Friday, February 24, 2012

Protest on 18th anniversary of closure of main street in Hebron

Some 500 people, Palestinians, internationals and Israeli's, have demonstrated on Friday against the closure of Shuhada Street in Hebron (Al-Khalil in Arabic). Friday was the 18th anniversary of the attack by the settler Baruch Goldstein from the nearby settlement of Kiryat Arba on people praying in the Ibrahim mosque, killing 29 people and wounding over 100. The demonstration led to clashed with the army, which used teargas, sound grenades and skunk water. Six people were arrested, some 70 people were treated for suffocation from the teargas..
 The 1994 killing by the settler Goldstein was the event that led to the closure of Shuhada Street,  following the familiar pattern that it was not the settlers' movements that got curtailed after an armed attack, but in stead those of the Palestinians. Before '94 Shuhada Street was the main street connecting the central and northern neighborhoods of the city with the southern ones. It used to be the place where Hebron’s central bus station was to be found, as well as taxi stations, the central vegetable market, an ancient Turkish bath, two wheat mills, a gas station, tens of different commercial shops, and some of the oldest schools in the city.
Its closure was just an additional step in a process whereby Jews gradually took over parts of the city and life for the inhabitants of Hebron became more difficult. Hebron was in 1968 the first place where a nucleus of settlers with the consent of the Israeli military decided to celebrate Pesah (the Jewish Passover) in a hotel. They never left, and the military put them after the celebrations on a military basis. In the early '70s, the Israeli government permitted them to establish the Kiryat Arba settlement on the Eastern Hebron hills, which has been since a hotbed of settler ultra-nationalism.
 In 1977, after the Likud started to dominate Israeli politics, the government allowed settlers even to move from Kiryat Arba into the heart of the city. In the '80s, the Israeli army demolished 12 buildings near the central vegetable market, gradually leading to the complete displacement of the shop owners. The Army also took over the central bus station, and turned it into a military base. For the past two years, the settlers have been allowed to stay inside this “base”. Today, nearly 450 settlers and 250 ultra-Zionist yeshiva students live in the six settlement enclaves that are located along the sides of Shuhada Street. Most of the settlers are involved in constant assaults on the residents of Hebron, making their life miserable. Moving from one place to the next in Hebron, that used to take Palestinian inhabitants a few minutes, now require long detours. The Palestinians who still live on Shuhada Street reach their homes by climbing onto their neighbors’ roofs and porches.
The human rights organisation B'Tslem conducted a survey in November-December 2006 during which it found that at least 1,014 Palestinian housing units in the center of Hebron have been vacated by their occupants. This number represents 41.9 percent of the housing units in the relevant area. Sixty-five percent (659) of the empty apartments became vacant during the course of the second intifada. Regarding Palestinian commercial establishments, 1,829 are no longer open for business. This number represents 76.6 percent of all the commercial establishments in the surveyed area. Of the closed businesses, 62.4 percent (1,141) were closed during the second intifada. At least 440 of them closed pursuant to military orders.

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