Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Past Tragic, Present Tense but Left Unites for better Future in Abraham's city.


"HAPPY is the nation without history", it's been said, and if we apply the saying to cities, Hebron, the largest city in the occupied Palestinian West Bank has had plenty. Originally a Cana'anite city it is mentioned in the Bible as the place where Abraham settled with his family, and is said to be buried in the Cave of the Patriarchs, considered special to both Jews and Muslims. It is from this Abrahamic association that the city's Arabic name al-Khalil, the friend of God, was derived.

Apart from a period when they were expelled by the Crusaders, there was an almost continuous Jewish presence in Hebron since Biblical times, and their numbers were reinforced in the nineteenth century by religious Jews coming under rabbinical rather than Zionist leadership. Many rented homes from Muslims.

In 1929, when a wave of riots swept through Palestine, fueled as much by agrarian distress as religious agitation, Arab rioters, mainly from the surrounding countryside, ransacked Jewish homes and synagogues in Hebron, killing 67 Jews and wounding 60. Some 435 Jews survived, having been sheltered and helped by their Arab neighbours. People might have rebuilt their community, as some tried, but in April 1936, on the eve of the Palestinian Arab general strike and national revolt, the British authorities decided to move the Jews out of Hebron. One family stayed on, running a dairy, until the 1947 partition decision.

After the 1967 war brought Hebron under Israeli occupation,some of the most committed and bellicose Zionist settlers, led by Rabbi Moshe Levinger and his wife Miriam, headed for Hebron and surrounding area. They were backed by Labour, partly because it wanted to keep the increasingly chauvinist National Religious Party in its government, partly from the fanaticism of some of its own leaders, with Ben Gurion claiming quite falsely that Hebron had always been a Jewish city.

In reply to those who evoked the 1929 massacre and its aftermath to claim Jews were merely "returning" legitimately, Haim HaNegbi,one of the founders of the left-wing Matzpen group, pointed out that he was a descendant of the old Hebron families. (His grandfather was a rabbi in pre-1929 Hebron). He would be happy to return peaceably to Hebron, he said, when his Palestinian Arab brothers could return just as peacefully to Jaffa.

Alas, voices like those of HaNegbi were drowned out by the clamour of the militant Zionist Right, and the settlers going to Hebron have had no intention of peaceful co-existence or respect for the rights or lives of Palestinian neighbours. On February 25, 1994, Baruch Goldstein, an American-born physician and resident of Kiryat Arba, opened fire on Muslims at prayer in the Ibrahimi Mosque, killing 29, before the survivors overcame and killed him. The Israeli government condemned the massacre, and banned the far-Right Kach party (founded by Rabbi Meir Kahane), but the Party is still going, and right-wing settlers venerate Golstein as a hero. Hebron's main shopping street, Shuhadeh, was closed by the Israeli military because of protests, and they have kept it blocked.

Israeli organization B'Tselem reports "grave violations" of Palestinian human rights in Hebron because of the "presence of the settlers within the city." It cites regular incidents of "almost daily physical violence and property damage by settlers in the city", curfews and restrictions of movement that are "among the harshest in the Occupied Territories", and violence by Israeli border policemen and the IDF against Palestinians. According to Human Rights Watch, Palestinian areas of Hebron are frequently subject to indiscriminate firing by the IDF, leading to many casualties.

There has been a growing movement of civil resistance in Hebron in the last few years, and some groups from with Israel have gone to the area to show solidarity against the occupation forces and settlers. But our big news from Hebron now has much wider significance. It comes via the Alternative Information Centre in Jerusalem.

Over 300 Palestinians, Israelis Meet in Historic Conference in Hebron

Over 300 Palestinians and Israelis met in Hebron on Saturday (7 May) in the first ever public conference between Israeli socio-political activists and the Palestinian political parties.

The conference, entitled A Joint Struggle for an End to the Israeli Occupation and Racism, was jointly conducted by the Palestinian Left in Hebron, the Alternative Information Center (AIC) and Tarabut-Hithabrut, a social political movement in Israel.

“This is a historic occasion and a milestone in Palestinian-Israeli relations,” notes Nassar Ibrahim, co-Director of the Alternative Information Center (AIC). “This is the first time in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that the Palestinian political and social movements invite Israeli social movement activists to jointly conduct a public conference based on a clear political understanding,” Ibrahim adds. “This was not a conference of NGOs but of Palestinian and Israeli activists who wish to build a peace together that is forged from justice and shared values.”

“Hebron is a microcosm of Israeli colonialism and racism, so the decision to invite Israeli activists here is a most significant one,” said Fahmi Shahin, Coordinator of the Permanent Bureau of the National and Political Forces in the Hebron Governate.

Governor of the Hebron District, Kamal Hmeid (second from left) sits with Hebron Mayor Khaled Osaily (third from left) at the opening of the conference (photo courtesy of Yousef Katalo)

Kamal Hmeid, Governor of the Hebron District, welcomed conference participants, greeting the Israeli activists to Hebron and outlining Israeli colonial policies in the city that include settlements in the heart of Hebron, the Separation Wall, ongoing military presence, by-pass roads, checkpoints and closures. Governor Hmeid received strong applause when he noted the hope rendered by the recent Palestinian reconciliation agreement, and when he commended the steadfastness of all Hebron residents who withstand direct, daily attacks on their personal and national rights.

“We were excited and moved to create a joint space of discussion and action together with Palestinian activists from the national movement,” said Marcello Weksler of Tarabut-Hithabrut’s Executive Committee. “We are planning a joint evaluation meeting for next week, during which we will discuss next steps – this conference was the beginning and not the end.”

Israeli activists attending the conference are active in a number of social-political struggles within Israel, fighting for education, culture, work and labour rights, housing, Palestinian minority/national rights, feminism, environment, animal rights and economic justice, amongst others.

Tarabut-Hithabrut representative Johayna Saifi spoke at the opening of the conference (photo courtesy of Yousef Katalo)

“The international community and international solidarity movement should be promoting meetings such as this,” added Ahmad Jaradat from the AIC, a resident of the Hebron district and one of the main forces behind this conference. “Western attempts at normalization through the Oslo process are a proven failure. After so many wasted years of so-called peace talks, isn’t it time to promote a real, sustainable peace between Palestinians and Israelis?”

Conference participants issued a joint statement at the end of the day which emphasized the rights necessary for a just and sustainable peace, the importance of Palestinian unity, support for the Palestinian popular struggle and creation of a democratic Middle East through democratic and popular struggles, the necessity of the democratic and progressive forces within Israel and the importance of a joint Palestinian-Israeli struggle for justice.

The complete final statement from the conference may be see in English here:

See also:

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home