Shuttered Palestinian stores on settler-controlled Shuhada street in Hebron.
(Photo: Kelly Hayes-Raitt)
This post follows up Brandon Davis’s post of 10 days back on arrests of Americans in Hebron.
When Ghada stepped out of the police van at the station in Kiryat Arba and saw her two friends, Falastine and Laila, the three women started to laugh.
“They thought we were a security threat,” Ghada said a few days after the incident. “We just cracked up.”
Ghada, Falastine and Laila – whose names I have changed to protect them and their families – were detained ten days ago on the settler-controlled Shuhada Street in Al-Khalil/Hebron, ostensibly for “disturbing the peace,” or “disobeying a police order.”
Or, as one IDF soldier from New York told me honestly and proudly, for being Arab. “You’re allowed to be here,” the soldier said to me, a white U.S. citizen. “But the Arabs can’t.”
The law in a place like Israeli-controlled Hebron (called “H2,” about 20% of the entire city of Al-Khalil/Hebron) is a string of legal and military policies that lack coherence or justification. Hebron – and the West Bank more broadly – might be governed by a Divine Law, but it’s not the 613 Commandments in the Torah. This theocratic state is ruled by the God of “Security,” and invoking his name overrides any other ethical, moral or legal values systems.
That Ghada, Falastine and Laila all have foreign citizenships is irrelevant for the Israeli police and IDF, administrators of Security in this Holy Land. For Ghada and Falastine, both also West Bank ID holders, their Palestinian ID cards, hawiyyat, override their privileges as foreigners.
They can only receive an entry stamp on their Palestinian hawiyya, not their British or U.S. passport. Like other West Bank Palestinians, they are not allowed to enter their country through Ben Gurion Airport, instead coming through Allenby Bridge on the border with Jordan. (My earlier article misstated that all the women are U.S. citizens – one is a British citizen, and she is 18, not 20, as I wrote).
As Falastine, the British-Palestinian, explained to me in an email:
If I had my British passport with me when we went to Al-Khalil [Hebron], it would have been worthless after running it through investigation and finding out that I possess a West Bank ID. British citizen or not, I own a WB ID so everything else cancels out.
Essentially: British and U.S. citizens who are also Palestinian residents do not enjoy the same privileges of their co-citizens. It’s not racist, goes the logic; it’s a Security concern.
But even for foreign citizens without a Palestinian hawiyya, their foreign passport cannot undo a their “Arab-ness,” at least not in the eyes of Security.
Laila, a U.S. citizen of Palestinian descent without a hawiyya, received a tourist stamp in Ben Gurion Airport like any other U.S. citizen (at least the ones that are lucky enough to get through airport Security without being deported). She was still detained along with the two West Bankers.
Though the Hebron settlers are some of the most violent and extremist, the community has certainly endured their own tragedies: since the First Intifada, dozens of Jews in the area have been killed by Palestinian militants. Ethnic cleansing of “Judea and Samaria” may be a goal for these settlers, but so too are what even liberal Israelis call “Security concerns.” Security rules absolutely.
The IDF agrees. In 2000, they closed off Shuhada Street to Palestinians, even though the street was once the commercial hub of the city.
Five years later, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel filed a petition against the baseless closing of Shuhada Street. The IDF responded with a letter stating that Shuhada’s closure was an “accident.” The street was opened for three days and then closed again, without legal permission, to prevent the possibility of any problems.
Then, in 2011, the Israeli High Court, also ruled in favor of closure, once again privileging Jewish Israeli Security concerns over Palestinian human rights.
Today, Shuhada Street remains a closed military zone, giving the IDF the authority to detain any “Security threats.” Justification for detention can be just about anything – two weeks ago, at the international and Israeli women’s march through Hebron, six were falsely accused of “assaulting a police officer.” Last week, the three young women were accused of “disturbing the peace in a Jewish neighborhood,” and “disobeying a police order.” Whatever that means.
According to Jonathan Pollack, a legal advisor to the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee who helped the detained women last week, Shuhada Street is only closed off to Palestinian vehicles, not Palestinian pedestrians. As the accusations against the women were clearly baseless, the Israeli police let them go around midnight without charges.
Though these detentions reveal Security’s racist nature and unquestioned rule in this country, they are insignificant compared to what other Palestinians endure. Ghada, Falastine and Laila were in the police station for a few hours; far worse off are the over 300 Palestinians currently languishing in Israeli prisons under “administrative detention,” held indefinitely on secret information without charges.
And let’s not forget that even Jewishness or whiteness can’t keep Security away: the IDF regularly arrests nonviolent Israeli and international activists alongside Palestinians. Security’s scope extends to anyone who the IDF believes presents a threat, including thousands who undeniably don’t.
Coincidentally, Pollack himself was arrested Friday, along with eight other international and Israeli activists, at a Nabi Saleh demonstration. According to a village resident, the usual charge for Nabi Saleh arrests is entering a closed military area.
Arrest of Jonathan Pollack, July 13, photo by Oren Ziv Active Stills
A photo of Pollack being arrested is above. The IDF would characterize his presence as a threat to Security; I think he might be more appropriately considered a threat to Apartheid and military rule.