February 25 has been proclaimed Open Shuhada Street Day by international activists who wish to focus attention on the plight of Palestinians in Hebron, and in the Occupied Territories. Initiated by a group of south African activists, there will be activities around the world dramatizing the plight of the Palestinians of Hebron. Please check out their website here for more news.
What is Shuhada Street.? It is – or was – the main market and commercial section of the city of Hebron. In 1994, in response to the Barukh Goldstein massacre, the street was closed, ostensibly for the safety of the Palestinian residents. Over the next few years, the street has been closed, the businesses left to wither, and Palestinians not allowed to walk on the street. (Jews can and do.) Residents of buildings on the street cannot enter their homes from their doors, which are welded shut.
Why is the street closed? In order to create a buffer zone between the Jewish settlers in Hebron and the Palestinians. The closure has been criticized by the Israeli High Court and has destroyed countless lives, but let's face it – the people in charge in Hebron are the settlers and their allies in the military and the government.
An excellent F.A.Q. is available on the Open Shuhada Website here. You still have time to find out about activities close to you.
February 25 also happens to be this year the Fast of Esther, observed by Jews throughout the world in commemoration of the dark days that preceded the Festival of Purim and Queen Esther's fast for the Jews.
In Purim, the mood for the day is nahafokh hu, 'topsy turvy'. Unfortunately, in Hebron, and throughout the Occupied Territories, topsy turvy reigns. The oppressors are not the Persian Haman and his crowd, but the Israeli Jews. And the oppressed are not the Jews of the Persian empire, but the Palestinians of the Israeli empire.
When Queen Esther hesitated to take action on behalf of her fellow-Jews, her uncle Mordecai said, "If you keep silent now, deliverance for the Jews will come from an other place." Traditional Jews have taken the "other place" to refer to God, who is sometimes called, the Place. I believe that God will, ultimately, bring deliverance to the Palestinians from their decades of suffering. But that is not an excuse for inaction. After all, Esther acted.
The Open Shuhada website has videos of Shuhada street. But there is no substitute for seeing it with your own eyes, on a tour offered by the Children of Abraham organization.
I end this post with a statement by a Palestinian resident of Shuhada Street, who can tell you better than I can what it is to live on it.
What it means to re-open Shuhada Street..
Many people might think why do we need to have Shuhada Street open.. it's one of the most important streets in Hebron, as it connects the northern part of the city to the south. Not only this, it also connects people.. many people have lost their social life when the Street was closed, because their relatives and friends do not like to be stopped at the check-points or in the streets when they come to visit. And when they visited in the past, it used to be a walking distance, but now they need to take a detour around the city to get to the house they desire. People now think ten times when they plan a visit to house at Shuhada Street. First, they have to consider the time that they will take for the visit, and the money they will spend. Many people lost their businesses when Shuhada Street was closed and the job opportunities are less available these day than before, so they have to think money wise.
Personally, I live at Shuhada Street but I can't use my front door because I am Palestinian. My neighbours made an opening in their wall to make me a passage so that I don't become a hostage in my house. In fact I live like a prisoner in my house.. I have installed some wire fence on my balconies to be protected from the stones "gifts" that the settlers always throw at the house. Before the fence, I could not open my shutters. If by mistake I left the shutters open, I would immediately receive the "gifts" from these settlers. I still receive these "gifts" but they do not hit me like before. I collected these "gifts" and used them to decorate my garden and wrote the word "peace" in Arabic.
It's really hard to live where I am because everything is closed, I used to go shopping nearby, but now if I go shopping, I need to walk a distance and carry my shopping because I can't bring my shopping home in a car. One time I had a severe kidney pain, I could not have the ambulance in front of my door to go to the hospital. My brother's house is 2 minutes walk from Shuhada, but I need to walk about 20 minutes to get to his house.
The Israeli army and police always tell us that they are in the area for the protection of both Palestinians and Israelis, but in fact, they stormed my house 3 times in one week to check about a complaint from a soldier that some children threw stones at the street from my house, although I live only with my mother and have no children. Many times the settler children and youth threw stones at my house and I filed complaints to the soldiers and police, and they did nothing to stop it.
Opening Shuhada Street is a big need for peace and humanity.
Zleikha Muhtaseb, Principal of the al-Ibrahimiya Kindergarten