HEBRON, Feb 25 (JMCC) - A 600-strong protest in the city of Hebron was suppressed Friday by Israeli army and police forces and then dispersed by Palestinian Authority police.
The protest began upon the northern hill looking over the Old City of Hebron with a mixed crowd of Palestinians, Israelis and foreign activists.
“Open up Shuhada Street,” said Minur, a 15-year old from Hebron. His younger brother Sabr, 12, waved a Palestinian flag behind him. “I am Egyptian, Tunisian and Libyan. All Muslims are united now.”
Shuhada Street is a main thoroughfare in Hebron’s Old City that was closed 16 years ago after an Israeli settler opened fire on Palestinian worshipers.
Men stood in the street facing Mecca as they finished Friday prayer, rolling up their small rugs before the crowd surged forward down a narrow cobblestone alley.
“The people want an end to the occupation,” the crowd chanted. “Unite, unite our country. Life to the liberation.”
After a brief squabble over party differences between Palestinian organizers, the protesters continued towards the downtown area where Israeli soldiers stood on rooftops. A six-man cordon of blue-uniformed police was overrun as the protest gained momentum. Security forces and activists alike began running east towards the Old City, the closed Shuhada Street, and the settler enclave at the Cordoba School.
Two armored jeeps cut the crowd in half as sound grenades detonated overhead. Police shot tear gas into the crowd. Israeli activists lay beneath the jeeps’ tires as some were hauled off behind a security fence.
“This is scary for them,” said an Israeli activists named Micha who was temporarily detained. Typical protests in Hebron, before the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Cairo, did not inspire such numbers. “It doesn’t happen often.”
Mats Reimbertsson from the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel said “it wasn’t very long before they started tear-gassing at the gate to al-Baladia (the Old City).”
Reimbertsson said he believed the Israeli troops were firing rubber-coated bullets.
“I saw a guy shooting straight down into the street and firing,” he said.
After 30 minutes, the protesters from the west and east sides of the street regrouped to face dozens of Israeli soldiers and police. Three armored jeeps split the crowd and then formed a barrier between the demonstrators and the Old City. Tension rose until sound grenades, teargas and rocks began falling.
In the ensuing chaos, two Israeli police officers fired teargas canisters directly at Palestinians throwing rocks. An International Solidarity Movement activist told them, “That’s illegal - don’t shoot straight.”
Two ISM activists were dragged to the open back of an armored jeep, but then managed to claw their way out of captivity. A Palestinian man was carried out of the crowd by three Israeli policemen. Policemen began shoving journalists as more rocks pelted the street from the cobblestone alleys.
Small bands of boys were throwing chunks of concrete, then fleeing canisters spewing noxious tear gas.
“What happened today?” Ihmad said, a 20-year old from Hebron who lives next to Kiryat Arba settlement. “I got gas in my eyes.”
The diminishing crowd eventually massed inside the area of Hebron under Palestinian Authority control. After 20 minutes, two squads of Palestinian riot-control forces approached the crowd. With white shields, black batons, blue uniforms and plastic visors, they marched in file, dispersing the remnants of the day’s protesters.
“This is the first that I‘ve see the PA in riot gear,” Reimbertsson said.