Over 1000 American and international Zionists joined 700 extremist settlers in Hebron this weekend to celebrate the reading of the Torah portion detailing Abraham’s biblical purchase of Hebron land, intimidating and harassing Palestinian residents of the city.
Palestinian children look on as Israeli soldiers escort Jewish settlers and Zionist tourists through the predominately Palestinian city this weekend (photo: Palestinian reports Khalil)
On Friday, Zionist visitors camped in tents on Israeli-controlled Shuhada Street, which was once a bustling center of Palestinian commerce.
On Saturday, soldiers stationed themselves through the streets of Hebron’s Old City, forcing the shutdown of Palestinian shops, while swarms of visitors were treated to an extensive settler-guided tour championing the supposed Jewish roots of Old Hebron. In what was advertised by the Hebron Committee as “the most unforgettable Jewish experience of a lifetime,” throngs of young, mostly American males clapped and chanted ‘Am Yisrael Chai’ (‘The Nation of Israel lives’) and other nationalistic chants, while Palestinian residents were forced to the sidelines of their own streets and kept there by soldiers.
Seven international activists and two Palestinians were arrested.
While a few visitors were respectful to Palestinian shop owners and residents, many were outright hostile. Mohammed Awawdeah owns a small shop in the old city, selling glass bottles filled with intricate colored sand patterns. Some of his bottles were smashed by a passing settler.
Bottles broken by Jewish settlers and Zionist tourists in Hebron (photo: Palestinian reports Khalil)
“He came and broke my stuff,” Awawdeah says. “I told the police but they are not here for us, they are here for the settlers…I am not even angry for my stuff, I'm angry at the soldiers who let them do this.”
The Israeli police have taken the details of the incident and said that they intend to look into it. But investigations of settlers accused of harming Palestinians or their property are exceedingly rare in the Occupied Territories. When they do occur, arrests and prosecutions are unlikely.
Hamday Dwaik decided to close his bakery in the old city, since his shop was targeted by settlers during the event last year. "The settlers don't want me to open. If I open they will throw my products on the ground, no one will buy it,” he said.
Laila Slemiah, who works in Women In Hebron, a woman's collective in the old city selling keffiyehs and embroidery, was determined not to close her shop. "I know I won't have any business today,” she said, “but I have to stay open. I'm not scared of them.”
Clashes were also reported between visiting Americans and international activists. One activist relates that “as we were walking, a group of young American Jewish boys got into an argument with us. They became threatening towards us, and one of them had an M16 around his waist. They told us they would break our camera, they told the nearby Palestinian shop owner they would burn down his shop, they told me I would be dead on the floor…”
As this event is touted by the Zionist community as a Biblically-ordained “return to the homeland,” an organization called Project Hayei Sarah has been founded in the U.S. and Israel, offering an interpretation of Abraham’s Biblical relationship to Hebron that challenges Zionist attempts to exploit religion in order to appropriate the city.