Settlers menace Hebron residents
'Ahmed' started showing a group of internationals his neighbourhood by taking us through the checkpoint at the foot of Tel Rumeida ('grey hill'). The checkpoint isolates nearly all of Shuhada Street, which used to be the commercial centre of Hebron Old City, for the exclusive use of ideological religious Jewish settlers who are trying to take over the area. One morning, when shopkeepers came to work they found that all their premises had been permanently sealed by iron bars welded across the doors. Access by vehicles to the homes of Palestinians living in the area is prohibited. I remember three years ago helping a woman carry a table up to her home. Even women giving birth have to walk down to the checkpoint. Sometimes they are prevented from passing through for some time, and babies born at the checkpoint have died as a result.
A large amount of land surrounding Hebron has been consumed in the building of a ring of illegal Jewish settlements. Colonists have also established themselves in five locations in the Old City. Tel Rumeida is one of these and is a short distance from the Ibrahimi Mosque where Abraham and members of his family are said to be buried.
Once through the checkpoint, we walked up the steep slope to Ahmed's house. On the way we passed a number of mobile homes occupied by Jewish settlers. Usually they prevent Palestinians from using the road, making a long detour necessary.
Four old people lived in the house next door to Ahmed's. During a period of curfew, they moved out because they could not get food. Settlers took the house and still occupy it although an Israeli court has ordered them to leave. Settlers have tried to drive Ahmed and his family from their home. He has been shot at by soldiers and settlers. Settlers have burned down 286 olive trees on the ground which he says his family has lived on and cultivated for 300 years.
Some years ago Ahmed's niece, then aged seven, was attacked by settlers on her way to school. Residents asked the Christian Peacemaker Team – internationals who started living in Hebron in 1995 (with whom I am staying) – to accompany children to and from school. This they have done ever since, now sharing the task with Ecumenical Accompaniers who have maintained a presence in Hebron since 2005.
Palestinians asked for UN peacekeepers to be stationed in the occupied Palestinian territories, but Israel refused to allow this. International peace activists are welcomed by Palestinians instead. The presence of Israeli and international activists does reduce some of the violent behaviour by the Israeli military and by Jewish settlers. However, these activists can only cover a very small proportion of the checkpoints and other sites where army and settler violence occur. Ahmed believes that nonviolence is the way forward for the Palestinians, and he reckons that there are now 130,000 Palestinians in the West Bank who advocate and practise nonviolent resistance to the occupation.
The Jewish settlers living in Tel Rumeida belong to what even Israel and the US regard as terrorist organisations. Settler violence, supplemented by violence and brutality of Israeli police and soldiers stationed in Hebron, has caused many Palestinian families to move elsewhere. But the remaining families are determined to stay whatever happens, showing great courage and sumoud (steadfastness) in asserting their right to continue living in their own homes.
Why were Israel and the US so opposed to Palestine being declared a non-member observer state by the overwhelming vote in favour at the UN General Assembly on 29th November? The suffering of the Palestinians under occupation has not changed. Neither have the status of Jerusalem, the illegal colonization of the occupied territories by settlers, the refused right of return of Palestinian refugees, nor the Palestinians' blocked right of access to water. However the Palestinians can now participate in General Assembly debates. And they have a greater likelihood of joining UN agencies and of having the International Criminal Court investigate alleged Israeli crimes against humanity and war crimes. Such crimes are being committed every day. Here are some of November 29th's additions to the catalogue:
Israeli Navy attack damages 3 Palestinian fishing boats
Israeli gunfire injures resident near Jabalya
Incursion: Gaza farmer taken prisoner by Israeli troops
Many West Bank tear gas casualties
Night peace disruption and/or home invasions in 4 towns and villages
3 acts of agricultural/economic sabotage
2 dead – 7 injured – 9 taken prisoner – 8 detained
Israeli ceasefire violations fail to provoke Palestinian violations