26 January 2016 | International Solidarity Movement | Al-Khalil Team
Al-Khalil is unique from other villages, towns, and cities in the West Bank. Illegal Zionist colonial settlements are situated right in the center of Old City of Al-Khalil (Hebron). Whereas elsewhere, the illegal settlements are outside of the Palestinian towns and cities. This makes life here extremely difficult for the Palestinians. Freedom of movement is extremely limited and it is difficult to put it mildly.
The city is divided into H1, administered by the Palestinian Authority, and H2, controlled by the illegally occupying Israeli military forces. There are scores of roadblocks and around 20 checkpoints. At the checkpoints, Palestinians are subjected routinely to having to present their IDs, go through metal detectors, have their bags searched, as well as their bodies, by heavily armed Israeli occupation forces. They are also frequently detained, if the soldiers don’t believe an ID is in order, and are denied access, preventing them from going to work, getting home or carrying on their normal daily lives. Entire streets are closed to Palestinians, for example Shuhada Street, which was the main market place until 1997. Nearly 500 shops and most homes, and all Palestinian foot traffic, as well as vehicles, were shut down and out by the Israeli forces. Approximately 4,000 school children must pass the checkpoints daily, on their way to and from school, and are often subjected to tear gas being fired at them under suspicion of throwing stones at the checkpoints. Ambulances and other emergency vehicles are also denied access, as well.
Israel says it is all for “security reasons”. In reality, it is all about harassment and intimidation of the Palestinians and to make their lives more difficult than it already is, living under the illegal colonial occupation. If a Palestinian is denied access through a checkpoint, they can generally walk (often some distance, however) to another checkpoint and get through. Soldiers may just check women’s hand bags and not ID cards, while a man who sets off the alarm while walking through the metal detector may not be stopped. Two hours later, or the next day, every ID is checked or sometimes none are checked. The same holds true with internationals. Some days, we are denied access if we do not give the soldiers our passports so they can photograph them, which is illegal under Israeli law. Only a member of the Border Police can legally, physically, take our passport or arrest us. Other days, they don’t even ask to see our passports. Sometimes, the soldiers make up their own rules as they go along. When we were confronting soldiers with regard to the arrest of a youth, their commander told us he would arrest us if we talked to his soldiers because he said so and because he was the law. Another time, it was no photographs because he is the law and makes the rules and says so. Unfortunately, he is partially right. The soldiers are the law. They have all the loaded guns and tear gas and rubber coated steel bullets and the rest of their equipment. They can even get away with outright murder of Palestinians. Most of the soldiers are barely out of high school and drafted into the military, heavily armed and look scared to death because they truly believe that every Palestinian wants to kill them and their family. The vast majority of Palestinians just want the illegal occupation to end, and be able to have some peace in their lives.
The Old City market place, once full of shops, shoppers and tourists, now only see a small percentage of the business it once had. Many of the shop owners cannot afford to stay in business, but stay open because it is the only form of resistance to the occupation.
Twenty Palestinians were murdered by Israeli military forces between October 2015 and February 2016. Amnesty International called these killings “extra-judicial executions” and the Tel Rumeida area was declared a “closed military zone” by the Israelis in 2015, with further restrictions on Palestinians who live in this area.
As internationals, our day starts at about 6:45 a.m., as we head out to various checkpoints for the morning school runs. We have to walk a little over 100 meters to the nearest check point. We wait to go through the turnstile gate, then into the small concrete bunker and through metal detector. Sometimes, we don’t even empty our pockets and just ignore the soldiers behind their 2-3 inch bulletproof glass, and try to continue out the next door, back into the caged area, and exit through another turnstile. Some days, we win. Some days, we don’t and have to empty our pockets, remove belts, sometimes shoes, show our passports, etc., before we can continue on our way. If we refuse to give them our passport, they can turn us back, which means a taxi ride to another checkpoint, to get through. Sometimes, we can argue with them and they let us pass. But, this gets more and more difficult, as time passes. The repression by the illegal occupation forces increases bit by bit, daily. Palestinians aren’t so lucky. They have no choice. They must comply or risk being detained, arrested, or even shot for non-compliance.
After we get through the first check point, it is on to a second open-air checkpoint, where we monitor numbers of men, women, children, and teachers passing through, and the amount of difficulty they have, the number of people denied. The female teachers, more often than not, refuse to go through the metal detector. Sometimes, they win — sometimes, they don’t. But, all are subjected to ID checks, bag and/or body searches, depending on the will of the soldiers. Again, so much for “security concerns”. There are about 10 checkpoints which are monitored by three of the international groups, both in the morning and the afternoon, when school is in session. Most Palestinians are glad we are here, and greet us. Some of the kids may stop for a few minutes and practice their English. One teacher even stops, occasionally, and gives us an apple.
This afternoon, we were asked to come to the South Hebron Hills, to meet with one of the local village committees about what they need. There are home demolitions, as well as night raids by Israeli forces, and farmers being attacked by settlers from the nearby colonial settlements. They are working with other international organizations to get tents for families, when homes are destroyed, but need a protective presence in homes, at night, and in the fields, during the day. This is only one of hundreds of villages in the same or similar situation, and it is near impossible to do it all. We offer what help we can.
Meeting with a family who was subject to a home invasion several nights ago, by the soldiers, and hearing the story of the trauma and terrorization of this family because of the raid, I couldn’t help but wonder what was going through the mind of the five-year-old sitting in his living room, where 14 people (also invaded, in a sense) had gathered to hear the family story. He has to pass through two check points in order to get to and from kindergarten, his home is invaded in the middle of the night, with his family locked in one room while the occupation forces ransack the home for no good reason. He lives right next to a settlement, and is not safe to be able to play in his own yard. This is only one child, one family in one city, in all of illegally occupied Palestine.
Afternoon and evening patrols of the Souk (marketplace in the Old City), and around some of the residential areas near the checkpoints, can be calm (some of the time) except for soldiers asking to see your passport or what your religion is. Al-Khalil is a beautiful city built on a group of hills. The views can be spectacular and can, sometimes, make you forget (for a minute) that you are in the middle of the longest illegal military occupation in history by a country that is committing genocide on an entire group of people.
Afternoon patrol, last week, was spent walking through the Souk and visiting with several of the merchants. You are invited in (with no expectation to buy anything), to make your presence known and talk about how bad business is, because very few tourists come to Khalil anymore. Toward the end of this patrol (there were 3 of us), we encountered a Palestinian girl of about 10 years old. She was extremely frightened and distressed, to put it mildly. She was talking so fast we couldn’t figure out what she was saying, and, even after a phone call to an Arabic teacher, couldn’t figure out what the problem was. She was all but in tears. There were half a dozen Israeli soldiers close by, working on installing yet another barrier near a school we just walked by. Then, she said something about “settlers”. She thought we were settlers. We had removed our Kafeyas, earlier, to avoid problems on Shuhada Street with settler youth. As soon as we took out our Kafeyas and put them on and said “we love Palestine”, she almost melted into relaxation and wanted to walk with us to the checkpoint, on our way home. But, since we had to walk down Shuhada Street — and Palestinians are not allowed there — we had no choice but to send her in the opposite direction. Never saw her again or heard what happened to her.
Last night, before we even began our night patrol we received a call about soldiers in the Souk. When we arrived, along with a team of internationals from another organization, soldiers were arresting a 14-year-old boy for allegedly throwing stones. At least three soldiers wrestled him to the ground and tried to put plastic ties on his wrists, behind his back, while other soldiers approached us and prevented us from photographing the incident, took our cameras and deleted the photos already taken. They also threatened us with arrest should we continue to photograph or even talk to them. We followed the soldiers to the army base where the child was taken, to be held at Israeli discretion.
Some of these stories are unfinished, simply because the Israeli occupation isn’t over, and the tale will continue. And, for every story you see, hear about or participate in, you are pretty much guaranteed that there are probably another 100 or 500 or thousand you don’t hear about that are far worse than these. This is not a story about internationals. It is the story of some of the people of Al-Khalil. Every once in a while, it turns out that we end up being a small part their story. But, we are here to support them in their struggle, because our struggle is directly connected to theirs.
Last words. The other day, while visiting a shop keeper in the Souk, we were told, “You come, you go, we live, we die, you still come, and we still here living and dying. Inshallah!”
(Edited for the IMEMC by chris @ imemc.org)
Related IMEMC interest: 03/16/14 From the Diary of Rachel Corrie