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Remembering a massacre, 22 years on

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By Sara Cuña - February 27, 2016
Section: [Main News] [IN PICTURES]
Tags: [Hebron]

Photos by Bao Yen.
Twenty five years ago Thursday, Baruch Goldstein, a member of the far-right Israeli Kach movement, walked into Ibrahimi Mosque and opened fire, killing 29 and injuring 125 muslims who were inside praying.


After the massacre, the Kach movement was outlawed as a terrorist organization. The UN Security Council passed Resolution 904 calling for, “measures to be taken to guarantee the safety and protection of the Palestinian civilians throughout the occupied territory,” which also created the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH).


Despite these resolutions and then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s condemnations of Goldstein’s actions, Israeli authorities imposed a series of restrictions on Palestinian civilians after the massacre.


“It’s collective punishment,” says Hisham Sharabati, coordinator of a Hebron rights group, the Hebron Defense Committee twenty five years on. “They hurt us, they performed a massacre and occupied us, but we’re the ones paying the price for it.”


Among the restrictions, a curfew on Palestinian residents was imposed. Shuhada Street and its businesses owned by Palestinians was closed, under the pretext of securing settlers living there, and numerous new Israeli military checkpoints and obstacles were built, limiting the movement to Palestinians in the old city.


Today, there are over 120 obstacles to Palestinian movement  (the so-called “restricted areas”), over 512 Palestinians businesses closed in these areas, and at least 1100 others have closed due to restricted access for customers and suppliers.


“The Old City is like a ghost town. It’s getting emptier and emptier as the years go by. I feel unease when I walk there.”


The parents of kids who attend school in the Old City are considering relocating. “Can you imagine going through checkpoints and be completely searched every day when you go to primary school?”, Sharabati asks.


According to Israeli rights organisation B’Tselem, over 1000 Palestinian homes located in restricted areas have been abandoned.


Over two decades after the Massacre and the finalization of the Oslo agreements, which, among other measures, demanded Shuhada Street to be reopened to Palestinians and its businesses, the situation remains unchanged.


For over half a decade, solidarity movements have gathered annually in a campaign to open Shuhada Street and mobilize international community to Hebronites’ struggle with the restrictions and settlers’ presence in the Old City.


These include rights groups like Youth Against Settlements and Human Rights Defenders, all based in Hebron.


“Hebron is like a microcosm of the occupation, the face of the settlement issue,” Sharabati continues, as driving through endless loops trying to avoid traffic. He sees from afar the streets he’s not allowed to drive through as a Palestinian.


The campaign persists, every year, despite Israeli forces’ attempts to quell them.


“Last year was a good year because it snowed during the campaign, so the tear gas couldn’t have any effect on the protesters,” said one of the international activists with Youth Against Settlements, Maya Garner.


The annual campaign is unique this year, since Israeli forces declared the Tel Rumeida neighborhood of Hebron a closed military zone, forcing local Palestinian residents to register themselves at the checkpoints.


“We are not asking any favours, it was established in the Oslo Agreements that Shuhada Street should be reopened. We are simply following what has been already agreed,” Sharabati says.


“They say it’s for 'security reasons,’ but security of whom? Of the settlers?,” he asks.


Abed Sider is also joining the campaign on the entrance of Shuhada Street. He lives in the Old City, and even having been offered by local settlers millions for his house, and despite the daily harassment he and his family have stayed, he stays.


“Settlers killed my first wife with five shots in the head 14 years ago. I married again, and my youngest son can barely see because settlers threw sulfuric acid on his eyes,” Sider alleged to the Palestine Monitor.


“My family and I could’ve left and taken the money. But I’m getting old. I’m more interested in going to heaven, and I won’t get in there if I take this money with me.” he concluded.


Efforts to implement the already agreed decision to reopen Shuhada Street have been made, especial Hebron Rehabilitation Committee (HRC), but Israeli forces have ultimately prevented it.


“They always show us a military order saying we’re not allowed to work or reopen the streets. Once, we even got inside with ambassadors from all around Europe and Asia, to show them the streets and our plans to reopen it, and the soldiers fired tear gas at us, leaving one of the ambassadors in pretty bad shape, given his advanced age,” said Hisham Iwidat, who works for the HRC.


At one of the main entrances of Shuhada Street, Youth Against Settlement set up a memorial to Hadil Salah Hahlamoun, a 17 year old girl who was shot dead at the checkpoint located in the entrance. The following night the memorial was taken down by Israeli forces.


“I woke up with a strange noise of construction machines outside, looked at the window and saw them taking it down. I shouted at them, asking them to stop, but they just laughed at me,” said Garner.


In Kiriat Arba, the Jewish settlement on outskirts of Hebron, Baruch Goldstein’s body rests on a grave with candles. He is considered a martyr by many, a hero for the settlers living in Hebron.

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