Life on Shuhada Street

This is part 2 in a 3-part series on the closure of Shuhada street and its impact on the community of Hebron.

by Sarah, Hebron team

Former Palestinian shops in Shuhada street are now overgrown with plants. Photo EAPPI/J. Schilder, 2010.

Former Palestinian shops in Shuhada street are now overgrown with plants. Photo EAPPI/J. Schilder, 2010.

 

Today, the once lively Shuhada Street in Hebron is a shell of its former self. Welded shut doors, rusty awnings, graffiti-sprayed walls, weeds, and caged balconies characterize this once active and busy street. The street was essentially shut down during the second Intifada and access to the street denied to Palestinians. Despite Israeli pledges to reopen the street, Shuhada Street remains closed and eerily empty.

Shuhada Street stretches from the entrance to H2 from H1 at Checkpoint 56 to the opposite side of H2 and Checkpoint 209 and is home to Israeli settlers and Palestinians. There are three settlements on Shuhada Street: Beit Hadassah, Beit Romano, and Avraham Avinu. The location of these settlements is what makes Hebron such a unique city as they are situated in the heart of a Palestinian city and Shuhada Street is closed to Palestinians because of it.

Life on Shuhada Street for Israeli settlers is quiet. There is no traffic, pedestrian or vehicular, there is excessive security ensuring safety, there is a coffee shop, school, and museum. Residents of Beit Hadassah deliver snacks and hot tea to the soldier at Checkpoint 56 below their building each morning. Children wait at bus stops for the school bus to collect them. Worshippers walk up Shuhada Street to the synagogue and the Cave of Patriarchs. Tour groups of settlers and internationals peruse the street with interest and intrigue. As a settler, life on Shuhada Street is normal.

Life on Shuhada Street for Palestinian residents is a struggle. Those still living on the street are forbidden from accessing the street and therefore using their front doors. As a result they are required to search for alternative access to and from their homes, which often means dangerous careering across staircases and rooftops. Many, if not all, of the balconies are encased in fencing with the goal of preventing stones and eggs reaching their belongings.

Cordoba School, for Palestinian children, is situated above Shuhada Street and access to the school is a steep staircase at Checkpoint 55 that also marks the border of Palestinian admission to Shuhada Street. Ecumenical accompaniers monitor this checkpoint and Checkpoint 56 two times a day during the school week. Israeli soldiers and settlers often harass children walking down Shuhada Street to school. EAs attempt to prevent such agitation by providing protective presence and in the process develop relationships with the children and teachers of Cordoba School.

From the staircase leading to Cordoba School to the access road of the Ibrahimi Mosque, Palestinians are forbidden from walking or driving on the Shuhada Street. Approximately 30,000 Palestinians and 700 Israeli settlers live in the H2 partition of Hebron. For Palestinian residents, Shuhada Street is a clear symbol of the occupation. Israeli authorities use the Palestinian nationality as a weapon to control where they walk, how they live, and where they exist. The empty Shuhada Street epitomizes the Israeli occupation.

Life on Shuhada Street is a dream for some and a nightmare for others. For the Israeli settlers inhabiting Shuhada Street is a dream of access, peace, and protection. For the Palestinian residents of Shuhada Street life is a series of humiliating checkpoints and restrictions. It is a conundrum of rights and a skewed priority of safety.

* Read Part 1: The Story of Shuhada Street.

What fuels the clashes in Hebron?

For several months, daily clashes between Palestinian teenage boys and Israeli soldiers around two crucial checkpoints have occurred in Hebron. Due to the frequency of these clashes they are referred to by locals as “a phenomenon”. But we are also reminded that the context in which these clashes occur are tied to the social impact of life in a separated city.

by Marcos, Sarah, Bertrand, and Maria, Hebron team

Where do the clashes occur?

Each morning and afternoon, as the boys make their way to and from school, clashes occur. A few boys gather. A military jeep, filled with soldiers, rolls up. One stone is thrown toward checkpoint 29 or 209. More boys arrive and chanting starts. Soldiers begin to shift uneasily in their boots. A shower of stones reaches the military men. A tear gas canister is fired toward the boys. White smoke fills the tense air as people pull their shirts over their mouths and run to escape the gas. There are a few minutes of calm. Then it starts again. Stones met with stun grenades and tear gas; unequal weapons in a complicated clash.

Images of everyday life at checkpoints 209 and 29 where clashes occur daily. Photo EAPPI/M. Knoblauch.

Images of everyday life at checkpoints 209 and 29 where clashes occur daily. Photo EAPPI/M. Knoblauch.

This is Hebron, a microcosm of the occupation. Palestinians, Israeli settlers, soldiers, police, and border police converge in a split city. After the Oslo Accords, the city of Hebron was divided into the Palestinian controlled H1 and the Israeli controlled H2. 18 permanently staffed military checkpoints and 120 physical obstacles are strategically placed around the H2 area; monitoring, restricting, and checking the Palestinian people.

Two such checkpoints are 29 and 209. These checkpoints are approximately 300m apart and are manned by the Israeli border police with assistance from the Israeli military. In recent months, the area between these checkpoints has experienced what has been described by local Palestinians as a “phenomenon”; violent clashes occurring sometimes twice a day between school boys and soldiers. 

 

What fuels the tension?

1.  Lack of civil or military authority creates a void

The zone wedged between these checkpoints is home to four schools, two of which are exclusively for boys between the ages of 11 and 16. Technically this area is H2 and Israel is therefore, as the occupying power, obligated to protect not only the humanitarian needs of the Palestinians living in the area, but also to ensure their human rights and law enforcement. But on the other side of checkpoints 29 and 209 there is no Israeli military or police presence. The military emerge only at the onset of a clash. At that point, soldiers move down the respective streets from the checkpoints into this no man’s land. At any other time, there is no law and order, very little control, and extensive tension.

In this calculated occupation, each action is carefully considered and implemented. The location of checkpoints 209 and 29 and lack of authoritative presence in this volatile zone is clearly strategic. Behind the checkpoints are several Israeli settlements and the shared Ibrahimi Mosque / Tomb of the Patriarchs. The checkpoints allow secure and controlled access to these sites for Israelis and link the settlements. It is not beneficial to the Israeli military to go beyond these checkpoints even though the area is H2 and Israel is required to protect and monitor the people and the place. This absence further fuels the tension.

2. Occupation; the root of frustration

The existence of checkpoints 29 and 209 create a sense of imprisonment. Metal detectors, turnstiles, and armed soldiers control who goes where and when. The restrictions on the natural movement of the Palestinian people socially suffocate normality and reinforce the reality of the occupation. This breeds frustration and fuels the clashes.

Palestinians and soldiers are responsible for provocation and violence; when Palestinians throw stones they encourage the soldiers to move away from the checkpoint. And the checkpoint itself provokes the Palestinians to throw stones in the first place. The only civil and military authority allowed on both sides of the checkpoints is the Israeli authority as Palestinian authorities are not allowed to enter H2. Israeli police, responsible for civil security in the occupied territories, are not present beyond checkpoints 209 and 29 thus leaving an open space for crime and unrest.

Clashes are a form of resistance led by teenage boys searching as a way to express their unhappiness and frustration with the occupation. Stone throwing has developed into a symbol of struggle and a demonstration of dissatisfaction all over the occupied Palestinian territory, but in this area it has become an almost every day occurrence.

3. Teacher’s cannot fill the void amidst strikes

Where Palestinian law enforcement is prevented from acting as a civil authority, the Israeli police are not present to fill that gap. Teachers and residents are left with the responsibility to act as the societal authority in an attempt to restore order and achieve a school day in an extremely volatile situation.

Right before school begins in the morning, teachers and residents take to the streets in an attempt to dissipate the boy’s intentions, bring them into the classrooms before the first stone is thrown. Sometimes teachers succeed, but sometimes tension escalates too fast, a stone flies and the violent unequal force demonstration begins.

A teacher in one of the schools explained that the main problem is the Israeli soldiers approaching the entrance of the schools and he believes the clashes could be avoided if the army stayed behind the checkpoints.

Several times, during the last month, Palestinian teachers were on total or partial strikes, requesting better working conditions and salaries, a scenario that replicates the educational situation in many countries in the world. Negotiations between the teachers’ union and the Palestinian Authority occur during afternoons leaving no time to communicate to the students that schools will be closed.

Unlike most countries, in Palestine, particularly in Hebron, a teacher’s strike has two consequences: a lost school day and unbounded tension in the vicinity of the checkpoints.

Who will win?

Clashes never result in a winner. Neither the soldiers nor the boys gain territory, power, control, or respect. But they continue, in the same manner, with the same result. A tipping point is inevitable but what that tipping point may be remains a mystery.

Tuqu’ – a village under siege

by Alison, Bethlehem team 

An Israeli soldier cries as a Palestinian woman pleas for her olive trees not to be destroyed. Photo EAPPI/A. Morgan.

An Israeli soldier cries as a Palestinian woman pleas for her olive trees not to be destroyed. Photo EAPPI/A. Morgan.

It will be like killing our mothers…

A loud buzz of chainsaws greets our arrival following a call from Tuqu’ – a Palestinian village of about 12,000 people, south of Bethlehem in the West Bank. We find Israeli soldiers overseeing the destruction of row after row of mature olive trees.

The Palestinian farmers remonstrate with the army. They have land ownership documents dating back generations from the Jordanian, British and Ottoman administrations, but soldiers ignore their arguments and hold them back at gunpoint. I notice a woman pleading with soldiers who order her away, but she will not let up. An Israeli Border Guard, a young woman who speaks Arabic, is called to deal with her. I watch as the young soldier stands listening and silently drops her head, turning her face to wipe away tears.

Finally, the buzzing stops, but it is a temporary reprieve. The Israelis have declared this ‘state land’ and the farmers are given four days to cut down hundreds more trees themselves, or the world’s fourth largest army will return to defend Israel from the olive trees.

‘How can we do this?’ asks one farmer ‘It will be like killing our mothers!’

Emotional harassment in Area C

About three quarters of Tuqu’s land is in Area C, under full Israeli military control, although Israel was supposed to give the Palestinian Authority full control of this area within 5 years of the Oslo Agreement. Tuqu’ has already lost hundreds of hectares to the illegal Israeli settlements of Teqoa, Noqedim and Ma’ale Amos that surround it to the north, south and east. 

Our team comes regularly to Tuqu’. It is one of four Bethlehem villages where we accompany children to school as part of a UNICEF ‘Access to Education’ programme. Every day, children of 6 to 18 must run the gauntlet of armed Israeli soldiers and we have been present when the army shot tear-gas at the schools. The soldiers obstruct the school entrances with jeeps, and patrol the footpaths with guns, forcing the children to walk across rough fields or along the busy road.

‘It is emotional harassment’ says the mayor.

Recently we met a 16 year old boy who showed us the X- ray of a bullet still lodged in his back since a recent military incursion into Tuqu’. The mayor also tells us that over 20 children have been arrested in the last three months.

Quickly a new settlement is born

The Israeli forces set up concrete blocks and new warning signs. Photo EAPPI/A. Morgan.

The Israeli forces set up concrete blocks and new warning signs. Photo EAPPI/A. Morgan.

Two weeks before the trees were cut down, Tuqu’s mayor called us because Israeli settlers, accompanied by soldiers, began putting up Israeli flags and tents on Tuqu’ land each afternoon. Following this we saw the army erecting a series of concrete pillars along the roadside, with two red signs warning Israelis that this was a dangerous Palestinian village. Soon after this, settlers erected a large marquee and put up provocative posters with a picture of a car being fire-bombed. The Palestinian landowner protested, but the military commander told him the settlers would have  the land for two days for a party.  There was nothing the farmer could do to stop this, but the village held a peaceful protest, whilst a large Israeli military force guarded the settlers.

The people of Tuqu’ know that this is how it starts; a few tents, some flags, then some caravans – an illegal settlement outpost is born. With Israeli state protection and financial inducements it will soon grow to thousands of settlers. More land theft, house demolitions, movement restrictions and violence against local Palestinians will follow.

Two days after the party, the settlers are back. They include a vigilante group called Women in Green* led by a Belgian-born woman called Nadia Matar. We ask what she thinks about the 16 year old Tuqu’ boy who was shot it the back whilst going to visit his grandfather.

‘ He was probably throwing stones.’ She replies ‘Kids who throw stones should be shot in the head. ’

Children at non-violent protest in Tuqu'. Photo EAPPI/A. Morgan.

Children at non-violent protest in Tuqu’. Photo EAPPI/A. Morgan.

During a visit to Tuqu’ a week after the tree cutting, we see scores of settlers coming towards the village, many bringing young children. A large number of Israeli soldiers position themselves across the road and fields, aiming their rifles and teargas cannons at Palestinian children coming out with their parents for another peaceful protest. The settlers hold a ceremony and light candles. It is Hanukkah, and they tell us they are giving this area a new Hebrew name.

International Law and Israeli settlements

Under international law it is illegal for Israel, as an occupying force, to transfer its own population into the occupied Palestinian territories. Despite this, Israel’s massive settlement programme has continued unabated for decades, with thousands more homes being planned during the current Peace talks. With many settlements to the east of Bethlehem and other Palestinian centres, the Israeli strategy seems clear: to expand the eastern settlements westward to join up with Jerusalem, bisecting the West Bank and corralling the Palestinian population into a series of isolated areas.

EAPPI is keeping international agencies informed about these developments in Tuqu’ and a legal challenge is underway, supported by UNOCHA and the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Watch video documentation of Tuqu’:

Tuqu’ Village Olive Trees Cut Down & Women in Green settler action

Israeli Settlers and Israeil army harass Tuqu’ Village in the West Bank


*Women in Green (WiG) is a right wing group that opposes the creation of a Palestinian state and supports Israeli settlement of the West Bank, which it proposes Israel should annex. WiG also opposed Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon.  Nadia Matar, the Belgian-born leader of WiG claims that the ‘Arabs’ in the ‘Holy Land’ are descended from relatively recent immigrants, and should be ‘transferred’ to neighbouring Arab countries.

How can you understand the Israeli/Palestinian conflict without seeing it for yourself?

EAPPI’s interactive booth in Korea brings the realities of life under occupation to life

EAPPI staff, former EAs and local partners attended the World Council of Churches (WCC) 10th General Assembly in Busan, Korea from October 30 to November 8.  The booth, featured a photo exhibit and short films of EAPPI’s work and the situation in Palestine.

A banner of the separation wall hung over the entrance to EAPPI's booth at the WCC 10th General Assembly. Photo EAPPI.

A banner of the separation wall hung over the entrance to EAPPI’s booth at the WCC 10th General Assembly. Photo EAPPI.

The separation wall in Korea

Participants had to show their IDs before entering through the separation wall. Photo EAPPI.

Participants had to show their IDs before entering through the separation wall. Photo EAPPI.

Before entering, however, participants had to go through a façade designed as the separation wall, where participants could write message of peace and add their own graffiti.  A soldier (a former EAPPI observer) guarded the entrance, asking to check participant’s ID’s.

“Are you Palestinian,” he asked. If not, he would allow them in. If so, he would not.

Every evening in the booth, participants could join for tea time.  “We served sweet mint tea and cookies and discussed issues like ‘Palestinian children and the right to education,’ the ‘arbitrary use of violence against Palestinian children,’ ethical pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and access to worship.

Access to education

"Are you Palestinian," the soldier asked.  If so, you could not enter the booth.  A reflection of the restrictions on movement that Palestinians face every day. Photo EAPPI.

“Are you Palestinian,” the soldier asked. If so, you could not enter the booth. A reflection of the restrictions on movement that Palestinians face every day. Photo EAPPI.

“We sought to build awareness about the issue of ‘access to education’ to WCC member churches and ecumenical programs,” explained Nader, EAPPI Advocacy officer. “We wanted to mobilize them to take actions to improve Palestinian schoolchildren’s access to schools.

Anne-Marie, EAPPI’s Program Associate in Geneva recounted:

“Many people, who didn’t know much about the conflict were shocked, especially issues such as kids being threatened on their way to school and impunity for settler violence.”

The main event focused on access to education. Adli Daama, Learning for Development Officer at UNICEF, discussed the overall context of education under occupation, while Rafeeq Zeineldeen teacher from Qabalan school near Nablus, focused on his school’s experience and the affects of occupation on his students.  In addition, two former EAs discussed their experience in the West Bank and how people on the ground are affected.

Tearing down the wall

On the last day, many people gathered at the EAPPI both, where Manuel Quintero, EAPPI’s International Program Coordinator and Rifat Kassis, head of Defence for Children International in Palestine, talked about the illegality of the separation barrier under international law.  At the end, everybody chanted, ‘The wall must fall. The wall must fall.’ Nader retold, “and we symbolically tore down the wall.”

“EAPPI’s participation at the WCC assembly succeeded in bringing the attention of many churches around the world to the struggles of Palestinians,” said Yusef Daher, Executive Secretary of the Jerusalem Inter-Church Centre. “As Palestinian Christians, we saw the most enthusiasm we’ve seen in any large event, especially from churches in the global south, such as Korean and India, and we hope to see them involved in EAPPI’s work soon.”

Idyllic to tragic

An EAPPI human rights observer reflects on the mixed emotions felt day to day while witnessing life under occupation.

by Orla, October 9, 2013

This afternoon we were called to a school in the Palestinian village of Jalud where masked men from a nearby Israeli settlement came, smashed the windows of 5 cars belonging to teachers cars and threw rocks at the classroom windows whilst the children were in class. The children told us they cried and were terrified.

F. Djurklou Teacher's Car Damaged by Settlers Jalud 131009

Israeli settlers smashed the windows of 5 teachers’ cars outside the school in Jalud. Photo EAPPI/F. Djurklou

As we left the scene, we noticed smoke coming from the fields behind the school and saw that the settlers had also set the olive groves on fire. Only yesterday I helped my neighbours harvest their olive trees and just this morning a family, gathered in the shade of their olive trees, offered me tea as they were getting ready to harvest. I felt so privileged to be part of such an important family occasion.

This afternoon was a different story. I felt useless as the flames and smoke forced me back. I watched scores of men and children run down from the school, breaking olive branches in an attempt to extinguish the fire and save not only the olive trees, but also people’s livelihoods.

This is not a one off incident. Such acts of terror and intimidation are part of daily life for Palestinians in the West Bank, yet the Israeli authorities do very little to prevent such incidents or bring the perpetrators to account for their crimes.

*This post was originally published on Orla’s personal blog.

“Existence is Resistance”

by Birgitta, Sally, Juha, and Arve, South Hebron Hills team

The hamlet of Halaweh in Masafer Yatta. Photo EAPPI A. Konnestad

The hamlet of Halaweh in Masafer Yatta. Photo EAPPI A. Konnestad

Journey to School

The sun rises as we leave for Masafer Yatta. Its golden rays colour the house walls and alleys in the town. Soon, we leave the good roads and turn onto the stony trails that take us further and further into the hilly desert landscape. Sheep graze on the hillsides even if it difficult to see what they find to eat. A small boy gives them a drink at a water cistern.

At a bend in the road a mother comes down the hill with her two children. Mofeed, the driver, stops and we help the children into the car. The UNICEF Land Cruiser brings children in Masafer Yatta to and from school every day.

An EA accompanying children to school in Masafer Yatta. Photo EAPPI/B. Rubenson.

An EA accompanying children to school in Masafer Yatta. Photo EAPPI/B. Rubenson.

The journey continues into the great emptiness of sandy hills, where suddenly small groups of children appear waiting for the car. After about 45 minutes we reach Khirbet al Majaz, where some children get out of the car and others enter. From Majaz we continue to Khirbeit al Fakheit, the main school in Masafer Yatta.

By 9:00 am, the school day starts. We see Israeli air-fighters drawing white lines across the clear blue sky and hear the Israeli army firing of live ammunition in the distance.

To stay and continue to live

Masafer Yatta, is situated next to the Green line. Its 12 small hamlets house a population of about 1400 people, whose ancestors lived in the area for generations as herders of sheep and goats. They are partly nomadic, following their animals in search for water and fodder.

In 1970, the Israeli government decided to designate the area for military purposes under the name firing zone 918 and required the population to move. In 1999, roughly 700 people were forcibly evicted and their homes destroyed. With the support of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) the families took their case to court and in March 2000 the court decided on an interim injunction, allowing the people to return to their homes.

Since then the case is pending a final decision. The people of Masafer Yatta live with the constant threat of destruction of and eviction from their homes. Daily, the Israeli army practices with live ammunition. The are ready to demolish every structure and suspicious of any new construction.

“Existence is Resistance” says an UN-representative working in the area, when describing the people in Masafer Yatta. To stay and continue life under constant threat is difficult and requires strong conviction that one is right and that justice will prevail.

Not giving up

Children coming home from school by donkey. Photo EAPPI/S. Masters

Children coming home from school by donkey. Photo EAPPI/S. Masters

Many of the families in Masafer Yatta have relatives in Yatta and could move there, but that would mean giving up their land and traditional life-style to the occupier and enemy. Instead they send their children wandering over the sandy hills or riding on a donkey to ensure that they receive their education. They accept to live in the most primitive conditions with poor water sources and small sun-panels for electricity. Larger construction would lead to immediate demolition-orders, which often include the makeshift tents they use for housing.

When the families in Masafer Yatta decided a small school was needed in al Majaz, they had to find an existing structure, since a new structure could not be considered. Everyday, international organizations must accompany the children school to ensure their safety, but even they have difficulties.

In August, just before school began, the people of Masafer Yatta opened a new school in this tent in Khirbet al Majaz. Photo EAPPI/A. Konnestad

In August, just before school began, the people of Masafer Yatta opened a new school in this tent in Khirbet al Majaz. Photo EAPPI/A. Konnestad

Recently, the Israeli army confiscated a World Vision car, supporting another school in the nearby community of Jinba, and the children forced to walk back through the desert. Confiscation was also the fate of cars from CometME, Operation Dove and the Palestinian ministry of agriculture.

Hope remains

The case to expel the 1400 people from Masafer Yatta and permanently turn it into a firing zone went to the High Court of Israel for decision on September 2nd. Instead of giving a final decision, however, the court appointed a mediator between the people of Masafer Yatta and the Israeli army. The two parties must decide if this is an acceptable decision on October 17th.

In Masafer Yatta, the people are optimistic. “Finally they are willing to talk to us, not just give us orders” the director of the Khirbeit al Fakheit school says. He hopes for a realistic and viable decision.

Read a previous EAPPI Special Report on Palestinian Villages in Firing Zone 918.