At the front of Shuhada street in the old city of Hebron is a street sign pointing multiple directions: Chabad Cemetery, Old Jewish Cemetery, Ancient Tel Hebron. The words are in Hebrew and English only. The purpose of the sign is not to provide directions but to erase Palestinian identity, and even the Arabic language, from the area. For more than a decade Israeli settlers have been installing these types of signs throughout Hebron. Over the past two years, the installation of these signs has increased exponentially.
Further down Shuhada street are signs telling the “history” of Hebron. One says Hebron originally belonged to the Jewish people. Another tells of the signing of the Hebron Accords in 1997. It says the Hebron Accords left Jews with only 3 percent of the city while Arabs enjoy large thriving shopping centers. One talks about 50 years ago when Israeli forces occupied the West Bank. It reads: “1967: Liberation of Hebron and reestablishment of its Jewish community. ‘The children have returned to their own border’ (Jer. 31:17).”
The signs are illegal even under Israeli law. Many of them, including signs changing streets from Arabic names to Hebrew names, have been mounted on private Palestinian shops and homes without the owners’ consent. This has occurred even on streets that are predominantly inhabited by Palestinians. The signs are installed without approval from the Hebron municipality or the Israeli military.
In 1994, Brooklyn-born Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein opened fire in the Ibrahimi mosque. He murdered 29 Palestinians in worship. Israel responded not by protecting the Palestinian community by removing the illegal settlers but by implementing the Hebron Protocol. Signed in 1997, the protocol divided the city, closing streets and the once vibrant marketplace to Palestinians, turning the city into a virtual ghost town. Within it though, is a requirement that Israeli authorities protect the Palestinian identity of Hebron. Allowing the settler signs to remain violates this requirement.
On April 3, 2017, Youth Against Settlements and Rabbis for Human Rights officially requested the Israeli army secure the area so the signs could be removed. The army refused to grant the request, citing fear of violence. However, the army regularly grants permits for settlers to have marches celebrating terrorism against Palestinians. For their Purim parade, settlers in Hebron dress in costumes depicting Palestinians as villains. In 2016 settlers had their Purim in the very location where Israeli soldier Elor Azaria had recently killed two unarmed Palestinians. Settlers danced on the blood-stained spot of the street where the executions had taken place.
Among the most offensive signs settlers have put up is a banner on Shuhada Street reading “Palestine Never Existed (and never will).” Unable to remove this and other offensive and illegal settler signs through legal means, the other day we dropped our own banner from a Palestinian balcony overlooking Shuhada Street. It read “This is Palestine. Welcome to Apartheid Street.” We will be continuing our efforts to legally challenge the illegal settler signs. We will also continue dropping banners and installing signs of truth, justice, and history. You can help us by signing our petition asking the Israeli Civil Administration to uphold Israeli law as it relates to the signs and by joining our campaign of Truth Telling in Hebron.