Saturday, October 25, 2014

Road closures in Hebron violates 1997 agreement

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By John Space - February 09, 2013
TAGS:
Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation] [Features]
Tags: [Shuhada Street] [Hebron] [road closures] [obstacles]

Photos by Calum Toogood.

This report is the third in a new Palestine Monitor series on life in the Old City of Hebron (known in Arabic as Khalil). The Palestine Monitor will publish one report a week on Hebron leading up to the 'Open Shuhada Street' protest on Feb. 25 organized by the nonviolent resistance group Youth Against Settlements. The demonstration marks the anniversary of Baruch Goldstein's 1994 massacre of 29 Palestinians inside the Tomb of the Patriarchs mosque. 

Shuhada Street may get the most attention, but it's far from the only road that's been closed in Hebron.  Last Friday, the Hebron Defense Committee, an activist group, staged a demonstration to call attention to the many other roads that have been closed in the city.

"Shuhada Street, it's like 900 meters, but we have another four kilometers that is closed," said Sami Nastheh, co-founder of the Hebron Defense Committee. "So one of the things we are trying to do is show people the areas that are closed."  

Shuhada Street, in the city center, has been closed since 1994, following the massacre of 29 muslims in the Ibrahimi mosque by Baruch Goldstein. The city was then divided into H1 (under Palestinian Authority control) and H2 (under Israeli military control) areas, creating an apartheid system that Israel calls the separation policy.  

Following the passage of the Oslo Accords, an auxiliary agreement known as the Protocol Concerning the Redeployment in Hebron was signed by Benjamin Netanyahu and Yasser Arafat in 1997. The accords specifically require Shuhada Street to be reopened within four months of the signing of the agreement, but the street remains closed—a violation of Israel's agreed-upon commitments. During the second Intifada several years later, occupation forces closed many more streets to Palestinians in Hebron, all of which remain closed today.  

Last week a demonstration took place on al-Huwei Road, most of which falls within H1 and is therefore open to Palestinians. But where the road exits Hebron near the settlement of Beit Hagai, the Israeli army has placed large concrete blocks impeding vehicular traffic.  

Hebron Defense Committe member Bassam Shweiki said the road's closure causes extreme inconvenience to people traveling south of Hebron, including people living in the Fawwara refugee camp just outside the city.  

The accords specifically require Shuhada Street to be reopened within four months of the signing of the agreement, but the street remains closed—a violation of Israel's agreed-upon commitments

"This road used to connect Hebron to its southern regions," he said. "(Now that) the closure is affected, I have to make a detour. Instead of getting to my town in 20 minutes, I take one hour and 15 minutes."    

The road closure was not affected by an official military decree, but rather an initiative of individual soldiers, said Hisham Sharabati, another member of the Hebron Defense Committee. Thanks to these soldiers' decision, the costs to Palestinians affected by the closure are piling up.  

"They have to drive 30 kilometers to come to Hebron when it's just across the street," Sharabati said. "When you count this over ten years, gas, loss of time, it's really a fortune… We have to pay this price for nothing, because a commander put concrete blocks there."  

al-Huwei Road was closed during the second Intifada as a means of collective punishment against the Palestinian civilian population of Hebron, Shweiki said. Under Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, signed by Israel in 1949, this type of collective punishment is a war crime.  

"The closure of this road came in maybe 2002 after some operation of Palestinian resistance over there," Shweiki said. "A collective punishment in this way, it is not acceptable. It is apartheid."  

Israel excuses road closures and other apartheid measures by claiming they are necessary for security, but Sharabati points out that these "security measures" are selectively applied to areas that Israel decides merit punishment.  

"Relating to these closures, in 2001, 2002, 2003 there was an exceptional situation during the violence of the Intifada. Those exceptional circumstances now do not exist. Many Palestinians drive close by settlers, on the same street," he said. "Even if there was a security need sometime, ten years ago, this security need now does not exist. But still they punish us."  

Israel's apartheid system, strikingly visible in Hebron, is an attack on the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people, Sharabati said.  

"This is basic human rights, to move freely in our own country," he said. "We are the owners of this country, and we want to have our rights in this country, including freedom of movement."  

Occupation forces have closed not only the exit to al-Huwei Road, but the exits to most of the roads leading into Hebron.  

"Instead of having ten entrances to Hebron, you have only two. And sometimes they can close the gate and leave," Sharabati said.  

The Hebron Defense Committee estimates at least 100,000 people are affected by the road closures in Hebron. Sharabati said the widespread effects of these closures are intended to force Palestinians from land that rightfully belongs to them.  

"They want us to feel restricted all the time, and we collect our luggage and leave the country," he said. "There is a silent deportation policy. You don't give people any options here, they go somewhere else."  

The Hebron Defense Committee will continue its resistance to the occupation and Israel's apartheid system, Sharabati said. The group holds regular protests in Hebron, not only on al-Huwei street, but on Shuhada Street, in the Tel Rumeida settlement and in the South Hebron hills, among other places.  

Sharabati said the struggle for justice in Hebron will continue until the blocks are removed from the al-Huwei street, the apartheid system is undone and the occupation is ended.  

"We try to keep the resistance alive. Sometimes we have more support, sometimes we have less support," he said. "(But) if we didn't move these blocks today and we didn't move them last week, we will move them eventually… The occupation cannot keep this situation forever. Eventually there will be a change." 




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