It’s been a busy couple of days with events moving quicker than my mind can properly process. I have lots to write about but for now I want to show some photos of a famous road in Hebron called Shuhada Street.
Or apartheid street as it is known to Palestinians. Hebron is unique in the West Bank in that there are Zionist Jewish settlements actually within the city centre. This has resulted in the city being divided into two areas; H1 which is under Palestinian control (with a Palestinian police force) and H2 which is under Israeli military control.
There are up to 4000 soldiers in H2 to ‘protect’ a population of around 500 illegal settlers. This photo is from Bab a-Zawia (H1) and just a few metres beyond is Checkpoint 56 leading to H2.
Here, in fact. It’s essentially a portacabin with metal detectors. Until a couple of days ago pregnant women and people with pacemakers were allowed to pass round the side due to health concerns re: the detectors. But the security has now been stepped up and everyone must pass through the cabin. This morning there was a demonstration against this, carried out by a group of Palestinian children and their teachers who have their school on the other side. We were present at the demonstration, Beth shed a quiet tear when the children waved their Palestinian flags and proudly sang songs of protest and patriotism – with gusto! As for the two children in this photo, I’m pretty sure they’re just playing with razor wire.
And this is the checkpoint from the other side. Beth and I sit here for an hour or so in the mornings and again in the afternoon to do ‘checkpoint watch’. The idea is that the soldiers are less likely to give people hassle if there are international observers (it sometimes seems to work). Under military law the soldiers can detain Palestinians at checkpoints for twenty minutes without giving any reason, but if it goes on longer than that we can try to intervene.
Okay, now lets walk down Shuhada Street.
Here we are, having walked maybe 50 metres and you’ll notice yet another (smaller) checkpoint on the left. Hebron is a Palestinian city but no Palestinian people are allowed to go beyond this point. When the three guys you can see on the right reach that metal railing they will have to take a sharp right, up some stone steps, and away…
These steps, in fact. It’s up here that the Palestinian school is, and there are a number of Palestinian properties to which they are refused road access. As internationals we are allowed access and it forms an important part of our ‘Street Patrol’ (or ‘Neighbourhood Watch’, as I’m trying to persuade people to call it – more pleasingly parochial, less A-team).
Shuhada Street used to be the centre of Palestinian life in Hebron, a thriving commercial area. But in the incremental evacuation of the Palestinians (since 1994) all the shops were closed down and the area has been left to wither and die. The night before last Beth and I met for coffee with a Palestinian man who we befriended on our journey here from Ramallah. I showed him these pictures on my camera and he told me that the dilapidated petrol station you can see belonged to his uncle. He remembers playing in Shuhada as a child. He went quiet and asked me to switch the camera off.
About half way down is this military base. Not sure why I took this picture. Possibly because we’re not allowed to photograph military bases and I’m pissed off. In the far, far distance you can just make out a Zionist Jewish settler and his son walking away from us…
… and here they are zoomed in. Note daddy bear is packing serious heat. He’s one of a number of settlers we’ve seen who walk around with machine guns. Supposedly this is to protect themselves from the ‘terrorist’ Palestinians who – of course – are not allowed weapons.
Now we’re at the end of the street, heading towards the Ibraham mosque. Palestinians can rejoin the road here, but still it is divided. Israeli Jewish settlers on the right of the concrete division, Palestinians on the left. Nothing says apartheid quite like making people walk on different sides of the road, does it?
So – why has Shuhada been shut to Palestinians, why have they been forced out of what was a thriving commercial district and main street through the city? I can tell you. In 1994 on the Jewish holiday of Purim during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, 29 men and boys were murdered and a further 200 injured. Were these Jewish people who were massacred? No. They were Palestinians praying in the mosque. Their murderer was the radical Jewish Brooklyn-born physician, Baruch Goldstein, to whom the settlers have created a memorial tribute.
That’s the reason Palestinian people are no longer allowed. Un-fucking-believable.
But it isn’t all about racism here. Sometimes people just like to sit back with a nice cup of tea and a biscuit. I’m going to bed.