PNN / Bethlehem
Israeli based anti-occupation organization, Breaking the Silence, was refused entry to the Jewish settlement of Tel Rumeida in Hebron’s Old City by soldiers stationed there, citing orders to deny access to the organization for an unspecified period of time.
Breaking the Silence has run weekly tours through the Hebron’s Old City and the Jewish settlements for over a decade.
The organization is operated by Israeli army veterans who have chosen to speak out against atrocities committed by the Israeli army and bring to light the situation in Hebron, where two settlements situated in the heart of the Old City have stirred tensions for decades.
‘Breaking the Silence offers guided tours to Hebron and the South Hebron Hills, allowing an unmediated encounter with the reality of military occupation’ reads the Breaking the Silence website. ‘The tour guides, all former combatants who served in these areas, share from their experiences to help illustrate the Israeli government’s policies enacted by the IDF.’
In response to the closure, the Israeli army released a statement, saying;
‘In light of a situation assessment and in order to protect public order, a temporary order restricting traffic only in the Tel Rumeida neighbourhood was issued. Within a few days the brigade commander will meet with representatives of the organization to discuss ways to continue its activities while maintaining the fabric of life and public order,’ the statement from the army reads.
Breaking the Silence denies that any such plans have been made by the army to discuss the situation.
The organization was reportedly banned on orders by Judea Brigade commander Col. Itzik Cohen. A report by the Haaretz cited pressures from prominent settlers in Tel Rumeida as being the catalyst for the decision, and that Cohen had promised that Breaking the Silence would be banned.
The Judea Brigade refers to the division of Israeli Central Commander responsible for operations in the occupied territories, referred to in the Israeli cannon as the biblical Judea and Samara. The former, for which Col. Cohen is responsible, refers to areas of the southern West Bank including Hebron.
Breaking the Silence had reportedly been stopping outside of the houses of prominent members of the settlement.
In a video released earlier this month, Chaya Ra’anan, a settler from Hebron, is seen shouting at soldiers escorting the Breaking the Silence tour.
‘It’s illegal for them to stand here; the brigade commander said they wouldn’t. They can pass through, but not stand,’ Ra’anan claimed, during his tirade.
Baruch Marzel, an extreme right-wing activist who lives in Tel Rumeida, was also referenced by name in a statement released by Breaking the Silence.
An Israeli army source cited by Haaretz on the condition of anonymity accused Breaking the Silence of deliberate acts of provocation directed at Marzel and the prominent settlers of Tel Rumeida.
‘They knew that at the specific point where they stopped lives a terror widow, Chaya Ra’anan,’ claimed Noam Aron, the spokesman for Jewish settlements of Hebron, quoted by Haaretz.
‘For that reason, we praise the decision of the brigade commander, and for the fact that the true face of this movement has been exposed. Its goal is not to repair faults but rather to create provocations,’ Arnon said.
In 1994, a Jewish-American settler broke into the Ibrahimi Mosque in the Old City and killed 29 worshippers. As a result, the Israeli army closed the prominent al-Shuhada street which has become a point of international contention and angst ever since.
Last week, demonstrators clashed with soldiers during the 9th annual ‘Open Shuhada Street’ demonstrations. Similar events were held in Europe, calling for the revitalisation of the once central market street that runs parallel to the Jewish settlement of Hebron.
The street was reopened in the early 2000’s but has remained deserted.