I have returned to Palestine and am once again working in Hebron with the Hebron International Resources Network (HIRN).
Things are tense these days in all of Palestine. The 48 year Israeli occupation (illegal according to International Humanitarian Law) of Palestine, with even greater repression of human rights over the last several months, has led some young Palestinians to respond violently. Frustrated and desperate, and prohibited from carrying guns, they have resorted to the use of knives as a tool to stab Israeli soldiers and citizens. Israel has responded with what they call “increased security measures,” meaning a further clamp down on Palestinian human rights, a dramatic increase in checkpoints, and what appears to be a “shoot to kill” policy, all of which have served to heighten tensions further. As well, there have been witnessed reports of unarmed Palestinians shot by Israeli soldiers, with a knife later being placed beside the body and the official Israeli report indicating that the individual had attempted to stab an Israeli soldier.
The UN OCHA Protection of Civilians Weekly Report for the week of October 13-15, 2015 indicates there were 16 Palestinian and 3 Israeli fatalities, and 1970 Palestinian and 19 Israeli injuries during that time period. In addition, they report that on the following 2 days (Oct 20, 21), there were 9 Palestinian deaths,and 2 Israeli deaths in a total of 10 separate incidents. The escalating violence is a concern for all. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visited Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory on Oct 20 and 21, and issued the following statement: “My visit reflects the sense of global alarm at the dangerous escalation in violence between Israelis and Palestinians. I am here to encourage and support all efforts to lower tensions and prevent the situation from spinning out of control.” He added that “no society should have to live in fear. No society can afford to see its youth suffer in hopelessness”.
Here in Hebron, things are particularly tense. Hebron is divided into 2 distinct areas. H1 (18 sq km) is home to the majority of the population and is under full Palestinian control. H2 (4.3 sq km) includes the Old City of Hebron and is home to 35,000 Palestinians and 800 Israeli settlers (illegal according to International Humanitarian Law) who live in 4 settlements. Israel has full control of the H2 area. (see Oct 17, 2014 posting “Transforming with Colour, Brightness and Joy,” for more information on Hebron) Many of the Israeli settlers have a history of violence towards their Palestinian neighbours, and many are heavily armed. In recent weeks, they have become more heavily armed. Even though International Humanitarian Law requires the occupying party to provide protection for the occupied people, the reality is that there are several hundred Israeli soldiers in H2 whose sole role is to protect the Israeli settlers. It is the H2 area where most of the oppression, poverty and tensions are present, and it is the H2 area and the area immediately outside of it that is where the violence is occurring.
Here are two stories that were reported to us this past week: On Tuesday, 2 teenage boys aged 15 and 17 passed through one of the many Israeli checkpoints in H2. They passed through a metal detector and were body searched for knives. Finding none, the soldiers allowed them to pass through. Shortly after leaving the checkpoint, the boys encountered a group of settlers coming towards them. Fearful of the settlers, they turned back towards the checkpoint they had just passed through and were shot by the soldiers. Both boys died.
Later in the week, a highly respected Palestinian peace activist Dr Hashem al Azzeh died after being overcome by tear gas. Dr Azzeh and his family lived in the Tel Rumeida neighbourhood of H2. Despite enduring years of harassment by settlers, he has been a model of non violent peaceful resistance. He leaves behind his wife and young family, the oldest of whom is 13. We attended his funeral yesterday.
Here at HIRN, we are doing what we can to help. A number of Palestinian families in the H2 area are subject to settler violence, including the use of molotov cocktails thrown at their homes. They are also subject to bullets from both the army and the armed settlers, and tear gas that the army uses in most clashes as it drifts into their neighbourhoods. Yesterday, we provided 10 fire extinguishers to the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee to be distributed to homes in the H2 area that are at risk.
We also are working to connect the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee with an NGO funder who have agreed to help fund the costs of further fire extinguishers, gas masks and bulletproof glass for the homes of those at greatest risk.
Regardless of your perspective, it is a well known truth that violence begets violence. In a troubled land where violence and the power of the gun has ruled for far too long, Peace is long awaited and prayed for.
Peace, Salaam, Shalom,