In the land of King David
Lia Tarachansky for JNews Blog, 8 March, 2011
See also Btselem, 17 years after Goldstein massacre, Hebron city center paralyzed, 3rd March 2011
Last week Israeli Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar announced a new programme – taking Israeli school children on tours to the occupied West Bank city of Hebron. It is scheduled to begin in September. This announcement follows closely on an investigation into the death of a 17-year-old Palestinian boy who was killed by Israeli hikers on a tour in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. In the past, such tours were permitted by the Israeli Civil Administration authorities but this announcement signals the first open government endorsement.
On 28 January 2011, the David and Ahikam Tours Company (link to Hebrew website) took a group of Jewish-Israeli hikers over the lands of the Palestinian village of Beit Ummar in the Hebron governorate. Youths from the village saw the group and threw stones. The hikers shot back, using live ammunition, wounding 23-year-old Bila Mohammad Abed Al-Qador and killing 17-year-old Yousef Fakhri Ikhlayl.
It never occurred to the Israeli media to ask why the youths had thrown stones. Here are some thoughts. It could have been that they mistook the group for settler scouts looking for a place to start a new outpost. Maybe they were frustrated at the military raids in their village two days before. Maybe they were angry that settlers had killed19-year-old Oday Maher Hamza Qadous near Nablus the day before. Or maybe they understood the group to be exactly what it was and wanted them off Palestinian land. In all likelihood they threw stones because throwing stones at any facet of the occupation is a boy’s rite of passage in the occupied territories. The Israeli press didn’t attempt to find out and only reported the hikers’ experience, in heroic and terrifying language:
“[Shimi] Prazot, 32, added, “our group included 12-year-olds, women over the age of 60, and no one had planned for a situation like that. We didn’t even know where to run to … I asked anyone in our group who had a weapon to cover the seniors’ and children’s escape. I cocked my personal weapon and hid behind a boulder”.
I wonder why no one in the group predicted such a possibility considering that the tour took place on occupied land in the heart of the West Bank. I also wonder how the media would have portrayed a group of Palestinian hikers touring the hills of Haifa being attacked by Israeli teenagers throwing stones.
The next day Israeli forces opened fire on Ikhlayl’s funeral, wounding 40.
Apart from Jerusalem, Hebron is the only Palestinian city in the West Bank inside which settlers have set up outposts. Shortly after the occupation began, religious Israelis went ‘on tour’ there. They never left. Their presence meant the displacement over time of tens of thousands of Palestinian residents from the Old City and decades of violent conflict, escalating in a 1994 massacre where settler Baruch Goldstein gunned down 29 Palestinians were in the Ibrahimi mosque; a further 125 were wounded. Known to the Palestinians as the Sanctuary of Abraham (or the Ibrahimi Mosque, al-Haram al-Ibrahimi) and to Jews as the Tomb of the Patriarchs (or Me’arat ha-Machpela), it is holy to both faiths as the place where Abraham is believed to be buried.
Ha’aretz columnist, Gideon Levy, writes about the Minister’s programme and the effect it will have on school children, saying, “They will return from Hebron excited at having touched the ancient stones and even more blinded from not having touched the people who lived alongside those stones. They will see nothing and learn nothing.” If the Minister insists on taking the school children to Hebron, says Levy, he should show them a full picture, of “the Jewish tradition and the Jewish injustice.”
Years after moving out of the settlements where I grew up, I took such a trip. It was organized by Breaking the Silence,an Israeli organization of veterans who had served in the occupation army, and now work with Palestinians to expose Israelis and internationals to a different view of Hebron. Had the students taken such a tour, they would have seen a ceiling of wire mesh above the streets of the Old City to stop the Israeli settlers who live above the marketplace throwing garbage and bricks on the Palestinians below. (Now they dump sewage and water.) The schoolchildren would also have seen the occupation at work with its administrative classifications, its checkpoints, soldiers, permits, walls and army jeeps. Of course it’s only a matter of time before they participate in it themselves when they reach conscription age.
Why take the students to Hebron? After all, it’s hard not to trip over religious and historically important sites throughout Israel and the Occupied Territories. The Minister’s explanation was that he thinks it’s “very important for them to know the historic roots of the people of Israel in the Land of Israel.”
David and Ahikam Tours are more forthright. Unlike the Minister, they don’t speak in code. For years they have organized Israeli nature and historic hiking tours throughout the occupied West Bank under the motto, “Where the Jewish traveler passes, the Jewish border shall pass”. And it is thanks to the tireless work of settlers that today’s schoolchildren can walk around their autonomous Jewish enclaves inside Hebron, carved out by displacing the former Palestinian residents.
That, in essence, is why Minister Sa’ar can talk about taking schoolchildren to Hebron, and not, say, to Nablus, which is equally significant from a historic point of view.
In their publicity, the organizers ask anyone traveling to the assembly points (at various settlements) to notify them if they have extra spaces for fellow hikers, to pack water and snacks, and to let them know if they intend to bring guns. Right now the tour company is advertising a hike through the hills where I grew up, near the settlement of Ariel (built on the lands of the Palestinian villages of Yasouf, Iskaka, Marda, Hares and Kifl Hares and the town of Salfit). At the bottom of the page the organizers kindly notify travelers that they “take no responsibility for their safety and security.” Like me growing up and the schoolchildren in Minister Sa’ar’s plan, the hikers will be shown a selective picture, far removed from the wall and the checkpoints. And they will believe, as I did, that they are on the frontlines of a fight to restore some glorious and distant ancient time.
The tour company itself is named after two soldiers who were killed while hiking through the occupied West Bank. “Ahikam and David followed the words of the scriptures,” say the organizers, “to ensure that each place where our foot shall pass will be our inheritance. They went to feel the spirit of the zealots and warriors of Bar Kokhba…where they fell as zealous warriors for the name of God and the name of the land of Israel which they loved so.”
This passage communicates the ideology behind these tours. It builds on the Zionist selectivity we were taught in our schools, claiming a Jewish right over the land and erasing that of the Palestinians who have lived there for centuries. It prepares us for army service and it underlines the legal designation of Palestinians as ‘foreigners’ making them outsiders, as the Romans once were. Referencing Bar Kokhba demonstrates that the organizers see themselves as revolutionaries, fighting as he did, in 132 AD, against the Roman emperor Hadrian in the Third Jewish Revolt.
The comparison is really quite ironic because Hadrian, in his frustration at the renewed Jewish rebellion against foreign rule, prevented Jews from traveling to Jerusalem, burned their religious texts on Temple Mount, and attempted to erase their memory and titles from maps. We may no longer be living in Roman times, but the colonial spirit has not been lost.
When four of the participants in the tour of Beit Ummar were arrested as part of an investigation into the death of Ikhlayl, protesters assembled outside the Jerusalem Magistrates Court holding signs that read “It’s our right to tour Eretz Israel”, “To the arrested – thanks to you we are alive today – the hikers”, and most ironically, “Where is the right to self-defense?”
Perhaps it is precisely because the balance of power here is so lopsided that this logic doesn’t even seem strange; that going into a militarily occupied area (recognized even by Israel as under Palestinian rule) and packing sandwiches with M16 rifles still makes teenagers with stones the aggressors. When Minister Sa’ar’s program begins and schoolchildren start traveling to occupied Hebron in armored cars surrounded by dozens if not hundreds of soldiers and police officers, the military show of force will also be justified as self-defense. And if any clashes do occur, the dehumanization of the Palestinians Gideon Levy refers to as at the heart of the occupation, will only strengthen the nationalistic narrative that brought these children there in the first place.
Lia Tarachansky (email@example.com) is an Israeli-Canadian journalist and the director of the upcoming documentary, Seven Deadly Myths. Most recently she worked as a Middle East correspondent with The Real News Network. Her writings and videos are available at www.liatarachansky.com
Ibrahimi Mosque/ Tomb of the Patriarchs is an Open Source image.
Hebron by Lia Tarachansky
This article may be reproduced on condition that JNews is cited as its source
17 years after Goldstein massacre, Hebron city center paralyzed
3 March 2011
Zlikhah Muhtasab, 49, is one of the few Palestinians still living on Shuhada Street in the center of Hebron. The street, one of Hebron ‘s main thoroughfares, links the north and south of the city and passes by the major markets, the Old City , the Tomb of the Patriarchs and al-Haram al-Ibrahimi, and Israeli settlement compounds. Since October 2000, Israel has forbidden Palestinians to walk or drive on the street, although no valid military order for the closure has been presented. Along with other restrictions on Palestinian movement in the area, this has led to an economic collapse of the city center. Many residents have left, and the area has become a ghost town. Over the years, the army repeatedly claimed it was about to permit Palestinians to use the street again, but this has yet to occur.
Israeli settlers, however, are allowed to move freely on the street. In a testimony she gave to B’Tselem, Zlikhah related the harassment she and her 75-year-old mother have suffered since they moved, for financial reasons, to a house on the largely deserted street in 2006. In the first year, settlers regularly threw stones at the house. After Zlikhah came home one day to discover a large amount of stones within the house, she asked the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee to assist her in installing iron grating on the windows and porches of the house for protection. The grating, which gives the house a cage-like appearance, did not assist in deterring assaults, and settlers continue to throw stones at the house from time to time, even at night.
Zlikhah Muhtasab in her cage-like house. Photo: Musa Abu Hashhash, B’Tselem, 13 Feb. ’11.
Israel began to restrict Palestinian movement along the street in 1994. After the massacre carried out by Baruch Goldstein in the Tomb of the Patriarchs that year, Israel chose to impose restrictions on the Palestinians, rather than on the Israeli settlers in the city, contending that these restrictions were necessary in order to protect the settlers’ safety. At first, Israel forbade Palestinian commerce and vehicle traffic on part of the Shuhada Street , and only residents of the street were allowed to enter by vehicle. Under the Hebron Agreement, signed in January 1997, control of a large part of the city, referred to as Area H1, was transferred to the Palestinian Authority. The section of the city in which Israeli settlements had been established, termed H2, remained under Israeli control. The parties agreed that Israel would once again allow Palestinian vehicle traffic on Shuhada Street , in area H2. For several years, until the beginning of the second intifada, the forbidden section of the street was alternately opened and closed.
When the second intifada broke out, in October 2000, the army placed more stringent restrictions on movement on the street. Now, Palestinians are forbidden to drive along the entire length of the street, and even to walk along the section between the Avraham Avinu settlement compound and the Bet Hadassah settlement compound. The army also prohibits Palestinian traffic on adjacent streets, thereby creating a contiguous strip of land in the center of Hebron , from the Kiryat Arba settlement in the east to the Jewish cemetery in the west, in which Palestinian vehicles are completely forbidden.
As a result of these severe restrictions, 304 shops and warehouses along Shuhada Street closed down, and Palestinian municipal and governmental offices that had been on the street were relocated to Area H1. Israel also took control of the central bus station that had been on the street, turning it into an army base. In 2006, B’Tselem’s investigation revealed that most of the properties on or adjacent to Shuhada Street , including homes and businesses, had been abandoned or had been closed by military order. The army forces the few Palestinian families that continue to live on the street to enter their homes via side entrances, since they are not allowed to use the main entrances on Shuhada Street . Where side entrances are not available, the Palestinian residents have no choice but to climb on ladders leading to the roofs of the buildings.
Closed shops on Shuhada St. Photo: Tamar Gonen , B’Tselem, 2 March ’11.
Like other residents still living on the street, Zlikhah and her mother are also forced to enter and leave their home by climbing a steep flight of stairs that serves as a side entrance. As they are forbidden to walk on the main street, they must take circuitous routes and go through two checkpoints in order to reach the mosque of al-Haram al-Ibrahimi (the Tomb of the Patriarchs) or to visit relatives who live nearby. Zlikhah’s elderly mother has to walk almost a kilometer to reach her medical clinic, only 300 meters away if she could go via Shuhada Street . The cemetery in which Zlikhah’s grandfather and other relatives are buried lies right across the street, but the two have great difficulty visiting it now.
In April 2007, following reports in the Israeli media and public pressure on the issue, the Civil Administration began to issue temporary permits to some Palestinians living on the street. These permits enabled them to enter and leave their houses via the main entrance on the street. Visitors were still denied use of these entrances. The permits were valid for three months, and were extended four times. During this period, Zlikhah, her mother, and their neighbors returned to using the front entrances to their homes and to walking freely on Shuhada Street.
Zlikhah told B’Tselem of the relief she felt and how she would often go out to walk on the street, sometimes at night too, in order to realize her newly returned freedom. She noted that soldiers posted on the street fulfilled their duty to protect Palestinians who were now using the street again, and that settlers in the area were displeased with the development.
The last permit given to Zlikhah expired in August 2008. She related that when she and her neighbors applied to renew the permits again, the Civil Administration said the requests would be handled after the Jewish holidays. Then the Civil Administration dragged its feet, and repeatedly postponed renewing the permits, until the communication ceased altogether. The Palestinian residents of the street had to return to using side entrances or rooftops.
In 2005, the Hebron Municipality and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel petitioned Israel ‘s High Court of Justice to open the street to Palestinian movement. The state, in response, presented a �plan for protection of the Jewish community in Hebron ,� according to which Palestinians would be allowed to walk on the street, but the prohibition on opening shops and on vehicular traffic on the street would remain in force. Subsequently, military orders were issued restricting vehicular traffic on the street but not pedestrians.
Following this, ACRI wrote to the legal advisor for Judea and Samaria , who stated, in December 2006, that the army had prohibited Palestinians from walking along the street for six years �by mistake.� This contention was clearly a lie. In any event, the army continued to prevent Palestinian pedestrians from using the street. In response to a request ACRI made to the judge advocate general, the latter raised a new argument, whereby the army maintains that the street should remain closed �for security reasons,� without delineating the reasons. Two years ago, the army informed the media that it intended to cancel the prohibition on Palestinian movement on Shuhada Street . To this day, the prohibition remains in force.
The closing of Shuhada Street is part of the policy of separation that Israel imposes in the heart of Hebron. This policy has led to Palestinian mass abandonment of the city center and has brought with it severe, continuing breach of the human rights of Palestinians. It is, de facto, an unacceptable regime of discriminatory separation.