Middle East

In photos: Israel’s war on nonviolent resistance in Hebron

Published on May 9, 2016: The Electronic Intifada

Issa Amro stands in front of the Youth Against Settlements centre in the Tel Rumeida neighbourhood in Hebron.

Despite frequent arrests, attacks, intimidation and unrelenting efforts to sabotage his work, internationally recognised human rights defender Issa Amro is committed to peaceful resistance against the Israeli occupation in his native West Bank city of Hebron.

Inspired by the work of Martin Luther King, Mahatma Ghandi and Nelson Mandela, Amro believes non-violence is the most effective strategy for community resistance. “Non-violence is the best tool because it strengthens civil society and it gives a role to each person: the kids, the women, the elders and the youth,” he says. “With non-violent activities you get more international support and you neutralize the violence of the oppressor.”

Issa Amro speaks at a press conference marking the beginning of the annual Open Shuhada Street campaign in Hebron.

Issa Amro speaks at a press conference marking the beginning of the annual Open Shuhada Street campaign in Hebron.

In Hebron, several hundred settlers, many of them armed, live within close quarters of Palestinians under the guard of the Israeli army. Israeli soldiers restrict the movement of Palestinians and do little to prevent settler violence against Palestinians and their property.

Amro, 36, founded the nonviolent direct action group Youth Against Settlements. “We go to universities, we go to schools and we organize activities within our community to teach the youth how to resist the occupation using nonviolence,” he says.

Israeli soldiers respond to a group of young Palestinian boys throwing stones from a nearby street.

Israeli soldiers fire rubber-coated steel bullets and stun grenades at Palestinian boys.

Every year, Youth Against Settlements (YAS) organizes a week of activities as part of the Open Shuhada Street campaign, calling for the reopening of one of Hebron’s former main commercial thoroughfares, which the Israeli army has shuttered and closed to Palestinians since 1994.

Access to the street for Palestinians was restricted after the massacre of 29 Muslim  worshippers inside the Ibrahimi mosque by American Jewish settler Baruch Goldstein that same year.

Students paint a canvas outside the Shuhada Street checkpoint.

Students paint a canvas outside the Shuhada Street checkpoint.

This year’s Open Shuhada Street campaign included an art event in front of an Israeli checkpoint involving students from the nearby Palestine Polytechnic University.

“Through art, we send a message to the occupiers and tell them that they cannot occupy our imagination and dreams of freedom and justice. Art can reach out to more people,” explains Amro.

Students paint murals and messages of freedom on a canvas next to the Shuhada Street checkpoint in Hebron.

The event was violently dispersed by Israeli soldiers who fired stun grenades at the students after a few young boys uninvolved with the art event threw stones towards a checkpoint.

An Israeli soldier smiles during a confrontation with a group of Palestinian children.

An Israeli sniper aims at a group of young Palestinian boys.

YAS member Izzat Karake sweeps the street following the morning’s painting activities while an Israeli sniper aims at a group of young Palestinians.

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A Palestinian man sweeps the street after a peaceful art event was interrupted and cut short by Israeli soldiers firing stun grenades and rubber-coated steel bullets at a group of Palestinian boys who had been seen throwing sones at a checkpoint.

Issa Amro speaks with an Israeli Border Police officer while Jewish settler Ofer Ohana records the exchange on his phone. Responding to an order from Ohana, the officer stopped Amro and a delegation from the group Breaking the Silence from passing through a checkpoint.

Amro gives regular tours of Hebron to delegations from around the world, showing the reality of life under military occupation. The tours are often targeted by settlers seeking to intimidate both Amro and the visitors.

Jewish settler Ofer Ohana frequently interrupts tours conducted by Amro. He is an ambulance driver in Hebron and has been known to delay or even deny the provision of medical attention to Palestinians.

“There is no law enforcement on the Israeli settlers or soldiers,” explains Amro. “As a Palestinian I am under Israeli military law and my Israeli settler neighbors are under Israeli civilian law. We are under different laws even though we are living in the same neighborhood.”

Jewish settler Ofer Ohana interrupts and antagonizes Amro during a Breaking the Silence tour.

Jewish settler Ofer Ohana interrupts and antagonizes Amro during a Breaking the Silence tour.

Ofer Ohana (left) antagonises Yehuda Shaul, former Israeli soldier and founder of Breaking the Silence, a group which publishes anonymous testimonies by former Israeli soldiers to expose the human rights abuses committed by members of the Israeli Defence Forces.

Ohana uses his phone to film Issa Amro while he speaks to a delegation from Breaking the Silence.

Local residents gather on February 24 to commemorate the victims of the 1994 Ibrahimi Mosque massacre in which 29 Palestinians were murdered while praying.

As part of this year’s Open Shuhada Street campaign, YAS members and volunteers were invited to join residents of Hebron in an evening of commemoration for the victims of the 1994 Ibrahimi mosque massacre.

Palestinians in Hebron light candles to commemorate the 22 years since the 1994 Ibrahimi mosque massacre.

A Palestinian boy makes the universal peace sign during a candle-lighting ceremony in commemoration of the victims of the 1994 Ibrahimi mosque massacre.

A Palestinian girl lights a candle to honour the memory of the victims of the 1994 Ibrahimi mosque massacre in Hebron.

A father helps his son light a candle to commemorate the victims of the Ibrahimi mosque massacre.

As people started to make their way home after the evening’s commemorative activities, Israeli soldiers detained four Palestinians, including Amro and a 10-year-old girl.

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While Amro was detained, one of the settlers approached him. “He (the settler) told me that each dog has his own day to be killed, meant to intimidate me and to describe me as a dog,” Amro recalls.

Jewish settlers carry assault rifles as they approach Amro and the crowd of people waiting for him and three other Palestinians to be released.

Anat Cohen, a settler living in Hebron, drives her car into a group of Palestinians.

As people gathered waiting for Amro and the other Palestinians to be released, settler Anat Cohen drove her car directly into the crowd at speed, causing chaos and panic.

Amro speaks to an Israeli military commander who refused to intervene as a settler attacked bystanders.

An elderly Palestinian man talks to an Israeli soldier who refused to intervene as Jewish settler Anat Cohen caused chaos and panic during a peaceful commemorative evening in Hebron.

Several military units were called to the scene but none made any attempt to restrain Cohen. In recent months Israeli soldiers have shot dead several Palestinians who Israel claimed used their cars as weapons against Israelis.

“As Palestinians we are under the military law; we don’t have any rights and they don’t take our testimonies and our words into consideration,” says Amro. “Soldiers are believed to always say the truth; they don’t need to show evidence. We, on the other hand, need to show evidence that we are not guilty.”

A Palestinian man collapses after a settler attacked a crowd that had gathered to commemorate the Ibrahimi mosque massacre.

A Palestinian man collapsed during the incident. Many Israeli soldiers stood around, making no effort to provide assistance. An ambulance was called but its arrival was delayed.

A Palestinian man’s family watch in fear as their husband and father collapses.

Issa Amro takes part in a non-violent demonstration marking the end of this year’s Open Shuhada Street campaign on February 26 in Hebron.

Two days later, during a demonstration marking the end of the week’s Open Shuhada Street campaign, Israeli soldiers broke up the crowd and arrested a human rights lawyer and a journalist. Approximately 50 people were injured when soldiers fired tear gas, stun grenades and rubber-coated bullets at the crowd.

Amro was also supposed to be arrested that day, he later found out. “I was participating on the 26th of February in a peaceful protest. The Israeli soldiers wanted to arrest me for participating in it. I went away because I didn’t want to be arrested. One of the snipers shot 3 rubber bullets towards me and they brought a live ammunition sniper to shoot towards me. I left the protest because I didn’t want to get shot. A few days later I went to my house and the centre in Tel Rumeida to meet a Breaking the Silence delegation, talking to them about how life is hard in Hebron, describing to them how they can act to end the occupation. Then, soldiers came and arrested me.”

On February 29, Amro was arrested on accusations of Facebook incitement, organizing an illegal demonstration and evading arrest; allegations he rejects.

“It is a kind of intimidation to stop the nonviolent activities and to stop any person from speaking out against the occupation and human rights violations,” says Amro, who was released one day later.

The constant harassment doesn’t deter him. “I will continue fighting them until they leave Hebron and end their human rights violations.”