Guest writer Steven Katsineris with a piece on the ongoing subjection of Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli state. Steven Katsineris is an Australian free-lance writer of articles on Palestine, Cyprus and the rest of the Middle East region, political prisoners and human rights, environmental and social issues. He has been actively involved in the Palestine solidarity movement for over forty years. Steven lives with his family in Melbourne, Australia.
Hebron (al Khalil) is a Palestinian town located in the southern part of the Israeli occupied West Bank of Palestine. Shuhada Street used to be Hebron’s major thoroughfare and was the bustling, principle commercial centre of the old city of Hebron. Today, this main street is an all but deserted and empty place of boarded up houses and shuttered shops.
Twenty years ago on 25 February, 1994 a Zionist settler from Kiryat Arba, Baruch Goldstein shot dead 29 and injured over 125 more Palestinian civilians during the Morning Prayer in Hebron's Ibrahimi Mosque.
Following this brutal massacre the Israeli occupation authorities reacted by embarking on a campaign to punish the victims by closing Shuhada Street to Palestinians and imposing growing restrictions on commerce, freedom of worship and movement in Hebron's city centre. The Israeli occupation forces closed Shuhada Street to Palestinian vehicles after the massacre in 1994 and then later, in 2000 prevented Palestinian residents and other pedestrian’s walking there. Israel said this was in order to provide security for the then 600 Israeli settlers that occupied a section of the centre of Hebron. The oppressive activities of the occupation and its settlers in the city of Hebron have turned the lives of 200,000 Palestinians in Hebron into a nightmare that has seen thousands expelled from their homes. The Jewish settlement is considered to be illegal by the international community and according to international law, but the Israeli government disputes this.
The Israeli state also imposed on the Palestinian residents of Shuhada Street and the centre of the city a regime of forced evictions, curfews, market and street closures, military checkpoints, roadblocks and subjected the population to military law, including frequent random stop and searches, detention without charge and no protection from rampant settler violence. More than 500 Palestinian stores were closed by military order and a further 1,000 shop owners were forced to close their stores due to the relentless imposition of military checkpoints and enforced closures. The result of this harsh pressure compelled over 15,000 Palestinian civilians to flee their homes in the city centre of Hebron, turning it into a virtual ghost town. So today, Shuhada Street, the once lively, thriving centre of the ancient city of Hebron is dead, its shops and most of its houses abandoned.
The situation in Hebron is totally unjust; it is a city with nearly 200,000 Palestinian residents, who are banned from access to their main street, except for a small part. While the now 800 illegal Israeli settlers, protected by Israeli occupation soldiers, are exclusively allowed full access and enjoy freedom of movement in the closed street. And these Israeli settlers in Hebron with the full backing of the Israeli army are systematically making life more unbearable for the Palestinians left in Shuhada Street and the rest of the city of Hebron.
Most of the Palestinians that once lived here have reluctantly left their shops and homes. In 2001, the Israeli army closed all the entrances to the resident’s houses along Shuhada Street and forbid Palestinians to use their front doors. The remaining Palestinians who live in the area have to enter and exit by climbing over roofs or through their back doors. Those Palestinian residents who remain suffer constant harassment and attacks by Israeli settlers. And Israeli soldiers guarding the street frequently ignore this violent behaviour by settlers and don’t intervene to protect Palestinians from this settler violence. Israel says it pushed out thousands of Palestinian families and shop owners from the heart of their city for security reasons. But the repression, intolerable living conditions and increasing illegal colonisation by the violent Israeli settlers in the area is in fact increasing tensions and the risk of conflict.
Shuhada Street is an iconic symbol of the crushing suppression of Palestinians under the brutal Israeli occupation. What used to be a busy shopping street has now become a ghost road with massive concrete barriers and heavily armed young soldiers at numerous checkpoints. Palestinians who need to pass through to go to work or home can be held for hours for no reason and endure harassment and humiliation.
During the annual February Open Shuhada Street in Hebron protest this year five Palestinians were arrested. Three were later released and two were kept confined in prison. More than 13 were injured by Israeli forces. The demonstration started at Ali-Bakka Mosque from the eastern entrance to Shuhada Street. According to Youth Against Settlements over 2,000 people participated from all Palestinian political parties, with many other Israeli and international organisations joining in marching in this year’s demonstration. The protest was attended by popular resistance activists, participants from all around the country, the governor of Hebron, Kamel Hmeid, a member of the legislative council, Mustafa Barghuthi and representatives of the Islamic and National parties in the city of Hebron.
When the demonstrators reached the entrance to Shuhada Street Israeli military forces attacked the peaceful protesters. Israeli soldiers at the army checkpoint fired lots of stun grenades, rubber bullets and teargas towards the protesters. Other protesters were also physically beaten by soldiers and police. Some demonstrators responded with stone throwing. A cameraman for Israeli human rights group BT’selem was injured with a rubber bullet in the head, and a Palmedia journalist with a plastic coated steel bullets also in the head.
This year’s protest also marked the 20 year anniversary of the Ibrahimi Mosque Massacre in Hebron. The protest was organized by Youth Against Settlements, The Hebron Defence Committee, in coordination with the Palestinian national political parties and the Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign. They called on activists and organizations to participate in the demonstration and unite to demand the opening of Shuhada Street to Palestinians and an end to the Israeli occupation.
Open Shuhada St. Campaign (OSC) is a Palestinian initiative, aiming to organize an International day of solidarity with the Palestinian residents of Hebron. It was started in 2010 in Hebron and international solidarity actions took place in numerous cities around the world.
The Open Shuhada Street Campaign, now in its fifth year, was an initiative of Youth Against Settlements, with support from many other Palestinian, Israeli and international groups, aimed at focusing attention on the plight of the Palestinian residents of Hebron. And more broadly the campaign hopes to raise awareness about the Israeli occupation. As the organizers state, “We are focusing on Shuhada Street as a symbol of the settlement issue, the policy of separation in Hebron/al Khaleel and the entire West Bank, the lack of freedom of movement and the occupation at large.”
On Feb, 25, 2014 many civil, religious and political groups and activists from Palestine and Israel and elsewhere launched a world-wide campaign to open Shuhada Street, to protect the civil rights of all people and to end the Israeli occupation. The brave people of Hebron are peacefully standing up to the daily violence of living under Israeli occupation. They are calling on us to support their just cause. Let’s answer their appeal and help get them their rightful access to the heart of their city. Despite a court case and an admission by the Israeli government that their actions in Shuhada Street are illegal, the street is still closed to Palestinians 14 years later.
Please act to help expose the repressive segregation in Hebron and to show solidarity with the residents of Hebron and the struggling people of Palestine. The Palestinians are continuing to suffer and struggle against the cruel Israeli occupation and need our help. Demand the reopening of Shuhada Street to Palestinians and an end to the Israeli occupation.
- To get involved in supporting the campaign or to obtain more information contact-Open Shuhada Street Campaign- email@example.com and WWW.HYAS.PSand sign the Shuhada Street petition at Avaaz.