Feb 25, 2010
On Feb 25, 2010 in Hebron, the third largest city in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Youth Against Settlements, as part of the world-wide Open Shuhada Street campaign, organized a protest in which about 200 Palestinians and 20-30 Israelis attempted to walk down the main street of the Hebron, in peace. We packed a few buses we had rented out for the event, and then drove out to a location chosen at the last minute by the organizers. We then began walking towards the main street of Hebron, Shuhada St., chanting calls for equal rights, side by side, Palestinians and Israelis together. Palestinians, even those whose homes are right on the street, have been banned from using it by the Israeli government, which claims that closing streets to Palestinians, as well as an array of severely restrictive measures including forced evictions, curfews, market closures, military checkpoints, and subjection to military law including frequent random searches and detention without charge, are necessary to protect the few hundred religious fundamentalist Israeli settlers who have forced their way into the heart of Hebron and set up a settlement there. The severe restrictions, along with a lack of protection from rampant settler violence, have pressured thousands of Palestinian residents to flee their homes in the Hebron city center, turning it into a virtual ghost town.
As we approached Shuhada Street, the Israeli soldiers guarding the entrance to the street responded to the 100% non-violent action with a barrage of tear gas and stun grenades, which unfortunately drove many of the protesters back. Myself and the remaining Palestinians and Israelis linked arms, and continued to proceed towards the street despite the choking, nauseating gas, at which point the soldiers began to aggressively push us back, drag us by our shirt collars, and knock people over on several occasions. Eventually we made our way to a point where the road narrowed, and the soldiers, along with their reinforcements, were able to completely block our passage. They then claimed the area was a 'closed military zone', and that we would be arrested if we did not leave. Under Israeli occupation law, we are allowed to request to see an order in writing before being obligated to comply, so we refused to move while they claimed they were retrieving the written order. None of the organizers of the protest were ever shown the order, and no announcement of its arrival was made. Instead, Israeli riot police arrived and rushed into the crowd of protesters to arrest people.
We are proud to say that during the two hour demonstration, not even a single stone was thrown. After the demonstration had ended and most of the protesters dispersed, a couple teenagers began throwing two or three stones from a distance, but Youth Against Settlement organizers quickly managed to reach them and put an immediate stop to it. We believe that any form of violence is counterproductive to the Palestinian cause, that what is needed is a large scale, 100% non-violent uprising of Palestinians demanding equal human rights. This, at least, is a start. And we are gathering momentum: we are hoping to begin staging protests of hundreds of Palestinians peacefully demanding their rights in Hebron, side by side with Israelis, on a regular basis in the near future.
Israel cannot have it both ways. If Hebron and the rest of the occupied West Bank are notpart of Israel, then why has it been giving its civilians financial incentives to move there and claiming jurisdiction over civilian affairs completely unrelated to its own security, for over 40 years? Purely occupying Palestinians and their land could perhaps be justified as a necessary act of self defense, confiscating land for Israeli civilians to live on in the heart of the Territories most definitely cannot. If Hebron and the rest of the West Bank are part of Israel (and in regards to many areas of the West Bank the Israeli government undeniably acts as if they are, and has for over 40 years), then the question we ask is why don't all its residents have equal rights?