Life under occupation: Opposing Israeli discrimination in H2 area of Hebron

 PCHR/ Gaza/ 

Imad Abu Shamsiya is a 47-year old husband and father of five children, three boys and two girls. A shoemaker by profession, for years he has been dedicating a large part of his time to opposing the occupation by documenting human rights violations committed by Israeli settlers and soldiers in his home, Tel Rumeida, and other parts of Hebron via camera. Trying to reveal to the world the racist and violent Israeli system has not only contributed to the conviction of some Israel perpetrators, but turned the life of Imad and his family into a living hell.

In 2007, the Shamsiya family moved into a house that had been in family hands for decades, located in Tel Rumeida, in the H2 area of Hebron, which is under Israeli military control and a main showplace of tension and escalations by Israeli settlers and soldiers. Tel Rumeida is home to 172 Palestinian families and one settlement, hosting some of the most violent Israeli settlers. “From the very beginning of my family’s life here, we started to suffer”, Imad describes. Only four months after having settled into their new home, one of Imad’s daughters was attacked by Israeli settlers, who threw stones at her and thereby broke her chaw. After six months, Imad started to document violations by Israeli settlers on camera and provided his material to Palestinian human rights organizations. The camera is a blessing and a curse, because it serves as a form of protection but also leads to increasing attacks by settlers. Nevertheless, filmed incidents are the only proof that ever leads to conviction of Israeli perpetrators. Without video documentation Israeli crimes go fully unpunished in an environment of dehumanization and hatred.

“My wife, Faiza, and me started to document every single attack on our family as we gradually also documented incidents in the neighborhood. Since then, the Israeli settlers and soldiers seek revenge by harassing all of us”, Imad describes angrily. Imad’s oldest son, Aune (18), has been arrested by the Israeli forces six times, starting at the age of 14. After being shot in the leg, which required medical treatment and recovery for a full year, Imad sent Aune to live in Jerusalem with his uncle to be more safe. The two other sons, Mohammed and Saleh, were arrested at the age of 13 and 9 respectively, following complaints by settlers that always lead to the immediate arrest of Palestinians without the incident at stake being questioned. Israeli perpetrators enjoy full immunity, while Palestinians are considered guilty unless proven differently. The entire Shamsiya family had been a victim of these attacks, ranging from arbitrary arrests of minors, to acid thrown at Imad’s daughter, Marua, to other forms of harassment and abuse.

The harsh life of the Shamsiya family further deteriorated following an Israeli military order, issued on 29 October 2015, declaring Tel Rumeida a closed military zone, enforced by a fence and electronic checkpoint. Israeli soldiers invaded the Palestinian resident’s homes at night to register every Palestinian inhabitant with a number. Only registered residents are allowed to enter, while Israelis can leave and enter as they please and without undergoing a security check, thereby being enabled to carry arms and other weapons into the area, which are frequently being used to harm Palestinian residents. Almost 100 Palestinian families have fled the unsafe area that Tel Rumeida has become.

“The amount of attacks by Israeli settlers and soldiers against my family are too many to count”, Imad adds. One of the worst offenses experienced was when settlers tried to poison his entire family. “One night we had guests at our house and as I walked them to the checkpoint around 9 pm, I noticed a settler on the roof of my house. I immediately checked the roof and found that the water tanks were open and that the water had a strange color”, Imad describes. When he called the police, they found that the water had been poisoned and Imad had to empty the tanks and exchange them. Even though Israeli soldiers could see the perpetrator from one of the many watch towers established in and around Tel Rumeida, the crime went unpunished and was registered as an offense by “unknown”. “With these attacks the Israelis want to deliver a clear message: My family will be attacked as long as we live here and document the crimes”, Imad reiterates.

The dangerous situation unprecedentedly deteriorated for Imad following the shooting incident in cold blood of Abdel Fattah al-Sharif by the Israeli soldier Elor Azaria in March 2016, which was recorded on camera by Imad and distributed to human rights organizations and the media thereafter. The video clearly shows how the Israeli soldier purposely shot an already harmed al-Sharif, lying on the ground, in the head. The attack sparked international media attention and condemnation and led to the very rare conviction of an Israeli soldier, even though the verdict was a highly lenient 18-month sentence. The Israeli public widely defended Azaria and protested against the verdict, which is reflective of the atmosphere of dehumanization of Palestinians in a context of encouragement of such crimes by Israeli officials, which leads to frequent extrajudicial street killings of Palestinians.

“Since the video became public, my life started to change and I received personal death threats on the phone and through Facebook. Once, I received a phone call by an unknown number in the middle of the night, speaking in broken Arabic and telling me that I will be sorry for what I have done and that me and my family will be burned down.”, Imad describes. Settlers started gathering in front of Imad’s house, swearing at him, trying to enter the house and demanding him to leave the area. The regular throwing of stones and other devices led Imad to build a fence around the entire house, in addition to the fence that already exists from the Israeli occupation. “Me and my family are scared to leave the house, we are locked in here and rather go in and out illegally through the fence of the military zone than using the road in front of the house that leads to the checkpoint”. Imad, who has a handicap from birth leading to walking difficulties, is forced to climb through waste and over obstacles alongside the fence when he wants to leave his house to avoid being harassed by settlers on the actual road. Moreover, he has lost his job as he is unable to meet with customers. “I live here and suffer because of my camera”, Imad reiterates as he explains how Israelis had even offered him money to stop filming and 15 Mio. USD to move away. “We will not leave our home, we will not give our house away so more settlers can move into the area, and we will continue to oppose the apartheid system and racist policies imposed on us by the occupying power”, Imad emphasizes.

Since October 2015, 15 Palestinians, including minors, were killed in the area, several families were ripped apart, Palestinian’s access to education and health was restricted and an increasing number of attacks by settlers go unpunished. Tel Rumeida is exemplarily for the Israeli apartheid system and collective punishment of Palestinians, which is illegal under international law as defined in Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. PCHR relentlessly works to document these crimes in order for the Israeli perpetrators to be held accountable.