- Published on Thursday, 14 June 2012 11:31
A non-violent direct action protest in Hebron city's Shuhada street yesterday descended into chaos when a group of female activists symbolically dressed as Palestinian women in kefiyahs and traditional Palestinian dresses, were attacked by Israeli Defence Force soldiers and Jewish settlers as they walked down the street in a symbol of defiance to it being closed off to Palestinians 18 years ago.
The march began down Shuhada Street and continued until it met opposition from the IDF who proceeded to harass and attack the activists. One activist, who wished to remain unnamed, reported that a soldier who was deliberately blocking her path hit her in the chest with a rifle. Another activist was choked by a soldier and others were physically thrown the ground as they attempted to walk peacefully down the road.
Chaos erupted as dozens of IDF soldiers and settlers surrounded a second group of activists from the International Solidarity Movement, who followed the first group of women in support. Soldiers and settlers began kicking and shoving the activists, one of whom was held on the ground and was refused to be allowed to stand up. Eventually, she was dragged to her feat by two soldiers, who forcefully marched her off to an IDF truck to be detained. Her cry to the soldiers of 'let me go' was met with a taunting reply of 'we will let you die. In jail you will die' from a settler who was trailing behind them.
David Wilder, the chief spokesperson for the Hebron Settler community, was present at the protest, filming the women activists and pointing at other activists, inciting IDF soldiers to attack them.
In total nine activists were arrested or detained, several of whom were Internationals, two were Israelis and one was Palestinian. One activist was released after roughly three hours, reportedly with bruises and swelling on her arms and body from where she was attacked. Two more are still detained with more details on whether they will face any charges yet to emerge. Clear details of the others who were arrested or detained are still yet to appear also.
After the action had drawn to a close and most media personnel, with the exception of a press team from the Jerusalem Post, were expelled from Shuhada Street by the IDF, the activists retreated through the old city of Hebron to, according to one activist, change out of the Palestinian clothes, when they were followed into their building by soldiers who proceeded to harass them further. I approached the activists afterward for their account of what went on inside the building and was told that the soldiers had tried to lock them in unsuccessfully. "They came in and they tried to lock us in", one said, "we kept asking 'why are you trying to lock us in?' and they kept saying 'because we want to". After the soldiers had given up and left the house the people involved in the protest dispersed.
The wearing of Palestinian dresses was described by the activists as a gesture, a symbol of the oppression that Palestinian women face on a daily basis in Palestine. One activist involved in the protest stated that 'we were dressed as Palestinian women as a symbol of the fact that this is Palestinian land" and recounted that "we were literally just walking down the street and that was it. It was just because we were dressed as Palestinian women that they [The IDF] came at us with their machine guns and their cars and surrounded us like gangsters".
Jewish settlers have already taken the public relations offensive in a video uploaded on to David Wilder's YouTube channel, which labels the protest an 'invasion' by 'anarchists' who, in their eyes, have 'invaded Jewish Hebron'. This characterisation of the protest, however, runs in sharp contrast to eyewitness accounts and video footage already available on YouTube, which shows the activists peacefully walking down the street, mostly holding hands, until they were set upon by soldiers and concomitantly settlers.
The closing of Shuhada street in 1994 has had a detrimental impact on the Palestinian community of Hebron, who lost a large number of stores, mosques, houses and schools, which were forced to close overnight. The street was closed following a massacre committed by a local Jewish settler at the Cave of Patriarchs, a holy site to Muslims and Jews. Baruch Goldstein shot and killed 29 praying Palestinians; with over 100 more men injured. In the years that followed, further restrictions were imposed on movement of Palestinians within certain areas in Hebron.
The closing of the street has aided the extension of the illegal settlement block within Hebron and has caused an increase in the frequency of attacks by Jewish settlers on Palestinians, who are not allowed to enter Shuhada Street. The activists from the International Solidarity Movement and the Palestinian youth group Youth Against Settlements have stated that actions to reopen Shuhada Street will continue.