The tour of Hebron and its settlements, organized by the organization ‘Breaking the Silence’ was once again disrupted by a group of settlers on Friday, 27 of June. ‘Breaking the Silence’ is an organization made of discharged Israeli soldiers who work to expose the reality of the occupation in the Palestinian territories.
Even before the start of the tour, the organizer warned the group that it was not certain that the tour could proceed as planned. In the previous visit, the settlers attacked the group and threw some boiling liquid to the group, injuring one Spanish photographer. He also asked the participants not to answer to settlers’ provocations no matter what happens.
At the first stop in Kyriat Arba settlement, located next to Hebron, a whole groupe of settlers, including children, were obviously waiting for the bus of Breaking the Silence . They quickly surrounded us and started to shout and prevented the organizer, Yehuda, to move around. The police intervened but let the settlers continue their show. One of the settlers had a loudspeaker blasting that made the tour guide comments impossible to hear.
We were not allowed to visit the grave of Barush Goldstein, a Jewish settler from Kyriat Arba who committed a massacre in 1994 when he entered the Tomb of the Patriarch on the Muslim side and shot 29 Palestinians to death.
He is looked upon by many settlers as a jewish hero and his grave his cherished as such. The group went back inside the bus, while the organizer was trying to negociate with the Israeli police in order to continue legally authorized tour.
The settlers sat on the road and stood in front of the bus to prevent the tour to continue to the Old city of Hebron. The settlers were blatantly disrupting public order but the police had not intention to fine them.
The residents of the illegal settlements of Hebron proved once again that they are above all international and Israeli law and that both the army and the city police are there to protect them and silence the impossibility of daily life for the majority of the residents who are Palestinians.
The 700 Jewish settlers use violent intimidation techniques not only on the 150,000 Palestinians that live in Hebron, especially on the Palestinians who live in the Old City which has become a ‘ghost town’ but also on the visitors both Israeli and internationals that try to visit Hebron peacefully .
After around one hour of negotiations, the bus could finally pass through the gate of Kyriat Arba and we continued our ‘not so pleasant’ tour to the Old City of Hebron. We reached the Cave of the Patriarchs, a holy place both for Jewish and Muslims and we found the same settlers waiting for us. They used some barriers to try to prevent us from getting down from the bus, and then they ran to the toilets to close them when they understood that some of us wanted to use the restrooms.
They verbally abused us, calling us ‘nazis’ and ‘traitors’. The Jewish settlers continuously interrupted the ‘Breaking the Silence’ tour and caused a huge commotion between themselves, the organizers, the visitors and the police.
The photographers were harassed and it became impossible to document the tour due to the violent language and attitude the settlers used towards the others The police made a rather timid attempt to remove the settlers from the road but they failed. The police asked the group to go back to the bus, and as the bus drove away the settlers were dancing and cheering the ending of the ‘Breaking the Silence’ tour in Hebron.
Nevertheless other tours are planned, and if the aim of the journey was to expose the public to the brutal reality of what is happening in Hebron, the ‘Breaking the Silence’ tour was certainly an eye opener not only for the many foreign visitors but also for the few Israelis that want to see the other side of the story and understand the gravity of the situation in the city of Hebron.
One of the most disturbing things was that the Palestinians were barely seen throughout the tour. The Palestinian residents of the city have become the ghosts of the area at the luxury of the settlers’ new way of life that is destroying the heart of a once vibrant town.
As the guide of the tour said in his introduction, ‘what you will see in Hebron is a laboratory’. As long as the settlement enterprise continues, there could be no peace in Israel/Palestine, no solution, and no future for the Palestinians apart from becoming ghosts in their own country. If anyone doubts it, the ‘Breaking the silence’ certainly helps to come to grips with reality.
Anne Paq is a free-lance photographer, member of the collective Activestills (activestills.org).