Passover Nightmares in al-Khalil (Hebron)
In Hebron (Al-Khalil), the jewish celebration of Passover sees a huge increase of Israeli occupation forces and settlers. Bus loads of illegal settlers make their way to the city from all over the West Bank and the army tries to minimise the presence of Palestinians during this time.
On Monday 25th and Tuesday 26th of April, the Ibrahimi mosque check point closed. This checkpoint is the main passage for Palestinians reaching the mosque. For these two days the mosque was also closed for Palestinians and instead Jewish settlers were given access to both sides of this holy place, where they usually only have access to the designated Jewish part. In the area outside the mosque settlers set up food stalls, a stage, a bouncy castle and other entertainment for the festivities. Israeli occupation soldiers were patrolling the roads and neighbourhoods and there was an increased presence of border police and soldiers at all checkpoints.
On Monday afternoon a significant number of soldiers entered the souk, where they have no legal right to enter, and positioned themselves at regular intervals outside Palestinian shops. After a while a larger number of armed soldiers escorted a group of illegal settlers through the souk, giving them a “tour”. Some settlers were aggressive, making rude signs to Palestinians and filming international human rights observers. Two international observers were caught in the middle of the souk meeting the group of settlers and took refuge in a small alley. They filmed the “tour” going past which the settlers took as provocation and started filming the activists and shouting abuse and Zionist remarks.
One settler noted that there had been rocks thrown from houses above the souk on the “tour” group, implying it was Palestinians who had thrown the rocks. In fact, above the souk a metal fence barrier “protects’ it from illegal settlers who live in the houses above and who regularly throw rocks and rubbish onto Palestinian shopkeepers and shoppers. The activists who were rather surprised by the comment advised the settler of the fact that only Israeli settlers access the area from where the rocks came. As the activists moved further down the souk they themselves were the target of rocks being thrown from above. The soldiers positioned there would initially not believe it came from the settlers but did alert a senior officer to investigate. However it is not likely to affect the usual attacks on the souk when only Palestinians are there. Sadly a Palestinian man was injured by a large rock thrown by a settler and was taken into the illegal settlement for treatment.
After the first group of settlers had passed, three more “tours” took place. Clearly no Palestinians could move freely in the souk at this time and the shops lost business as a result. The humiliation of the substantial military presence to “protect” the settlers from locals hopefully needs no explanation.
The next day, Israeli occupation soldiers and border police appeared in large numbers through Shuhada checkpoint (also called checkpoint 56). This area is H1 area, supposedly controlled by the Palestinian Authority, where Israelis have no legal authority. They proceeded down Bir Saba Street, stopping at each shop demanding all cars on the street be removed, but did not make the shops close as they have previously done for Jewish holidays. But no shoppers were to be seen.
For a couple of hours the soldiers patrolled the street ensuring the cars were removed. Where they could not find the owners, they broke into cars to search for explosives. Additionally, they used a sniffer dog to search for these non-existent explosives. The army rummaged around rubbish piles along the road, or made local shop keepers move rubbish for them to inspect, leaving a mess for the Palestinians to clean up.
With the extensive preparation and searches completed, the soldiers made locals move off the road and sit on the pavement. Another large group of occupation soldiers and border police then escorted approximately 40 settlers from Shuhada checkpoint into Palestinian territory down the road to a tomb; clearly of some importance. After ten minutes they were escorted back and five more groups followed. Local and international activists were present at several points along the road to monitor and photograph events. Again settlers took photos and/or filmed the activists along the road. This time a settler welcomed the observers to Israel – a highly insensitive, and inaccurate, comment made arrogantly, assumedly feeling secure with the large presence of occupation soldiers. Four hours after the first signs of soldiers, they finally left. Again local shops lost business, and the local community had to endure an illegal Israeli incursion into their territory.
Children’s education also suffered with schools closing early and many children afraid to come to school at all. Passover “celebrations” last for a whole week, and during this time there is more tension in Hebron and locals have to endure the presence of even more illegal settlers than normally reside in the city.
Palestinian Children Hurry Past Occupation Soldiers