Palestine: Campaign to open Shuhada Street

March 30, 2014
Graffiti from Hebron.

Shuhada Street was the major thoroughfare, and bustling, principle commercial centre, in the Palestinian town of Hebron in the south of the Israeli occupied West Bank. Today, the street is all but deserted, an empty place of boarded-up houses and shuttered shops.

On February 25, 1994, a Zionist settler from Kiryat Arba, Baruch Goldstein, shot dead 29 Palestinian civilians and injured 125 more during morning prayers in Hebron's Ibrahimi Mosque.

After this brutal massacre, Israeli occupation authorities embarked on a campaign to punish the victims by closing Shuhada Street to Palestinians. Israel imposed growing restrictions on commerce, freedom of worship and movement in Hebron's city centre.

Shuhada Street was closed to Palestinian vehicles in 1994. In 2000, Palestinian residents and other pedestrians were banned from walking there. Israel said this was to provide security for the then-600 Israeli settlers who occupied a section of Hebron's centre.

Such actions have turned the lives of 200,000 Palestinians in Hebron into a nightmare. Thousands have been expelled from their homes. The Jewish settlement at Hebron is illegal under international law.

Israel has also imposed on Palestinian residents a regime of forced evictions, curfews, market and street closures, military checkpoints and roadblocks. Palestinians have been subjected to military law, including frequent random stop-and-searches and detention without charge. They also suffer from rampant settler violence.

More than 500 Palestinian shops were closed by military order and a further 1000 shop owners were forced to close their stores due to the military checkpoints and enforced closures.

Such measures forced about 15,000 Palestinian civilians to flee their homes in Hebron's city centre, turning it into a virtual ghost town.

Today Shuhada Street, the once lively, thriving centre of the ancient city of Hebron, is dead. Its shops and most houses are abandoned.

Hebron's almost 200,000 Palestinian residents are mostly banned from their main street. However, the now 800 illegal Israeli settlers, protected by Israeli soldiers, are allowed full access and enjoy freedom of movement in the closed street.

The settlers are systematically making life more unbearable for the Palestinians left in Shuhada Street and the rest of the city of Hebron.

In 2001, for instance, the Israeli army closed all the entrances to residents’ houses along Shuhada Street and forbade Palestinians to use their front doors. Those Palestinians still living in the area have to enter and exit by climbing over roofs or through their back doors.

Israeli soldiers guarding the street also frequently ignore settler violence against the remaining Palestinian residents. Israel cites security reasons to justify its measures.

Shuhada Street is an iconic symbol of the crushing repression Palestinians face under Israeli occupation. Where there was once a bustling street, now there are huge concrete barriers and heavily armed soldiers at various checkpoints.

During this year's annual February Open Shuhada Street protest in Hebron, five Palestinians were arrested. More than 13 were injured by Israeli forces.

Youth Against Settlements said more than 2000 people took part from all Palestinian political parties. Many Israeli and international groups joined the march.

When demonstrators reached the entrance to Shuhada Street, Israeli soldiers attacked the peaceful protest. Soldiers at the checkpoint fired stun grenades, rubber bullets and teargas at the protesters. Some were physically beaten by soldiers and police.

Some demonstrators responded with stone throwing. A cameraman for Israeli human rights group BT’selem was shot in the head with a rubber bullet. A Palmedia journalist was shot in the head with a plastic-coated steel bullet.

Open Shuhada Street Campaign (OSC) is a Palestinian initiative aimed at organising international days of solidarity with Palestinian residents of Hebron. It was started in 2010 and international solidarity actions have taken place in many cities around the world.

Now in its fifth year, the campaign was an initiative of Youth Against Settlements. Organisers state: “We are focusing on Shuhada Street as a symbol of the settlement issue, the policy of separation in Hebron/al Khaleel and the entire West Bank, the lack of freedom of movement and the occupation at large.”

On February 25, many civil, religious and political groups and activists from Palestine, Israel and elsewhere launched a world-wide campaign to open Shuhada Street, to protect Hebron residents' civil rights and to end Israeli occupation.

Despite a court case and an admission by the Israeli government that its actions in Hebron are illegal, Shuhada Street is still closed to Palestinians 14 years later.

[For more information on this campaign, and how you can help, visit Youth Against Settlements.]

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