The Atlantic website has published an excellent account of visiting Hebron’s ethnically-cleansed Shuhada Street– shown in my video above– by Ayelet Waldman, a novelist and member of Peace Now. The piece does not use the word apartheid, but it conveys the horror of the situation. Haaretz has noted the intervention:
Ayelet Waldman, a well-known Israel-born, American Jewish novelist, published a scathing attack on Israel’s policy toward Palestinians in the prestigious U.S. magazine The Atlantic on Thursday.
Shuhada Street, lined with small shops whose owners typically lived upstairs, was once among the busiest market streets in this ancient city. But in 1994, in response to a horrific massacre that left 29 people dead and 125 injured, the Israel Defense Forces began clamping down on Shuhada Street. They welded shut the street-facing doors of all the homes and shops, and by the time of the Second Intifada in 2000, had turned the bustling thoroughfare into a ghost street on which no one was permitted to set foot. No one, that is, who is Palestinian.
And Palestinians are being punished for, a Jewish terrorist’s act!
The victims of the massacre that impelled the Israeli government to shutter Shuhada were not Jews. They were Palestinians—unarmed Palestinians gunned down as they prayed at the nearby Cave of the Patriarchs by Baruch Goldstein…
Waldman visits Goldstein’s tomb. Excellent reporting:
My visit to Hebron had begun at Goldstein’s tomb, in a small park in the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba on the city’s outskirts. The grave has become a site of pilgrimage and ecstatic veneration for some religious Israelis and sympathetic foreigners despite the Israeli government’s prohibition on monuments to terrorists. The massive slab of marble is inscribed with the words, “He gave his life for the people of Israel, its Torah and land.” On the day I visited, the gravestone was littered with small stones, placed there in homage in accordance with Jewish tradition.
I brushed away the commemorative stones. A mass-murderer deserves no such honor.
Honesty about the nature of the conflict:
The Israeli military presence in Hebron is intense—between 600 and 650 soldiers, military police, and commanders, or at least one for every settler—and its role is very clear: The security forces are there to protect the settlers, regardless of how brutal or inflammatory the latter’s actions may be, and regardless of the fact that, as Goldstein’s homicidal cowardice makes clear, it is the Palestinians who often need protection against settlers..
This is great, too. Waldman brings in the recent Nakba Day killings, and universal human rights Americans take for granted.
[On May 15] two Palestinian teenagers had been shot and killed by the Israeli army. Video of the killings had surfaced on the Internet, and in my hotel room in Jerusalem I had watched as another Arab boy my son’s age, carrying the kind of backpack my son carries, doing nothing more than crossing a street—crumpled and pitched forward, motionless.
Now, several days later, I watched these Shuhada Street boys risk death for the sake of a liberty so rudimentary and fundamental that my own children are not even aware of its existence, or its importance, or its simple human beauty: the right to walk down the street.
She feels responsible to bear witness:
I should have gotten out of the car and joined them. I should have taken out my cell phone and started filming.
Waldman ends hopefully, and two-states, by relating a conversation with the leaders of the Israeli veterans’ group Breaking the Silence.
I’m not sure that I share their faith in the power of knowledge to create justice, but I want to. And that’s why, as Bibi Netanyahu’s right-wing government broadcasts its contempt for the U.S. State Department’s commitment to working with the new Palestinian unity government, and announces the construction of 1,500 new settlement housing units in the West Bank, I, a Jewish American born in Israel, who believes in Israel’s right to exist within its own borders, am breaking my own silence.
I am not sure what silence Waldman is breaking; she has been associated with Peace Now, an anti-settlement organization, for years. Still, it’s great that she relates the nature of the occupation so starkly, in ways that justify the characterization “persecution” in my headline.
The conditions she observes have been the same for many years; I saw them first eight years ago, also with Breaking the Silence. What is going to change those conditions? When will the U.S. and the Jewish community, whom Waldman represents, actually pressure Israel to do anything about them? What does creating “justice”– in essence, fairness– mean in these circumstances, when the two-state paradigm has only fostered more dispossession? Other Americans — Jewish and not, born in Israel or not — may see the conditions she describes as a reason to repudiate the religious-nationalist-discriminatory ideology that created them, Zionism, or at least to endorse real pressure on Israel to change, in the form of boycott, divestment, sanctions. Still, a great leap by the Atlantic, and superb reporting by Waldman.