Jennifer Loewenstein Archive

Riot on Tel Rumeida street
by Aaron Zanthe
Nov 26th 05
Hebron, West Bank
"Hey Arab", three members of a Jewish settler militia
had cornered a young man walking home from the
university. "You are not a man", they prominently
displayed the automatic weapons in their hands, "you
are a dog". The ranking militia member, wearing a
kippa, a checkered collared shirt and dark sunglasses,
continued, "and your mother is a [expletive] dog". The
Palestinian man, named Ra'id, backed off as the three
Israelis made threatening gestures at him. He
responded, "is that right? Am I a dog?". Myself and
two of my compatriots got between them with a video
camera and asked if they wanted to repeat themselves
on record. Of course not, they said, "it's for him,
not for the television".
This was Tel Rumeida early Saturday evening, a
neighborhood in the West Bank city of Hebron. A few
metres up the street there was a size-able crowd of
uninvited guests, a couple hundred Israeli fanatics
who were bussed in from their colonies on West Bank
land. The advertisements promoting the events of the
day explained that the people were coming to express
their support for the Zionist "pioneers" of Hebron on
the day that Abraham buried Rachel in the Jewish
tradition. On the street this came to mean a state of
siege in a Palestinian neighborhood, with all the dark
skinned residents locked in their houses. Many of them
observed from their windows and rooftops as pioneering
Israelis staged an all-out race riot.
My colleagues and I started escorting Ra'id to
his home amidst the provocation of members of the
settler militia. We moved quickly because having a
Palestinian man out in the open air was attracting a
lot of attention, mainly glares and spit. I put my arm
around him to be able to stay close as we moved
through the crowd as fast as we could without running.
The group received a couple of comments along the
lines of, "oh, the poor baby needs to be walked home,
eh?". We had been accompanying Palestinians to walk
home safely all day, but it wasn't until we were in
the middle of the crowd that I realized that the
situation had escalated. The settlers began chanting
something that I now understand to be "death to Arabs"
and their eyes were set on us.
I was doing my best to separate the settlers from
Ra'id when a settler man charged at me and started
kicking and shoving us towards a wall. The Israeli
army had cordoned off a part of the area and one of the
soldiers came and held back the aggressive settlers
long enough for us to make our escape. By the time we
were on the other side of the soldier line the
settlers had taken over the entire top end of Tel
Rumeida street. The Israelis were throwing stones at
the Palestinians in their houses and banging on the
green doors, some of them mocking the Islamic prayer
call and making sheep noises. A group of settlers
positioned themselves next to the checkpoint down the
street, yelling obscenities at the Palestinians
passing through.
Groups of fanatics, many of them with side arms
and automatic weapons, were running around to the back
ends of Arab homes, throwing stones through people's
windows and threatening to kill them if they go
outside. I took a picture of the hostile mob and some
forty of them surrounded me and threw stones at me. "I
hope god burns all the Arabs in hell", somebody
screamed in my direction, "[..] don't take another
picture or we'll kill you". The settler mob surrounded
and besieged various housing complexes on Tel Rumeida
street, shouting and throwing objects. Military
police, including a special forces unit, had been on
patrol in the area throughout the day in heavy
numbers, but they pulled a disappearing act during
most of the actual riot. The police took one young
settler away in handcuffs and the army blocked off a
single street, but for the most part, Israeli
authorities neglected to control their citizens.
Settlers broke into a house on shuhaddah street
and attempted to break into several others. Visited
the house the next day and spoke to a man named Issa
al-Bayat and his family. His wife, Fawziyyah, brought
out sage tea and the couple explained that the door to
their home was forced open by six early
Issa was away from the house at his
construction job and Fawziyyah was home with two small
daughters. They said that they were very scared and
that the settler youth remained in the house for
fifteen minutes, breaking things and screaming in
Hebrew and broken Arabic. I asked them about what kind
of things specifically the settlers were shouting and
Fawziyyah replied evasively, "very bad words". Issa
elaborated that they were Muslims and could not repeat
what the settlers said to them precisely, but that the
Jewish colonists tried to order the family out of the
house. The settler youth went back outside and within
minutes they were throwing projectiles through the
rear windows.
Fawziyyah called the police and they told her on
the spot that they weren't going to show up. No big
surprise. Non-enforcement of the law on West Bank
colonists has been documented in detail by the Israeli
human rights group Bt'selem. Tel Rumeida in particular
is a heavily affected neighborhood. Tel Rumeida, a
small area, has only two main roads; Tel Rumeida
street and Shuhaddah street. There are five army posts
on these two streets that are usually manned and two
posts on rooftops which are sometimes manned. Anyone
who walks longer than a block in this community is
liable to be asked to show his ID, to be searched or
detained by soldiers at one of these posts on the
ground. At the end of Tel Rumedia street there is a
military checkpoint, painted to look like the bricks
on the surrounding walls, that residents must pass
through anytime they want to leave the neighborhood
and visit the rest of the city. But why the security
The small neighborhood is also home to two
Israeli settlements blocks, called Ramat Yeshai and
Beit Hadassah, both of which enjoy a certain amount of
notoriety for aggressive behavior even amongst the
Israeli mainstream. Both colonies are entirely
subsidized by the state of Israel and their members
largely do not work to earn a living. Even the roads
in Tel Rumeida look like Apartheid. Only Israelis are
allowed to drive on the roads; Palestinians must walk.
In an letter to the international groups working in
Hebron, spokesmen for the settlements explained
themselves [News from within, September-October 2005].
"Divine justice has brought the Jews back to their
homes and property in Israel and here to Hebron", they
explained that "this act of G-D serves as a mighty
beam of light in the struggle of the free world
against Arab-Islamic terror". "The first target of
their murderous attacks is Israel, yet beyond Israel
stands their real target - the entire world". The
letter also refers to the children's school in Tel
Rumeida as "the Islamic Jihad school". Well said,
David Wilder.
The school in question, called Cordova, is
located across the street from Beit Hadassah. Kids
walking home from Cordova are frequently targeted for
assault by the settlers on the other side of the
street, as documented by the Tel Rumeida Project in
conjunction with the International Solidarity
Movement. Both groups make it a project to accompany
the Cordova children on their way home from school and
intervene in the event of settler provocation. It's
been an honor to live and work with these groups in
Tel Rumeida for the past week. My experience here has
been dramatic but it is only one example of the
pressure on Palestinians by the state of Israel to
leave their land. Today I spoke with Norwegian
journalist Thomas Mandal, who summed up the events of
Saturday beautifully, "It was a mob, the only
comparable thing that I have seen is a football riot,
it was that same kind of mentality, except that sports
was replaced by religion and that the mob had guns".
Jennifer Loewenstein