Today is kind of an anniversary for me. It was a year ago that I was targeted by an Israeli sniper and later tear gassed while attending the Open Shuada Street demonstration in Hebron.
Shuhada Street was once a bustling business area near the main market in the largest city in the West Bank. Then disaster struck on Friday, Feb. 25, 1994 when Baruch Goldstein, an Israeli settler, went to the Ibrahimi Mosque and opened fire on the worshippers. He killed 29 and wounded 125. Eventually, he was overwhelmed and killed by others who were also at the mosque for Friday prayers.
Following that terrorist attack (What else could you call it?) the Israeli government shut down Shuhada Street and tightened restrictions on the movements of Palestinians in that part of the city. The doors of Palestinian homes on Shuhada Street are welded shut. Now to get into their homes they have to climb ladders and enter through the upper floors.
Tensions run incredibly high in Hebron where 500 Israeli settlers live in the middle of the city surrounded by about 170,000 Palestinians. I should mention the 500 settlers are supplemented by 4,000 Israeli soldiers stationed there to “protect” the population of this illegal settlement.
“Protecting” settlers is somewhat of a misnomer. Often the soldiers are doing far more to intimidate, harass and provoke the Palestinians rather than protect settlers.
One of the things that troubled me the most was how common it was to hear of the soldiers arresting children on their way to or from school. Shortly before I left the West Bank a group of six children all under the age of 12 were arrested while on their way to school. I remember being particularly disgusted when one of my team mates in Hebron blogged about two brothers Mohammed (10) and Mustafa (8) who were arrested and taken from their home by 10 Israeli soldiers while they were eating supper.
There were reports of a five year old being arrested last year in Feb. It was explained by the Israeli military that he was not technically arrested.
Being arrested means being blindfolded, handcuffed or shackled and then driven hours away. It can only be described as traumatic and that is only the beginning of the horror for the child. Often these kids are jailed for up to three days. While in custody they are often physically assaulted and emotionally and verbally abused. These children will be scarred for life. What kind of a civilized society allows their military to do such things?
As for me, I was standing innocently on a street talking to one of my friends well before the demonstration began when the young Israeli sniper decided he needed to sight his rifle on me. It was frightening at the time. In hindsight, I realize it was a kid trying to intimidate a human rights observer. At the time, I was intimidated. Now I feel pity for him. I wonder again, what kind of a soldier would do such a thing? I also again wonder what kind of a civilized society allows their military to do such things?
As for being tear-gassed, well that eventually became a fairly common occurrence whenever there was a crowd of Palestinians. I did learn it really does clear your sinuses.
I worry about the Palestinian children and the emotional and psychological scars they will carry for life because of the bullying tactics of the Israeli military. I wonder how much hatred they will also carry toward the Israelis.
I worry too about the Israeli soldiers – for they too are basically children – they too will be scarred for life.