Do Unto Others focuses on the Middle East, (nonviolent) social movements, and how I make sense of my place in the world. I'm currently based in Cairo, Egypt doing peacebuilding and community development.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Jewish Holy Day becomes a Racist Parade

Today is Tisha B'Av.

From wikipedia:
Tisha B'Av is an annual fast day in Judaism, named for the ninth day (Tisha) of the month of Av in the Hebrew calendar. The fast commemorates the destruction of both the First Temple and Second Temple in Jerusalem, which occurred about 656 years apart, but on the same Hebrew calendar date. Accordingly, the day has been called the "saddest day in Jewish history...orthodox Jews have always believed that until the arrival of the Messianic Era, Tisha B'Av will continue to be observed as a fast day.
So what happened in Hebron today as a result of this Jewish holiday? Well to give a little background, the 400 Israeli settlers who are living in the heart of Hebron are protected by nearly 2,000 Israeli soldiers. Certain neighborhoods and areas have been closed to the nearly 200,000 Palestinians who live in Hebron. There are places in this densely populated Palestinian city where Palestinians are not allowed to walk, talk, drive, or be present in any manner.

Coming back to the holiday, there is apparently a grave of a biblical figure (I was not able to ascertain whom) located in the Palestinian-inhabited part of the city (well all of the city is actually inhabited by Palestinians, so more appropriately, the part of the city without settlers). The area where the grave is located, per the Oslo accords, is to be off limits for all Israelis - because remember, all Israelis are living in the West Bank are in abrogation of international law, and many of the settlers in Hebron are living in places where they are additionally in violation of Israeli law. But I digress. So, the Jewish settlers want to visit the grave, but it's smack in the middle of a busy and densely populated Palestinian area. A seeming conflict of interest, right? Nope, not really.

The answer for the settlers and the IDF is to seal the street and not let any Palestinians move in the area. The Israeli military even went as far as removing every car which was parked on the street. This even involved towing cars whose drivers could not be found. Sadly, the U.S. funded Palestinian Authority (collaborator) police participated in this apartheid-esque cleansing of the street. The street was sealed from 4pm in the afternoon until 9pm at night. No Palestinians were allowed to cross the street, enter their homes located on the street, operate their shops on the street, nor drive their cars on the street. Settlers on the other hand, roamed with the protection of 60-80 Israeli soldiers and Border Police.

Here is the sterilized street around 4pm, it would normally be bustling at this time of day.

Vehicles were towed.

Here are the soldiers coming out from a 'sealed' area where Palestinians are not allowed to walk, entering the area that is called H1 (an area under Palestinian Authority control per the Oslo Accords).

The Israeli Military cruised through the Palestinian controlled streets of Hebron by jeep, armored troop carrier, and on foot. The level of security would have made you believe a head of state was arriving.

A dog was used to sniff for bombs amongst the boxes of trash on the streets.

Then the settlers came out in force. They walked on the streets like they owned it, paying no mind to the Palestinian residents who were either forced to stay in or out of their homes for five hours. I witnessed several elderly men and women who were sitting on their porches and were forced inside by soldiers. The Palestinians were unable to reason with the soldiers as the soldiers kept repeating the only Arabic words they knew, "Rukh la beit, yala, rukh la beit!" (Go home, come on, go to your house). There were also two deaf men, signing back and forth, who were forced into a small staircase in an effort to get them as far away from the street as possible. The two men desperately tried to reason with the soldiers (using body language), but the soldiers just kept motioning away from the street with their M-16s until the men conceded.

Here is the collusion of the army and settlers. If it weren't for the uniforms you wouldn't be able to tell them apart. The disturbing thing is that the settlers carry more power than a uniformed soldier does. Being a soldier in uniform, in reality, is a lower rank than being a settler. Settlers rule the roost.

I wish that "holy days" weren't celebrated in such a manner. Holy days lose their holiness when one ethnic/religious group of people is favored above another. Holy days aren't so special when racism is rampant, when apartheid policies are made manifest, and when Jewish settlers with Brooklyn accents call me a Nazi and tell me to go back to my home.

A day of mourning in the Jewish calendar became a day of mourning for Palestinians in the streets of Hebron, as they lamented the takeover of their city, their rooftops, and their lives. Tisha B'Av 2010 was a visible metaphor of what the last 43 years of occupation have been like for the Palestinian people.

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