strong, it is a very religious place, and a lot of tradition. Sometimes the tradition is even more powerful than the religion here. It took time for me to change what is in my mind, and PFLP is about communism. Communism is an ideology, and so to tell someone there is no god, when he grew up in a situation where there was god, it will be a shock for him, it will take time for him.

So the army and Shin Bet took you away that night?

When they came to my father’s home and arrested me, my mother asked ‘where are you taking him?’ They said they just needed me five minutes. Those five minutes took up three years of my life. My first holding cell was a tiny room 60 centimeters by 60 centimeters. They kept me there for two nights but those two nights felt like a year. I could not sleep, to sleep I had to put my head on the floor and move my legs up to the ceiling. I had to go to the toilet, I would knock on the door and say ‘please I have to go to the toilet!’ They pretended not to hear me, there were two soldiers outside but they did not listen to me. Eventually I went to the toilet in my cell, and then I had to sleep in it, I put my head next to it on the ground and my feet up to the ceiling.
In the First intifada there were 12,000 people in Israeli jails. In Al-Naqab prison there were 8,000 people. Al-Naqab jail is completely a desert. You cannot see any green thing around you, you cannot see any trees, you cannot see any homes, only desert and soldiers around you and the barbed wires. It is a big jail, there are many different small jails inside it. When you are there, you will see tents, and around the tents there are a lot of barbed wires. Behind the barbed wires there are long blocks, like the [separation] wall. And also there are dogs, and also there are many soldiers in military watchtowers, and the army is also driving by in jeeps with 250 caliber bullet guns. And the food is very miserable, very bad food. When they put you there, you are isolated, without anything you need for your life. When you are a prisoner, sometimes you will be happy just to see a bird! If you see a bird this is some luck coming to you! Really I wished to see a bird in the jail there, because you are already with your same prisoners such a long time. They want to break your psychology, and there is just sand around you, just tent and soldiers and sand. And it was a very big jail, even  when your family wants to visit they get there at 5 in the morning, and they do not get to see you until 5 pm.

Was there a library in that jail?

It was very small. There are two types of jails- jails under the military and jails under the police administration. The police administration jails are better condition than the military. Naqab jail was a military jail, so it was not good. But eventually, through my three years in many jails, I started to read Communist Ideology, about Marx, Hegel, about all of these people who wrote about Communism and all about the dialectic.

In jail!

Yes.

How did you get access to those texts in jail?

This is a story of the resistance of prisoners inside the jail. Each thing we have in jail, we do not get it by nothing, we do alot of resistance until we acheive points through our resistance. There are many things we have now in jail which we did not used to have. But because we are here, because we need these things in our life, the Israelis refused to give it to us in an easy way, so we decided to do resistance. Part of this resistance is to open a hunger strike. We wrote our needs down in a list, and then we tried to negotiate with the Israelis about our needs. These negotiations took many different steps and stages, it took long negotiations and conversations, and we put our efforts into trying to convince them that these things are very important for us to survive. But the occupation policy is to control you however they can. They do not care if you are kept alive in dignity or not in dignity. But we are in jail, we lost everything in our lives, so what do we have to be scared from them?
So after that they refused the list of requests, so we started our resistance. Part of our resistance was to pass messages outside of the jail to parents, to families and relatives, to human rights organizations to tell them the situation, and update about the negotiations, and tell them about the future, the next steps. And we asked them to stand behind us and to support us in our resistance, if we decide to do a hunger strike. And we asked them to build advocacy outside of the jail, all over the world. And after that we started to negotiate between each other, we had inside conversations, about who would like to join with us in the hunger strike, and if there is anyone who would not like to join, it is better for him to tell us before we start the strike. And we asked the ill people not to join us in our hunger strike, even if they wanted to join us, because we were concerned about their health. A hunger strike is not easy. You cannot have anything except water and salt, no smoking even! No coffee, no tea, no food, no fruit, no anything.

Were you a smoker at the time?

I used to be a smoker. I am not anymore, but sometimes socially.

So you did a hunger strike to gain the right to education.

Yes, this was one of our requests, to allow us to receive books from outside, from our parents, from our visitors and from the radicals. So we succeeded-

You succeeded!

Yes, it worked. There were many things that were acheived in the jail. For example, in Hebron prison, before the Palestinian Authority, there was a library for us, with 4,000 books. Before the PA, it was an Israeli jail- I think the PA started here in 1996, and I was in jail until 1995. There were around 1,200 prisoners, and the library had 4,000 books. But it started with a very complicated hunger strike, before we were allowed to read books. And they checked the books for messages before they came in- when they received books from the Red Cross, or from lawyers, or parents, or organizations. To see if there are hidden messages or something, or information. But we had different ways to exchange information!

Oh yeah?

We called it a capsule. It’s a very small, thin paper, and we wrote in very small writing, but you can read it. We rolled it up, but carefully, it takes careful and well organized work. And then all this big paper- like 40 centimeters- you make it into 1 and a half centimeters. Then you eat it. But before that you bring nylon, and wrap it with plastic nylon, and after that you burn the side to seal it, and make sure there’s not even a very small hole, even a pinhole. And then some of the people who were going to be released soon, we give him not just one, maybe 30 or 40 capsules. When I used to visit my parents, I was like the Colonel of my party in the Hebron jail, because we had good connections with organizations of people here, and when we needed to exchange information i sent them information with this capsule. We would exchange it by kissing, during visiting. And you can keep it in your stomach for two days. You swallow it completely.

And then how do you get it up again?

Through the toilet! Then you clean it, and after that you open the papers, but the papers wil be ok. It’s very careful and well organized! (laughter) This is the way we exchange information.

So what books did you read?

Different books talking about ideological things, like Communism for example, about history like Vietnam, Cuba, Soviet states. Poetry, books about languages, French, English, Arabic literature…and also many philosophers, Aristotle, Plato, Heraclitus, and modern Western thinkers like Malthuse, and Hegel, Marx, Engels, Faeurbach, and also Arabic philosophy like Ibn Rushd, and Fukuyama- we studied about all these things, it’s not limited.

How did the Communism help you?

There used to be people who were in jail for a long time, and people who had been in and out of jail five times, they had alot of time in jail. Some of them used to study in Soviet states, for example, and some of them were in many different courses, and they explained for us about Communism and about the dialectic.

Did learning about Communist theory help you as prisoners to gain resolve and understand your situation?

For me not all the Communism helped me. Communism was a stage in my life. I am not a Communist right now, i would maybe say a Socialist. If you ask me is there god or no god, I will not deny that god exists, but it is not very important to waste my time with these stupid questions, to ask if god exists or not, or which is first, the material or the god before. I live in the land, so I discuss my life in this land, not something outside of my power. So this is not my ideology, so it was good for me be a member of PFLP because there were people who cared very much about this culture. They pushed and encouraged their members to study, and to learn as much as they could. For example I was one who was part of the Culture Committee. If I moved from jail to jail they sent with me a note- put Badia in the Culture Committee. So for example I was reading four of six books a month, I was reading regularly. I am not reading as much now, because I can not find the time. But I was in jail, I had the time, and more than that I had the determination to educate myself.
So I was reading about all sorts of resistance over the world, Cuba, Vietnam, Ghandi, other kinds of resistance. And I did not just accept everything I read, I was critical. I examined everything I read, and I thought, I compared what I believed to what I was reading. I did not just accept everytihng I read. Now I have good information in my mind, I can analyse many things around all the world. But I have background about many things in the world now, so because of it I can analyse many things. I succeeded to educate myself, it gave me a way for another stage in my life when I got out of the jail, to continue with the people and with society. Also, the PFLP helped me with many things that are complicated for others to understand. For example this was the first time I started to make a distinction between Jews and Zionists. Before this everything was the same. But I started to educate myself, and also the PFLP cared about these things, we talked about these things at meetings.
We had in a day at least three meetings. The prisoners were like a government inside a government! There was the Israeli jail, which was run by the government, and then within that, our organizations and committees- we would divide ourselves into different committees. Some were in the security committee, some were in the culture committee, some were in the health committee, some in the organization committee, some in the financial committee. So everyone had a role-

How would you meet for these committees?

We used to meet, but at first it was not allowed. It came through resistance! Right before the Israeli occupation [of the West Bank] started in 1967 the revolution started in 1965. Israel occupied Palestine in 1948, and after that the movement for revolution started in 1965. After that they occupied the West Bank in 1967, and with the struggle against the Israeli occupation there were prisoners. So we tried to do meetings, many times the Israeli jail people were blocking and beating us. So there is a long resistance, and it started when Israel occupied the west bank. It was not allowed for the prisoners to have meetings together and talk about points and subjects- meeting itself was forbidden in the beginning, and it was a big challenge for the prisoners to break these laws, and we succeeded through a long resistance. Hunger striking was one strategy, it was a weapon of resistance in the jail. You cannot eat, until they will listen to your needs. This is the most difficult and dangerous strategy. Everything we get in jail, we did not get in a golden platter! We had to resist, and to deal with the resistance until we achieved these things.
We had three meetings in the day- political meetings, and organization meetings, and cultural meetings. The political meetings, we would discuss the political issues not only about Palestine, but all over the world. Because we are a part of the world, and we are affected by the world! We are one of the people most affected directly by the events of the world! Like the balance between America and the Soviet states used to be good for us, but after the Soviet states were over we got more pressure from Israelis. And after the Gulf War, we got more pressure from Israel. This was the beginning of the permit policy. Before the Iraq war we did not need a permit for Palestinians to come to Israel. After 1991 we needed a permit, we could not drive to Tel Aviv or Haifa with our car.

So when you learned about history and other resistance movements, did you also gain a consciousness of the fact that your resistance was connected to other resistance movements all around the world?

Yes, I believed and I still believe that our resistance struggle is part of humanity’s resistance struggle all over the world. Because maybe we are suffering from occupation, from losing our dignity and justice, but there are many people around the world suffering because of injustice. There are many people suffering from capitalism, capitalism effects the majority of people all around the world, which is an injustice. We here are also effected very directly and strongly by capitalism. This is why I believe that all of us are a part of the resistance struggle for justice all over the world. And this is one of the methods- we can work together. This is why there are internationals here, this is why there are people who come here because they believe that humanity is one, that we are not divided, so they take responsibility for what goes on here, and come to share with Palestinians the resistance, and to show solidarity.

In prison, were you reading about capitalism and other systems of oppression?

The people who were in jail were not stupid people. Some of them were teachers at university, medical doctors, some of them students. Israel would arrange the jail to be a place to kill you psychologically, they can kill you daily many times by making you see the same things all your life- when you see the same people, the same routine, the same food, it makes you feel disgusting inside and you feel very bad about it. That is the Israeli policy, to try to create death in the Palestinian heart and mind. We turned upside down this image and made the jails as schools and universities. Whereas the Israelis planned for the jails to be aplace to kill your soul and harm your psychology, we turned everything upside down and created jails to be like schools, to make educated people.

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Hebron Teachers Protest Measures that Keep Them From School

reposted from my +972mag article here

For nearly two weeks, a group of young schoolchildren and female teachers from the Qurduba School in Hebron have been holding lessons every morning outside of Checkpoint 56, to protest increased security measures at the checkpoint.

For the past seven years, teachers at the Qurtuba School have been allowed to bypass the usual metal detectors  at the checkpoint, and cross through a separate gate in order to reach their school, which lies in the treacherous area between the aggressive Israeli settlements of Tel Rumeida and Admot Yishai. On Tuesday, October 11, for no apparent reason, the army announced that it had suspended this procedure, and that teachers must pass through the metal detectors and present their bags for inspection every day. At the same time, the army announced that pregnant women and people with heart devices or other medical complications, who had previously also bypassed the metal detectors, may no longer do so, and must now put their physical well-being at risk on a daily basis.

That same Tuesday, the teachers refused to submit to inspection at the checkpoint, and instead held an impromptu silent demonstration on the Palestinian side. At 9 A.M., their students, boys and girls between the ages of six and 13 and now deprived of education, marched to the checkpoint carrying signs and chanting slogans. Israeli soldiers threw them up against stone walls, kicked and hit them with the butts of rifles, forcibly dragged them through the checkpoint, and one settler attempted to push them out of the way with her car as she drove by; nine children were sent to the hospital with injuries.

Hebron students and teachers protest, October 2011 (Photo: Ben Lorber)

Hebron teachers and students protest, October 2011 (Photo: Ben Lorber)

One of those injured was 11-year-old Yazan Sharbati. “There were no teachers in the school,” Sharbati relates in an interview with the International Solidarity Movement, adding “We protested to the army that we wanted our teachers. The army told us to go back to school, and we told them that without teachers there is no school…I was so afraid that something bad was going to happen. [The soldier] pushed me very hard.”

Over the next two days, students and teachers, joined by the Director of Education in Hebron, representatives from the Governor’s office, and local and international press, held lessons outside the checkpoint, standing up at intervals to chant, “We will not return, we want our right to education!” Mohammed Abutherei, Director of Education in the Hebron Municipality, was optimistic. “God willing the army will allow the students and teachers to pass normally,” he said, “because for four days now the children cannot learn properly! Why do they do this to our students?”

His optimism was short-lived, however, when on Sunday a line of about 20 soldiers and border police forcibly pushed the schoolchildren back from the checkpoint, and announced over a loudspeaker that the crowd would be arrested if it did not disperse within five minutes. “This is their character!” exclaimed Tamer, a Palestinian activist from the group Youth Against Settlements, based in Hebron. “This is their behavior, this is their ethics! Yes, we are terrorists,” he said sarcastically, “because we want to learn, we want an education!”

When the crowd remained, soldiers projected a high-pitched siren noise nicknamed ‘The Scream,” and fired rounds of tear gas to forcibly scatter the crowd. In the rush to flee, one teacher was arrested, and at least five were injured as multiple rounds of tear gas were fired down the main streets of Hebron for 20 minutes in the middle of the morning traffic.

Palestinian residents of Hebron suspect territorial motivations underlying the Israeli army’s seemingly random decision to force Qurtuba School teachers, who as individuals have peacefully passed through Checkpoint 56 for seven years, to now submit to daily metal detector scans and personal inspections. Abutherei said, “Now that the school is closed [for these days] I’m afraid the settlers will attack the building, or try to take it over”. Similarly, Tamer claimed that “this is the first step for evacuating the school. They want to close the school because this is an apartheid state. They want to make the whole area for Jews only.”

The school sits atop a hill in the middle of downtown Hebron, within ample view of the Beit Hadassah, Tel Rumeida and Admot Yishai settlements, each of which consists of a few buildings and a handful of settler families. Across the street from the entrance to the Qurduba School, a door  has long been adorned with graffiti reading “Gas The Arabs! JDL [Jewish Defense League].” Scarcely a month passes by when its students and teachers are not harassed or assaulted on the way to or from school, or when the school building is not vandalized or set afire (for a partial list of attacks against the Qurduba School, see the Tel Rumeida Project).

Says Abutherei, “It’s very hard to have education in H2 [the Israeli settlement district of Hebron]. The occupation affects [the children’s] social health. The students suffer from fear, worry and sadness. How to get an education, how to learn to read when you are attacked by settlers on the way to school? The same for the teachers…we need students to learn in safety, and not to have to worry about these things.”

The protesters have said that they will continue until teachers can once again walk to school without IDF harassment.

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Rally Renames Hebron’s Shuhada Street as ‘Apartheid Street’

copied from my Alternative Information Center article here

 

On Wednesday 14 September, a rally was held in Hebron to officially rename downtown Shuhada Street ‘Apartheid Street’, in protest against the Israeli  occupation that for nearly 20 years has shut down the once-thriving town center,

Hebron_action_explain

Israeli soldiers gather around demonstrators, who explain to them that the ceremony is a non-violent action (Photo: Heather Stroud)

 

severely curtailed freedom of movement and caused for the Palestinians of Hebron humiliation, harassment and persecution at the hands of settlers and Israeli soldiers.

 

The rally and renaming ceremony were organized by Youth against Settlements, a committee that since 2009 has organized non-violent demonstrations and actions to raise awareness of the occupation that plagues the over 165,000 Palestinian residents of Hebron.  A crowd of Palestinians, internationals and journalists gathered at the heavily guarded checkpoint entrance to Apartheid Street at 1 p.m.,waving signs and placards and emblazoning, with stencils and spray paint, the walls of the area with the proclamation ‘Welcome to Apartheid Street’. Despite the explicitly peaceful nature of the protest, a crowd of 20-30 Israeli soldiers immediately assembled across from the protesters and on the rooftops surrounding the site. Rifles loaded with tear gas canisters and stun grenades, they quickly strung up razor wire to block the path of the protestors, though the latter incessantly repeated their peaceful intentions.

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Israeli soldiers placed barbed wire to prevent the demonstrators from moving forward (Photo: Heather Stroud) 


At a press conference, Youth against Settlements member Issa Anmo told a gathering crowd of Palestinians and journalists that “on behalf of all the Palestinian residents of Hebron we have one simple demand- open Shuhada Street and end the occupation. We are changing the name of this street to Apartheid Street for many reasons. The reasons are- only Israelis and foreign tourists are allowed to access Shuhada Street. It becomes as a ghost town. The street is closed to the Palestinian residents of Hebron…Palestinian residents who live on the street are prevented from going on the street, and to enter and exit their homes, and to get to their businesses. Some families are using back roads, and some other families are using the roofs to get to their homes. Shops have been closed by many military orders, [and] it’s forbidden for many Palestinians to drive on the road. Imagine that you are living on a street and it’s illegal for you to drive on the street!”

 

At the beginning of the 1990s, Apartheid Street was still the booming downtown marketplace of Hebron, and the commercial center of the entire southern West Bank, as it had been for centuries. Center of a vibrant community economy where Palestinian residents and farmers maintained small shops to sell fruits, vegetables and other goods, it was also the home street for thousands of Palestinian families who lived in apartments overlooking the bustling town centre. The May 2007 B’Tselem report ‘Ghost Town: Israel’s Separation Policy and Forced Eviction of Palestinians from the Center of Hebron’ paints a bleak picture of the desolation inflicted upon Shuhada Street by the occupation in just two decades: “at least 1,014 Palestinian housing units in the center of Hebron have been vacated by their occupants. This number represents 41.9 percent of the housing units in the relevant area. Sixty-five percent (659) of the empty apartments became vacant during the course of the second intifada. Regarding Palestinian commercial establishments, 1,829 are no longer open for business. This number represents 76.6 percent of all the commercial establishments in the surveyed area. Of the closed businesses, 62.4 percent (1,141) were closed during the second intifada. At least 440 of them closed pursuant to military orders.”

Hebron_1990_fruit_market

Hebron’s bustling fruit and vegetable market in 1990


Israel’s occupation in Hebron has a turbulent history and over the past 40 years, one can discern familiar pattern: The one-sided domination of fundamentalist Zionism and its colonialist impetus, with the military backing of Israel trailing in its wake. In 1968, religious Jewish settlers rented a hotel in Hebron for Passover and barricaded themselves inside, refusing to leave; eventually, the Israeli army coaxed them out and established for them the nearby settlement of Kiryat Arba to appease their desire to reclaim ‘Judea and Samaria’. In 1979, 40 women and children from Kiryat Arba repeated this brazen gesture, sneaking into an abandoned building on Apartheid Street in the middle of the night and, despite a lack of electricity, food and water, refusing to leave the next morning. This time, the Israeli army eventually allowed these squatters permanent residence in downtown Hebron, with full military support.

 

The fundamentalist settlers of Hebron are guided by the religious conviction that they are reviving a Jewish presence in Hebron that dates back 4000 years ago to the days of Abraham, who, along with most of the oldest patriarchs and matriarchs of the Old Testament, is buried at the nearby Cave of the Patriarchs/Ibrahimi Mosque, which today is a half-synagogue, half-mosque structure, heavily guarded by the Israeli army. They are also determined to maintain their community in memory of the 1929 Hebron massacre which 82 years ago, in the midst of a tense political climate and rising animosity in Palestine, resulted in the deaths of 67 Hebron Jews and the evacuation of the entire Jewish community from the city.  This massacre is contrary to the history of the two communities in the city, as Jews and Arabs had coexisted peacefully in Hebron for centuries, a peace attested to by the fact that several hundred Jewish lives were saved during the massacre by Palestinians, who hid Jewish families in their homes at considerable personal risk.

 

Since downtown Hebron was settled by Israelis in 1980, Apartheid Street and a small surrounding area have gradually become occupied by approximately 500 Jewish settlers (the term ‘Israeli settlers’ would be misleading in this case, as many of the settlers are recent arrivals from the east coast of America), guarded by at least four times as many Israeli soldiers. The process of apartheid over the last 20 years has been complex and gradual, but unmistakable in its intentions. After a massacre at the Ibrahimi Mosque in February 1994, in which 29 Palestinians were killed and over 100 wounded by an Israeli settler from Kiryat Arba, the Israeli military began to pursue an official separation policy that closed the shops of Apartheid Street, blocked off the Jewish area, already heavily guarded and controlled, from the rest of Hebron, and sought to remove most Palestinian presence from the settler enclave.

HHebron_2007_fruit_market

Hebron’s fruit and vegetable market in 2007, closed by the Israeli army 


In 1997, Hebron was officially split into two areas- H1, 18 square kilometers, under Palestinian control and containing most of Hebron’s Palestinian population; and H2, 4 square kilometers in the absolute center of the city, encompassing Apartheid Street and much of Hebron’s Old City, under Israeli control and enclosing the settler population alongside a handful of Palestinian families who could not be coaxed or forced to leave. The Second Intifada in the early 2000’s brought, according to B’tselem, “unprecedented restrictions on Palestinian movement in the city, primarily a continuous curfew and closure of main streets to Palestinian residents…during the first three years of the Intifada, the army imposed a curfew on H-2 for a total of more than 377 days, including a curfew that ran non-stop for 182 days, with short breaks to obtain provisions. On more than 500 days, the army imposed a curfew that lasted for a few hours up to an entire day.”

 

In response to the military crackdown, which began in the 1990s and reached a feverish pitch in the 2000s, the vast majority of Palestinian apartments and storefronts in Apartheid Street have either been voluntarily abandoned or forcibly emptied out. Today, what was once a booming marketplace is now, indeed, a ghost town, traversed only by settlers, Israeli soldiers, and the occasional Palestinian who holds the proper permit.

 

“I was born just 50 meters from here”, says Issa Anmo, sitting in the office of the Christian Peacemaker’s Team on the border of H-1, “and I am not allowed to visit the house where I was born, I am not allowed to go back to my neighborhood to smell my flowers. At the same time, the settlers can do what they want inside my house!…why are they allowed and I am not allowed? They are civilians and I am a civilian! Why am I not allowed? Is their blood blue and my blood is dark, is black?…This is apartheid. Nobody can argue [with] me if it is apartheid or not.”

 

The 14 September rally, like many others held over the years, was meant to highlight this unjust and oppressive state of affairs and indeed, the disproportionate Israeli army presence at the explicitly peaceful rally itself highlighted the reality of everyday life for the Palestinian population of Hebron. “It was just a rally to explain what is happening in Hebron. At the beginning we were afraid we could not send out the message to explain what we were suffering from, but then the army and the Israeli police came and they put up the barbed wire and detained us, and prevented us from doing a civil right. They showed exactly what it means, that we are suffering from the apartheid and inequality in Hebron…I’m not happy the police came, but they showed the real face of the occupation, this is a reality.”

 

The rally also intended to highlight the resolve of the Palestinian people, and the fear of the Israelis, toward the upcoming September initiative at the UN. Says Issa, “it’s very connected to September…the Palestinians are suffering from occupation, from settlements, and from apartheid. And this activity was concentrating on apartheid, to tell the world look, there is a problem here! We do not want you to stand against Israel, we want you to stand against apartheid, against occupation, against the settlements. We are not asking people to stand against Israel or say anything bad about Israel, we are just asking them to stand with us against the occupation, against apartheid and against the settlements which are destroying our own lives and violating all our human lives.”

 

Not all Palestinians at the rally, however, were pleased that Apartheid Street was officially receiving a new name. Said resident Azmi Ah- Shouki, “I don’t want to change the name of Shuhada Street, because this name has a relationship with the history and suffering of the Palestinian people. We want the occupation to end and we are here always. The cccupation makes apartheid, but we are Shuhada Street.” Shuhada Street means ‘The Martyr’s Street’ in Arabic, and recalls the memory of those murdered at the Ibrahimi mosque during the massacre of 1994. A small faction of Palestinians showed up at the rally to oppose the decision, and later in the day the group partially covered many of the ‘Welcome to Apartheid Street’ wall stencils with black spray paint.

 

Issa, however, along with other members of Youth against Settlements, remains steadfast. “[These people don’t] know what apartheid means, that is the point. We need to educate the people more about apartheid. We are not changing the name really, we are just explaining, giving a description for the street, that it is an apartheid street. [The name is] officially changed, but it’s not a big change. Finish the apartheid, then it will be the same name [Shuhada Street] again”.

 

Walking away from the entrance to Apartheid Street as the rally dissipated, passing the endless storefronts of the Palestinian people of Hebron as he made his way through the crowded, narrow corridors of the Old City, Badia Dwaik, Deputy Coordinator of Youth against Settlements, expressed perfectly the prevailing feeling of the day- “We did many protests and demonstrations before, but it is important to get attention from the world media. I am happy because we announced this to raise awareness that it is now Apartheid Street. The message is rich, so I am happy.”

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