Thursday, September 27, 2007

Standing at Baruch Goldstein's grave: Breaking the Silence with Shovrim Shtika

A visit to Hebron:

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself in probably in the one place in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, I never thought I would ever be. But here I was standing at the graveside of the murder Baruch Goldstein in the illegal Israeli colony of Kiryat Arba, in the Palestinian Hebron hills. Goldstein, an American-Israeli doctor, illegal settler and devote Zionist follower of the racist religious fanatic Rabbi Meir Kahane in 1994 murdered 29 Palestinian men, women and children and wounded another 150, while they were at prayer in the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. It was his murderous act during the holy Jewish festival of Purim and the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, that triggered the first Palestinian suicide bombing against Israeli citizens.

So how did I get to be in the one place I never thought I would visit in the beautiful country that I have come to love? The visit to Goldstein’s grave was the first stop in a tour organised by Shovrim Shtika (Breaking the Silence), a group of ex- Israeli soldiers, many of whom served in Hebron. Shovrim Shtika, which formed in 2004 and which aims to “break the silence” about what actually happens in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and to lift the veil on the activities of the “most moral army in the world”.

Myself, my two housemates and another friend joined 45 other Israeli citizens and internationals on the twice monthly tour earlier that morning in Jerusalem. We were greeted warmly by Mikhael, former Israeli army commander who was wearing a yarmulke. For the next 40 minutes, as we drove to Hebron along the settler highways, Mikhael gave us a thumb nail sketch of the history of the holy land, Zionist colonisation, Palestinian resistance, as well as the religious significance of Hebron to Jews, Muslims and Christians. As we speed along the settler highway, I recalled how different and easy this journey was compared to my first trip to Hebron in 2004. In 2004, we had travelled from Haris to a demonstration just south of Hebron city. A journey that should have taken an hour and half was strung out to more than 5 hours. During the marathon journey (a regular occurrence for Palestinians), we were stopped at 8 checkpoints and we had no choice but to change vehicles 6 times, due to road blocks that prevented Palestinian vehicles from travelling extended distances. How different it was this time, sitting in an air condition Israeli number plated bus, hurtling down the settler freeway.

As we entered the illegal Israeli colony of Kiryat Arba, Mikhael explained Hebron is the only place in the OPT that has illegal Israeli settlements located in the centre of a Palestinian city. Mikael went on to explain how since 1997, Hebron has been divided into to two sectors, know as H1 and H2. Approximately 160,000 Palestinian residents live in H1, while around 40,000 live in H2. Also living in H2 are around 600 illegal Israeli settlers. H1 is supposedly under the control of the Palestinian Authority, while H2 – including Al Shuhada St and the Old City and Palestinian markets (Casbah or Souq area) - is under the control of the Israeli military. The reality, however, is that the Israeli military also control H1 and the illegal settlers are the real ones in control of H2, not the Israeli military or police.

Due to the location of the illegal settlers inside the city boundaries, the situation for Palestinian residents in both H1 and H2 is particularly horrendous as they are constantly under violent attack from the illegal Israeli settlers. According to the Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem “Over the years, settlers in the city have routinely abused the city's Palestinian residents, sometimes using extreme violence. Throughout the second intifada, settlers have committed physical assaults, including beatings, at times with clubs, stone throwing, and hurling of refuse, sand, water, chlorine, and empty bottles. Settlers have destroyed shops and doors, committed thefts, and chopped down fruit trees. Settlers have also been involved in gunfire, attempts to run people over, poisoning of a water well, breaking into homes, spilling of hot liquid on the face of a Palestinian, and the killing of a young Palestinian girl”.

B’Tselem notes that neither Israeli police nor soldiers do anything to protect Palestinians from illegal settler attacks and as a result, are in effect, sanctioning the violence of the illegal settlers. In addition, both Israeli police and soldiers are responsible for excessive violence against Palestinians carrying out arbitrary house searches, seize of Palestinian homes for observation points (often for years on end), detention, humiliation and beating of Palestinians. Both Israeli security forces and settler violence is designed, as B’Tselem notes, to force “a quite transfer” of Palestinian residents out of the old city.

I found it not a little disturbing as we made our way to the mass murder’s grave which was located in the park celebrating the life of another racist advocate of Palestinian and Arab genocide, Meir Kahane (the leader of the Kach movement which Goldstein was a member). More than anything else in Hebron and perhaps in the whole the occupied Palestinian territories, Goldstein’s grave represents clearly the racism of Zionist ideology. In the aftermath of his murderous act, Goldstein was and continues to be held up as a hero to be emulated by many illegal Israeli settlers and other Zionists. In the weeks and years after his death, a shrine had been erected around his grave celebrating him and the murder of 29 Palestinian men, women and children. The tiled shrine remained in existence for 6 years until 2000 when the Israeli government under intense pressure, finally forcibly dismantled it.

From where we stood near the murder’s grave, we could down into the hills and streets of Hebron city, where we would soon be visiting. From where we stood, the city looks so peaceful but for those of us who had been to Hebron before, including the former Israeli soldiers leading us, we knew we were about to enter a place which was, for the Palestinian residents who lived there, a veritable hell on earth.

When we reached the Tomb of the Patriarchs, which is sacred to all three faiths and where Goldstein carried out his massacre, we alighted from the bus. From here we would spend the next few hours on foot walking through the streets of Hebron city. Mikhael and Yehuda, the founder of Breaking the Silence, led us up Shuhada St, the main thoroughfare which ran though the city.

Anywhere else in the world, the main street of a city would be teeming with pedestrians, cars, shops and shop keepers hawking their wares. But the street in front of us was deathly silent. Except for an occasional army jeep or car belonging to an illegal Israeli settler passing by; the street was devoid of life. Mikhael explained to us that during the first three years of the intifada, the Israeli military imposed a round-the-clock curfew on the Palestinians in the city center of Hebron for more than a year (377 days in total), including a consecutive period of 182 days, with short breaks to obtain provisions.

Although, now not under around-the-clock closure, Israeli military restrictions are still severe with the many streets in Hebron city, including Shuhada St, being no-go zones for Palestinians residents. The Israeli military had created what B’Tselem calls a “contiguous strip of land in the City Center along which the movement of Palestinian vehicles is forbidden. The middle of the strip contains many sections of road that the army forbids even Palestinian pedestrians to use. The strip blocks the main north-south traffic artery in the city, and therefore affects the entire city”.

In 2000, in complete disregard for international law, the Israeli military forcible closed all Palestinian shops along the H2 section of Shuhada St and sealed the entrances of the Palestinians houses which opened on to the street, by soldering (welding) the doors closed. The purpose of the shop closures and the soldering (welding) of the residential doors were to ensure that only the illegal settlers had access to Shuhada St.

As we walked up the streets, we could see Palestinian children playing in caged balconies above us. The cages around every Palestinian balcony and window were to prevent the illegal settlers from throwing stones or rubbish at the Palestinian residents. As we stood outside the home of one family, we could hear them going about their daily routine inside. We could hear children playing and the parents busily doing household chores. As we stood there, looking at the bronzed lumps of solder which prevent the family inside from every being able to open the door to greet us, Mikhael told us how what we saw here had a profound effect on him as a soldier.

“What opened my eyes”, he said, “was that the people living in the house behind me have not been able to walk on the streets for years, but I as a Jew, I have the privilege to do that”.

As we stood outside the welded door, Mikhael asked us to image what it must be like for the Palestinian family we could not see. As he spoke, I no longer was standing with our group, instead, in my mind I was traversing the roofs of the houses behind us. Imagine, he said, to leave this house, the family must do so by the roof tops. It may not seem that arduous, he said, but imagine.

Imagine having to carry your groceries or one of the huge heavy gas bottles that all Palestinian homes used for cooking. Imagine having to carry that over the tiles of the roofs, the guttering and up and down make shift stairs made of rubble and brick.

Imagine, he said, if you were old and/or sick. Imagine trying to get to hospital. Imagine, he said, if your loved one had died and you must carry that person on your back, out of the house, across the roofs. Imagine, he said, to live your life like that every day.

Video: The Rooftops of Hebron

And as I visualised and put his words into images, how could I not want to cry and shout out at the injustice and the inhumanity and immorality of forcing another human being to live that way. But I bit down on my words and swallowed them whole

As our journey continued through out the day, this reaction was to take hold of me again and again – when we visited the once thriving meat and whole sale markets, now desolate, which had been destroyed by the illegal settlers and now lay in rubble, when we witnessed the illegal invasion of Palestinian homes and shops by the settlers and when we visited the homes of Palestinian families living under siege below the illegal Israeli colony of Tel Rumeida in the centre of Hebron city.

“There are lives at the end of this story”, said Mikhael. “People are caged because of me and every Israeli should see this and claim responsibility”, he said.

As we walked around the markets, we could see what looked like empty closed Palestinian shops, but upon further inspection we realised that in fact there were illegal Israeli settler families living in the shops. Yehuda, who guided us during this section of our tour, explained that the settler would keep the fronts of the shops in tact, while breaking into the shops from behind and quietly establishing residence in them. He explained while the Israeli army had finally moved to evict some illegal families from the market area a few weeks ago (after they had been there for over 5 years), this was pretty much a staged drama, as hundreds of other settler families remained illegal in Palestinian homes and residences. The IOF and the Israeli state, he explained, were quite aware of the settler’s illegal actions but nothing to prevent the settlers from continuing such actions.

Soon we were standing outside of Beit Hadassah, the first of the illegal Israeli settlements to be established in Hebron city itself. Here it was Silvana’s turn to guide us. A tiny blonde international human rights activist who works with Breaking the Silence, she explained to us the role of the international peace teams, such as the Christian Peace Makers, the Ecumenical Accompaniers and the International Solidarity Movement, who work in Hebron.

Silvana explained that the one of the main role of the international teams was to accompany Palestinian school children to and from schools and to try and prevent both settler adults and settler children from attacking the Palestinian school children.

She went onto tell with chilling factuality, how one day when she was standing duty at the bottom of the stairs that the children must walk down, a settler youth attacked her from behind with a brick. The youth hit her with such force that he not only knocked her unconscious but also severely fractured her skull. Hearing Silvana’s story, I recalled how when I was in Palestine last time, two members of the Christian Peacemaker teams were attacked by an armed group of illegal settlers wielding chains, steel pipes and guns. Kim Lamberty, a CPTer from the US had her leg and arm broken, while her team mate Chris Brown had his lung punctured and his skull fractured. They were not the first or the last peace activists to be brutalised by the illegal settlers.

Video: Settler children attacking Palestinian school girls and their teachers

Silvana, along with Mikhael and Yehuda, explained that attacks by both settler adults and children were not uncommon, as under the age of 12 years, Israeli children can not be held responsible criminally for their actions. As a result, settler adults often would encourage and direct their children to attack Palestinian children and adults. Yehuda and Mikhael explained that soldiers did nothing to stop the settler children in their attacks because the role of the IOF was to protect the illegal settlers, not to protect the Palestinians the settler youth were attacking.

When we reached the section of Shuhada Street, where the Israeli checkpoint between H1 and H2 was established, we could hear the hustle and bustle of the Palestinian community on the otherside. While H1 was only a few metres away, it in reality was in fact a different world compared to the one we were standing in. Not far from this checkpoint was the illegal settlement of Tel Rumeida, which was located directly in the heart of Hebron city.

Before walking to the streets that marked the beginning of Tel Rumeida, Mikhael and Yehuda introduced us to Hisham, a tall Palestinian man in his mid 40s, who welcomed us warmly into his home. As he showed us around his garden, he explained that the settlers above him regularly dumped their rubbish and threw rocks at his family. He explained the derelict washing machine in his garden was courtesy of settler neighbours, who had thrown it down deliberately one day when he was in the garden, narrowly missing him at the time. Like many other Palestinians, his family home had been shot at by the illegal settlers and it had been invaded and its contents destroyed. The illegal settlers had also cut the electricity, the phone line, and the water pipes, ensure that at times his family would have to go for months without water or electricity.

The worst times, however, Hisham explained was when his father died and when his wife was about to give birth to his son. When his father died, the illegal settlers and the IOF would not allow an ambulance to come to the house. So he had to carry the body of his deceased father several miles on his back, through fields and checkpoints. A harrowing journey for anyone in a time of grief.

Later that same year, Hisham was forced to carry his wife who was about to give birth to the hospital. When he reached the checkpoint, however, the Israeli soldiers on duty refused to let him pass, despite the fact he had medical documentation. Instead they told Hisham to take his wife back to his house and “let her die there”. Several hours later, they attempted the journey again. This time a new commander was on duty when Hisham and his wife reached the checkpoint. This solider was more compassionate and let them through, however, it still took Hisham 3 hours on foot to get his wife to hospital and to the medical attention she needed.

Before we left the house, Hisham and Mikhael screened a series of videos taken by Palestinian residents and human rights workers. One showed young settler girls, aged abut 12 years attacking terrified Palestinian school children and pushing a 70 year old human rights worker to the ground. Another showed a settler woman taunting and threatening a Palestinian family caged in their own home, calling the women “sharmouta” (whore) The video of the settler woman was screened across Israel, bring home for one of the first time the viciousness that Palestinians in Hebron have to endure on a daily basis.

Illegal settler woman attacking Palestinian family who are forced to live in a cage.

The final video was of the 2003 settler rampage, which saw hundreds
of settlers break into Palestinian homes, destroy them and attack the families inside. Just watching the video sent shivers down me not only as the terror of the family filming the settler actions was palpable but also because of the joyful singing and dancing of the settlers as they carried out their bloody rampage.

Upon reaching Tel Rumeida, the IOF refused to allow us to enter the colony, saying that there were new arbitrary laws in place which prevented us from doing so. As we walked around Tel Rumeida colony, Yehuda and Mikhael, who had avoided throughout most of the trip making the journey about themselves and their Break the Silence colleagues, gave us an insight into the minds of Israeli soldiers serving in Hebron and how they came to form Breaking the Silence. Yehuda told us how when he first arrived in Hebron as a grenade machine gunner, he was shocked to be ordered to fire indiscriminately into Palestinian civilian areas. A grenade machine gun, he explained has a kill range of 8 metres and an injury range of 16 metres, it was not an accurate weapon, so often you would have to fire it 5 or 6 times before you could get an accurate fix on your target. This meant, he said, that often they would hit Palestinian houses, schools and hospitals.

Yehuda went onto explain, how despite his initial shock, within a week he had grown comfortable with the morality of firing into civilian residential areas. After he finished his service, he and a number of his comrades realised that they all shared such a common experience and that they could not speak with their family or friends about what they had seen or done in Hebron and how they had all so quickly succumbed to be part of a campaign to terrorise and collectively punish a whole Palestinian city in the name of “security”.

Shovim Shtika, he said, was formed so that they could “break the silent agreement between Israeli soldiers and Israeli civil society that ‘we know something is going on but we don't want to know’”. They wanted to “tell our daily life, so that other Israelis would understand what happened in the occupied territories” and how they “had become part of it”.

Collecting photos that they had taken, the ex-soldiers decided to prepare a photo exhibition, which was to send shock waves through Israeli society. In 2005, when the soldiers first put their exhibition one display at a college in Tel Aviv, it was raided by the Israeli government and the military police. The soldiers were detained and interrogated for more than 7 hours. This, however, did not deter them and the soldiers have sought to repeat their exhibition throughout Israel, the West Bank and internationally. They have continued to speak out, collect testimonies from other soldiers serving in the OPT and to “break the silence” to expose what the “most moral army in the world” is really doing in the OPT and to the Palestinian people.

As we made our way back to the bus and I looked over the Hebron hills towards where early that day I had stood beside Goldstein’s grave, I tried to take in all that I had seen this day. As I stood there, the words of Malcolm X came to my mind, that you did not need anything else except the truth as “truth is on the side of the oppressed”.

In Hebron, as in every other place in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the truth is that the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian people is brutal, cruel, violent and racist. It is only in raising our voices and speaking the truth about the brutality and racism of the Israeli occupation, like the ex-soldiers of Shrovim Shitka, that we break the silence. In Hebron, as in every other place in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the truth is on the side of the Palestinian people and that its the duty of all of use who believe in freedom, justice and equality to raise our voices against the brutal and Israeli occupation and demand freedom, justice and equality for Palestine and the Palestinian people.

Video: (30 mins) Israeli soldiers talk about Breaking the Silence

To read the testimonies of the soldiers from Shovim Shtika and what really happens in the OPT:

To hear testimonies of soldiers from Shovim Shtika


Your Host...Roger B. said...

Thanks for this Very Interesting Post !

Regards, Roger B.

Roger Baillargeon
DEAL of the DAY Magazine Center

Yishai Kohen said...

It may be "illegal" for Jews to live in YOUR neighborhood, but it isn't and never will be for Jews to live in mine- or any other neighborhood in OUR land of Israel.

What WAS illegal was the Arab ethnic cleansing of ALL Jews from Hebron in 1929.

What WAS illegal was what they did to the ancient Jewish community in OUR holy city:

"…the rabbis, Meir Kastel, 68 years old, and Tzvi Drabkin, 70 years old, and five other young men… were robbed, castrated, tortured and murdered… The baker, Noah Immerman was roasted alive on an oven, Rabbi Ya'akov Orlanski HaCohen… was found… praying… they took his brain from his skull and his wife's intestines were crushed… the pharmacist, Ben-Tzion Gershon, lame, unable to move, who served in Hebron for 40 years, kindly assisting many Arabs, they cut off his nose and fingers, killed him, raped his daughter and murdered her with awful torture. The teacher Dubkinov and Yitzhak Abushdid were strangled with a rope… six synagogues… including 64 Torah scrolls, many of them ancient, from the Spanish exile, all were stolen and desecrated...."

What IS illegal are the Arab attempt to do it again.

They never will.

Kim said...

As usual YK can't see past his own rhetoric and is short on facts.

Firstly, its got nothing to do with "my" neighbourhood. It has to do with international law, to which Israeli is a signatory too (that is they agreeded to abide by it by signing on to the 4th Geneva convention).

Under international law it is illegal for an occupier (in the case Israel) to transfer any sector of its civilan population into the territory it is occupying. In addition, it is illegal for the occupier to transfer any section of the occupied population out of the occupied territory.

In relation to 1929, once again you resort to hyperbole. Yes, it was true there were riots in which 67 innocent Jewish people were killed by Palestinian rioters (it should be noted there were also hundreds of innocent Palestinians killed in the riot as well). This was a terrible thing.

However, the 1929 riots did not "cleanse all Jews of Hebron in 1929", as you write. There were over 600 Jewish living in the area, of those 67 innocent people died, not 600.

One thing Zionists never mention in regard to Hebron is that there as in many other place, many Palestinians during thr riots actual sought to help and protect Jewish families who came under attack. Many Palestinian families in fact still have thankyou letters and documentation from Jewish families about how they helped save the Jewish families lives.

For example the Shaheen family in Hebron saved the lives of the Mizrarhi family. In 1929, Ali Shaheen stood with his brothers in front of the doors, risking their lives to save their Jewish neighbors from the rioting

The Declaration, which the Jewish Mizrachi family gave to the Shaheen family in 1967 begins: "We the undersigned declare here that the Hebron Shaheen family, brothers Musa, Hamda, Ali, Itzhak, and their late mother, the very
respected Haja, saved our lives in the riot that took place in 1929."

The document gives further details of that rescue and is signed by members of the Mizrachi family.

Another convenient fact that Zionists leave out is the cause of the riots. The riots occurred in reaction to Zionists attempted to take over the Western Wall of Harem Al Sharif and prevent Muslims having access too it (this area is also religiously important to Muslims).

It should be noted that prior to the attempt by Zionists to take total control of the area, Muslims were not preventing Jews from praying there or accessing the religious site.

This of course does not mitigate the fact that many innocent Jews and Palestinians died in the riots, but it does put it in context, which Zionists never like to do.

Finally, what happened in 1929 happened in 1929 and yes, lets not forget that. However, what happened in 1929, does not give the settlers or zionsts carte blanc to now attack, terrorise and murder Palestinians(it is interesting to note that in the Sabra and Shatila posts, some Zionists said Palestinians should stop "whinging" bout the past. Once again, we see the total hypocrisy of Zionists, Palestinians are expected to never say a word about past atrocities to them, but Zionists are ALWAYS allowed to bring them up what has happened them. You can not have it both ways - either both must forget, or both are allowed to remember).

Kim said...

Dear Roger,
thanks for the comment. Glad you enjoyed the post.

in solidarity, Kim

Yishai Kohen said...

MINE aren't rhetorics. They are cold hard facts. If Arabs suffer, it'ds because they are trying to ILLEGALLY ethnically cleanse the Jews from Hebron today- as they did in 1929.

Peace for peace. War for war- but know that if they choose war, they will suffer FAR worse than anything they try to do to us.

Yishai Kohen said...

More facts:

1. Israel never "transfered" Jews anywhere. We live where we do of our own volition.

2. For territories to be occupied, they must be occupied from a STATE:

Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. Geneva, 12 August 1949

Article 2: ...the present Convention shall apply to all cases of declared war or of any other armed conflict which may arise between two or more of the High Contracting Parties...."

"High Contracting Parties" mean STATES- not the PLO or some mythical place called "Palestine", which was NEVER a state.

Ergo, legally, Judea, Samaria, and Gaza are not "occupied".

Yishai Kohen said...

More facts? Sure:

3. Arabs were killed in 1929 because they went on a murderous rampage. That rampage had nothing to do with any alleged attempted to take over the Temple Mount. This was a lie promulgated by Haj Amin al-Husseini, Mufti of Jerusalem, who would later become a close ally with Hitler and an avid admirer of the Nazis.

Did a few Arabs save Jews? Sure- but nothing compared to the cruel slaughter that the Arab masses carried out- the rape, the pillage, the murder.

They're lucky that we're not like they are or else they'd all be dead.

4. The Arabs absolutely DID forbid Jews from prayer, access, etc... In Hebron, for instance, they didn't allow the Jews to enter OUR ancestors' tombs.

5. Today is no different in what the Arabs want- and what they try to do when they can.

Ever heard of little Shalhevet Pas?

Mar 26, 2001 - Shalhevet Pass, age 10 months, was killed by sniper fire at the entrance to the Avraham Avinu neighborhood in Hebron.

Shalhevet, seated in her stroller, was going with her parents to visit her grandparents in the Avraham Avinu neighborhood in Hebron. A Palestinian sniper opened fire from the Abu Sneneh neighborhood on the hill opposite. Shalhevet was fatally wounded by a shot to the head. Her father, Yitzhak, was moderately wounded in both legs.

Her parents, Yitzhak and Oriya, have been married for about two years. Shalhevet was their first child. Yitzhak is a yeshiva student. Oriya, who grew up in Hebron, works as a teacher's aide in a nursery school.

The family has known terrorist attacks in the past. In November 1993, Oriya's father was attacked and seriously injured by two axe-wielding Palestinians on his way to morning prayers near the Machpela Cave. In January 1996, Oriya's sister, Orital, then 14, was stabbed in the back by a Palestinian near the Hebron market. This past March 10, Yitzhak's brother was shot in the leg while visiting the family in Hebron.

Shalhevet was buried in the ancient Jewish cemetery in Hebron.

We won't allow that in OUR land.

Peter Boyle said...

Another great post, Kim. I hope it travels far.

Anonymous said...

Your readers may be interested to listen to Meir Kahane's views firsthand. They can download his videos here: The downloads are full DVD and sound quality is way better than on google video or youtube.