Passover adds more pain to Palestinian lives

Passover adds more pain to Palestinian lives
Feature: When Israeli settlers celebrate, Palestinians are blocked from large areas of the West Bank. But Palestinians go on with their lives the best they can.
6 min read
13 April, 2015
Israeli soldiers made their presence felt in Hebron [AFP]

Last Thursday, hundreds of Israelis ran around the settlements of Ariel and Shiloh, taking over the northern West Bank's hills for the first 'Bible marathon', which closed the main road connecting Ramallah to Nablus.

Meanwhile in Hebron, about 50,000 settlers and visitors gathered on Sunday and Monday for Passover, closing part of the city and preventing Palestinians from moving around.

In both cases, this was not news for the Palestinians.

"It's amazing what's going on here, the soldiers and the strength," said Suri, a woman settler who has lived in Shiloh, north of Ramallah, for 20 years.

While speaking, she pointed to soldiers and runners around her, the participants to the 'Bible marathon', the first to be organised in the West Bank by a group of Israeli settlements. "It's amazing, it's so powerful as you see."

'We're not people to get scared'

Speaking about the stabbing of two soldiers the day before the marathon, she adds: "We're not people to get scared, we're people who fight back with strength. It's what we do... You can see it here, it's not anger, it's just to show that we are home."

Most of the people present seemed to share this vision. A feeling of being "home" and protected by the Israeli army, whether running or meandering in uniform, with weapons. Casual militarism.

"You've got the people who live here, we are strong, we are used to this land and know how to deal with the violence but the people from Tel Aviv or Haifa, they are scared to come here," said Suri.

     We got dispersed 3,000 years ago and now we're coming home.
Suri, settler from Shiloh

For her, living in Shiloh is an act of strength, of glory almost. Injustice - illegal land-grabs, violence against Palestinians - is brushed aside.

"We got dispersed 3,000 years ago and now we're coming home. I guess it's scary because we are a lot of people but we are not angry or horrible people."

Roads connecting Ramallah and Nablus were blocked to stage the marathon. The runners presented this as a normal aspect in the organisation of any marathon.

For the Palestinians - obviously not invited to join the race for "security reasons", according to Suri - it meant at least an extra hour to the two-hour drive to Nablus, through dangerous alternative roads.

"They will have a rough time. It's one lane, hard to cross each other, especially with a big truck," said Abed Diab, a Palestinian man from the village of Turmusayya, about 1km from Shiloh. The village was also closed for several hours, preventing any exit.

Abed added: "[The marathon] might be special to them but not enough to give us a hard time. There is even another road to Nablus, an easier one.

"They want to make our life hard. That's what those people are doing. They don't care. They think we are animals, less than animals actually because they treat animals better than us."

Keep calm and carry on

For Hassan, a young Palestinian man living next to Kyriat Arba, Hebron's main settlement, the venue of about 50,000 settlers for Passover last week did not change his daily life - only a change of road, like in Turmusayya.

The main checkpoint connecting the Palestinian side of the old city to Shuhada and the Ibrahimi mosque was closed for the occasion. "It's not a big deal, we can go through other checkpoints", he said.

Shuhada street, an area closed by the Israeli forces after the 1994 massacre by Baruch Goldstein in the Ibrahimi mosque, is now back to quiet.

     They think we are animals, less than animals actually because they treat animals better.

After school, Palestinian children go back to playing football, meters away from the Israeli soldiers stationed in the area.

The five Palestinian shops that remain have re-opened after being forced to close for the two-days celebration. Most of the settlers and their visitors have left the old city to go back home.

The death of Shuhada, formerly a commercial and transport hub, has dragged the surrounding areas down. Many houses are empty, their former inhabitants having fled to escape violence between settlers, Palestinians and Israeli soldiers.

In Tel Rumeidah, midway up the hill above Shuhada, a small house lays below street level, behind a 1.5m high cement wall put up by Israeli soldiers during the second initifada of 2002. On top of the roof, an empty military tower.

The access to the house has been reduced by the army to a small path. The house is also surrounded by fences to prevent attacks from the settlers. From outside, it looks empty. All the doors are closed. No sound seems to come from the one-storey building.

Yet someone lives here: by Emad Abu Shamsiyeh, a 48-year-old shoemaker, his wife and five children. His son Awne, 14, was held for a few hours last Saturday in the military base located a few hundred metres far from their house, up the hill.

"Like any father who sees his son beaten in front of him and cannot defend him, I feel upset and sad. I feel powerless, unable to help or defend him... Not just when it happens, but continuously... How come that I cannot defend my son?"

Far from heroic

Far from Suri's heroic description of the ideological settlers, Emad experiences another kind of reality. His work for the Human Rights Defenders group created in Hebron means he and his children are often attacked.

His daughter Marwa was only three when settlers set her hair on fire. She is now 12. "She has been affected by this for two years, and was following a treatment with Doctors Without Borders," said Emad.

"She still wakes up at night sometimes, wetting her bed. She has nightmares, shouting 'My hair! My hair!'. Mohammed [14] is also in shock. He was attacked by a settler five months ago and also wets his bed sometimes. Saleh, my youngest son [10], was stabbed by settlers two months ago with a metal stick. The day after, the soldiers held him under arrest for three hours."

The soldiers Suri also proudly mentioned are for Emad a permanent source of fear. "When soldiers invade your home with masks, it's not just the kids who are scared but also me as the person responsible for them," Emad said. "We are scared and worry of what could happen.

"We explain to our kids that it is our right to be in this home as this home belonged to our great-grandparents, and that, as Palestinians, we were born in this land and should stay here. For the youngest kids, this is still hard to understand."

Emad works from home, when he can, and occasionally films weddings. His financial situation makes it hard to escape his situation. They only manage it the time of an occasional picnic. Yet, "after, the kids go back to the same situation: settlers and soldiers all around," said Emad.