Students and community activists staged a mock street closure on the UC Berkeley campus last Monday to commemorate the 19th anniversary of the Ibrahimi Mosque massacre and the closing of Shuhada Street to Palestinians in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron. Like other actions covered here, the checkpoint is a response to the call for global solidarity by Youth Against Settlements.
Taking over a small section of Sproul Plaza, demonstrators erected a checkpoint manned by armed Israeli soldiers. Students wearing keffiyehs attempted to cross the checkpoint, explaining that they lived or attended school on the other side of the street and demanded to be let through. They were then arrested and made to kneel with their heads covered as they held signs indicating their “crime” of living in their own city. Armed settlers walked passed the soldiers unhindered, holding Israeli flags and signs that read “All of Judea and Samaria is ours,” and pausing every few minutes to throw trash at the Palestinians.
The scene attempted to mimic the daily harassment and hardship of Palestinians in Hebron by Jewish settlers and the Israeli Defense Force who protect them. A statement by Youth Against Settlement explains:
Shuhada Street is the main street connecting the southern and the northern parts of the City of Hebron. For the past 16 years, this street has been closed to Palestinian pedestrians and vehicles. Israel has also forced the closure of Palestinian shops and sealed shut the entrances to Palestinian homes along the street.
The city of Hebron is home to approximately 200,000 Palestinians. 600 Israeli settlers, supported by a large number of Israeli Military, now inhabit and control the heart of the Old City. The Israeli military severely restrict the movement of tens of thousands of Palestinian residents. However, the settlers have total freedom of movement, despite their presence being illegal under international law. They can both walk and drive vehicles through the Palestinian neighbourhoods. Shuhada Street is the most important thoroughfare in the area.
On Shuhada Street, all the shops and the majority of the houses are owned by Palestinians. The merchants of the street have incurred tremendous losses due to the street closure. In addition, Israel had welded shut all the Palestinian houses’ doors on the street, completely ignoring the rights of the Palestinian citizens living behind these doors. Residents have to jump over their back yards’ walls to get in and out of their houses. Those that cannot do this have had no choice but to abandon their homes as they have no way of accessing them.
The act of closing the street was taken arbitrarily without any legal justification from the Israeli occupation forces. The "safety of the settlers" was the only excuse given, despite the fact that the settlers’ presence in Hebron is illegal and based on the confiscation of Palestinian properties, and the fact that the settlers are outnumbered by the heavily armed soldiers who are there to stand guard over them. The closure of Shuhada Street is simply a part of the Israeli strategy to ethnically cleanse Hebron of its Palestinian population.
Update: This piece originally appeared under Phil Weiss's byline as he published it. Apologies to Maggie Sager --Phil