Palestinian activists in Hebron said they are desperate for stronger international intervention during a week-long campaign in commemoration of the 23rd anniversary of the Ibrahimi Massacre.
The campaign started on Feb. 19 with a candlelight vigil held by a local elementary school and ended on Feb. 26 with a memorial at the cemetery where victims of the Ibrahimi Massacre were laid to rest.
The massacre was carried out in 1994 by an American-Israeli settler named Baruch Goldstein, who killed 29 Palestinian worshippers and wounded 125 more during prayers at the mosque.
Today, like much of Hebron, the mosque is divided into two, with one side used as a synagogue by Israeli settlers and the other as a mosque by the Palestinian community.
Palestinians in Hebron told Mondoweiss that life in Hebron has become unbearable and that international intervention and pressure are the only hope they have to ease the daily tensions and violence carried out by Israeli settlers against the Palestinian community in the city.
In addition to calling for support to end the daily violence experienced by Palestinians in Hebron, community organizers used the week-long initiative to highlight the economic obstacles faced by the local population — particularly those Palestinians with property on Shuhada Street, which was blockaded and closed off to Palestinians following the Ibrahimi Massacre.
In the center of Hebron alone, 500 Palestinian-owned businesses have been shut down by Israeli authorities, and close to 800 additional Palestinian shop owners have been forced to close their business over the last several years due to “economic and social strains caused by roadblocks, checkpoints, and traffic prohibitions,” according to Hithabrut-Tarabut, an Israeli human rights organization.
Farid al-Atrash, the chairman of the Independent Commission for Human Rights in Bethlehem and part of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee who participated in the Hebron campaign, told Mondoweiss that he feels it is the international community’s responsibility to hold Israel accountable for the “daily violations’ of international law taking place in the city.
“There are many violations of international law here in Hebron, and the international community and international organizations are not doing anything to stop these crimes of discrimination and racism against Palestinians,” al-Atrash said. “We just want to tell the international community what is happening here, and that we have the right to stop this occupation.”
“We are fighting a just cause, we are trying to end the occupation and get our human rights, our city and our country back and bring the occupation government to justice for their illegal actions and crimes, but we need international support,” he continued.
Friday was the largest day of demonstrations during the week-long campaign, with foreign organizations as well as left-wing Israeli activists taking part in the protest.
Before dawn on Friday, Israeli forces showed up at the home of Badee Dwaik, the Coordinator of Human Rights Defenders Group in Palestine and an activist in Hebron. Dwaik told Mondoweiss Israeli forces stormed the building he lives in with seven other families the morning before the protest and threatened him.
“The army came and invaded my home around one in the morning,” he said. “My brother opened the door and he was arguing with the soldiers, who asked him to wake up the entire building and bring everyone outside, but he argued that we have women and children in the building and that’s when I came out with my camera to document what was happening.”
When Israeli forces spotted Dwaik, they told him they were raiding the building specifically to find him. They took his camera, and isolated him in a corner before warning him to cancel the protest.
“They told me they came to the house just for me, to give me a message,” Dwaik said. “They said if anything happens at the protest today, they would come back and arrest me. I asked them why, and they said that I am one of the leaders of this week’s campaign and I should stop the protest.”
“I told them, listen, if you have any legal reason to arrest me, you can arrest me now, but they just wanted to threaten me,” he said. “There was a few other organizers who said they used the same intimidation tactic against them as well.”
Dwaik told Mondoweiss that Israeli forces using such tactics against Palestinians was common, but he felt it was his “duty” to continue with the protest, despite the threats.
“I’ve been arrested many times, this wasn’t a surprise for me. I have been detained, I have been shot at, but they will never silence us,” he said. “We are here raising our voice in a peaceful demonstration, not to be hurt or to be taken to prison — we like freedom, we like life, and we just want our children to grow up in a peaceful city without settlers and without soldiers and for that to happen we need the international community to put pressure on Israel and for the international community to help Palestinians make sure international law is being implemented, and that is why we are here this week demonstrating.”
The march, which saw hundreds of Palestinians joined by foreign and Israeli activists marching through the city together on the day before the anniversary of the Ibrahimi Massacre, was confronted by Israeli forces before demonstrators could reach the mosque.
Israeli forces fired tear gas, rubber-coated steel bullets and stun grenades in an attempt to disperse protesters.
Issa Amro, the founder of Youth Against Settlements, a Hebron based-initiative, was hit in the head with a tear gas canister during the demonstration and had to be carried away to safety. Dozens of others suffered from severe tear gas inhalation.
Yusuf Natasha, a reservist with the Christian Peacemakers Team, also based in Hebron, said he was at the demonstration as an observer to document human rights violations.
“Israeli forces respond harshly to peaceful demonstrations in Hebron, so documenting those violations is very important” Natasha said. “The people have the right to peacefully protest, as they are doing, but Israeli forces don’t allow any demonstrations, even peaceful ones, and they respond with violence and extreme measures against people marching for their rights in the streets.”
“We need international pressure to help stop these crimes against the Palestinian population here,” he said. “International support and pressure is so important for Hebron, because there are international laws being broken everywhere you look in Hebron.”