When I was a young child, I remember Shuhada Street in my city of Hebron being so crowded that my father had to hold my hand tightly to keep me from getting lost as we walked down the street. Today, the street is a ghost town. The front entrances to Palestinian homes and shops are sealed shut. Palestinians families on the street have to use rooftops, alleyways, and back entrances to reach their homes. Some families have even built cages around their houses to keep themselves and their children safe from violent settler attacks.
And every year the grip of occupation tightens. This past year, Israel approved settlers to have their own municipality and build 31 new settlements units on Shuhada Street.
There is no place where Israel’s system of apartheid is more visible than where I live in the city of Hebron. In 1994, Brooklyn-born Israeli settler, Baruch Goldstein, opened fire in the Ibrahimi mosque, killing twenty-nine Palestinians in worship. Since then, Shuhada Street, once our main marketplace and thoroughfare, has been almost entirely closed to us. At each end of the street are checkpoints. Within the street, where I am not allowed to walk, settlers drive cars and brandish automatic weapons.
In 2010, we began our campaign to end the closures and restrictions in Hebron. Each year, around the 25th of February, at the anniversary of the Ibrahimi mosque massacre, we organize a week of activities. At the end of the week, we march towards Shuhada Street and try to enter. Around the world, people hold talks, set up exhibits and stage protests to raise awareness and stand with us in solidarity.
This year, in the spirit of unity, I ask everyone to join me for the ninth annual Open Shuhada Street campaign. You can come to Palestine to protest with me on the ground or organize an event or protest in your city or on your campus. Youth Against Settlements can send an activist to speak. You can host a photo exhibit or other educational event. You can plan a protest to target the organizations and the industries, like the Hebron Fund and Hevron Heights Winery, that fund and strengthen the settlers in Hebron.
Located in Brooklyn, NY, the Hebron Fund lists as its primary goal the “raising of capital for the improvement of daily life for the [Jewish settler] residents of Hebron, Israel.” Despite their blatant support for illegal settlements and the most ideologically extreme and violent within Israel’s settler movement, the Hebron Fund is able to use its 501c3 charity tax status to allow donors to write off financial contributions to support settlers in Hebron. In 2013, Haaretz reported that the Goldman Sachs Charitable Gift Fund donated $18,000 to the Hebron Fund. They called it “a clear pattern in the [Goldman Sachs] Fund’s giving to Israel right wing groups or their American fronts.”
While the Hebron Fund and Goldman Sachs facilitate tax-free donations for settler violence, Hevron Heights winery, located in the Kiryat Arba settlement next to Hebron, is a Hebron settler business operating and profiting from land theft. Hevron Heights wines are labeled “Made in Israel,” and some are even labeled “Jerusalem.” But, their grapes, and the factory they produce their wines in, are on stolen Palestinian land. Recently, some friends visiting me from Italy, at my behest, posed as tourists to enter the winery. You can read about the experience they had here. Hevron Heights wines are sold around the world, at Kosherwine.com in Washington, DC, at JWines in Pittsburgh, at Happy Hearts Wine in Brooklyn, at Kosher Wine Cellar in London and many more places. Each bottle of Cabernet or Riesling contributes to land theft and settler violence.
This year marks 70 years of Israel’s ongoing Nakba. It is also the year that Israel has banned 20 organizations from coming to Palestine. Last year, many friends from these 20 banned organizations came and joined me for direct actions on the ground. This year, we must work on BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) and other resistance apart from each other. Through Open Shuhada Street actions around the world this February, we will continue our struggle for the right of return, for the right to boycott, for Jerusalem to be recognized as the capital of Palestine and to finally obtain freedom, justice and equality for all people. Please join the 2018 Open Shuhada Street campaign.
I’ve been doing grassroots activism in Palestine since 2003. My aims are not personal. My goals are to further the movement for Palestinian freedom. I don’t contribute to internal political differences or fights. I work with all Palestinian factions. I work with the youth, the elderly, politicians, activists, civil and human rights organizations. Together, we work to support Palestinian civil society and bring justice to those in serious need of it. I encourage Palestinians to use nonviolence to resist Israel’s occupation and system of apartheid.