Israeli soldiers fire volleys of tear gas to break up the protest, prevent the march from reaching the street Israel has forbidden Palestinians but not Jews from walking or driving down.
Around 400 people marched through the West Bank city of Hebron on Friday to mark 23 years since the Ibrahimi Mosque (Cave of the Patriarchs) Massacre, and demanded the city’s Shuhada Street be re-opened to Palestinian residents, and to end the occupation. Shuhada Street has been segregated — closed to Palestinians but not Jews — for 16 years: Palestinian residents cannot walk out their front doors, and shops owned by Palestinians have long been forced shuttered.
The protest departed from H1, the Oslo-era designation separating the part of Hebron under Palestinian administration and the part run by the Israeli army, where the city’s Israeli settlements are located. The goal was to reach Shuhada Street. The protesters chanted against Israeli settlements, and expressed solidarity with those being displaced from Umm al-Hiran.
Waiting along the route of the march, on the side of the city allegedly controlled by the Palestinian Authority, were Israeli soldiers. The moment the marchers came into sight, the soldiers began firing intense volleys of tear gas. Very quickly, the vast majority of the protesters dispersed into alleys and side streets that filled up with gas, while a number of local youths stayed behind to respond to the soldiers by throwing stones.
Many people suffered from tear gas inhalation; an Israeli photographer was beaten by soldiers. It was unclear at the time of writing if or how many injuries or arrests there were.
The protest march was organized by a coalition of Palestinian left-wing political parties, Youth Against Settlements, “Human Rights Defenders” (HRD), various women’s organizations and others, and Tarabut-Hithabrut. Palestinian parliamentarian Mustafa Barghouti also took part, along with representatives of the popular committees of Nabi Saleh and Bil’in.
Activists said that Israeli forces raided two organizers’ homes Thursday night and threatened them, saying the march should not take place as planned. The activists were Badee Dwaik from HRD and Anan Da’ana from the Committee to Protect Hebron.
Friday’s march marked the end of two weeks of protest actions in Hebron, all of which called to re-open Shuhada Street. Thousands of Palestinian residents suffer negative consequences from the closure, with hundreds having to climb over roofs just to reach their homes on the segregated street.
The segregation and closure, of course, only exist because of the presence of some 900 Israeli settlers among well over 100,000 Palestinian residents of Hebron.
“We are living in a period in which both the societies in Israel and the Palestinian society in the West Bank and Gaza are moving to the right,” Hisham Sharbati, an activist with the Committee to Protect Hebron, which coordinates among left-wing parties in Hebron, told dozens of Israeli activists who came to the protest.
“The joint struggle is important to us in order to strengthen the Left on both sides,” Sharbati added. “They try to claim that the Palestinian struggle for independence is part of Islamic terrorism or even ISIS. We are standing here together to show that we are fighting for basic human rights and justice. I hope that next year we can mark the massacre in a joint ceremony in a liberated Hebron, without occupation and with soldiers.”
This article also appears in Hebrew on Local Call.