Wild Weekend: Saturday & Sunday (& Monday)
Saturday night marked the start of Purim. It is the Jewish holiday celebrating Ester saving the Jews from genocide in Babylon. The festival is considered the ‘Jewish Mardi Gras‘. This is due to the custom of dressing up in costume, and the command to get drunk (along with giving gifts). In Hebron Purim has a tragic history.
During Purim, in 1994, Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish settler, entered the Ibrahimi Mosque with his machine gun, killed 29 Palestinian worshipers, and injured 150 more. So for the Palestinians the sight of hundreds of Jews coming to the city to celebrate the holiday was the source of some tension. Thankfully the celebrators have kept to themselves in the various Israeli only areas of Hebron.
Palestinians were planning to commemorate those who died in the Mosque Massacre through a series of speeches and demonstrations starting on Monday. These was put off because of what happened on Saturday night.
On Saturday night, as Jews began their celebration, and while the streets were still being cleaned, news was released about Arafat Jaradat. Jaradat was being held by Israel on charges of throwing stones. The original report said that he died of a heart attack during interrogation. Palestinians believed he was tortured to death. The autopsy confirmed this when it showed multiple signs of beating (broken ribs, bruising, and bleeding), and no sign of a heart attack or stroke. A small number of young Palestinians were on the streets throwing stones that night. The next day, as news got out, the numbers grew. This news came at a time when other Palestinian prisoners were near death in a hunger strike (some haven’t eaten for 200 days) protesting their ‘administrative detention’ (being held without charge or trial). Adding to that the open Shuhada Street demonstrations starting up and the anniversary of the mosque massacre, and Jaradat being from the Hebron area, the people of Hebron were perturbed to say the least. Clashes lasted from 11 am until late into the night.
Monday morning was quiet, as many Hebronites went to Jaradat’s home town, a few miles away, for his funeral. There were estimates of 25,000-50,000 Palestinians in attendance, it appears that this incident has galvanized all of Palestine. After the funeral Palestinians continued demonstrating all over the West Bank. The clashes in Hebron are especially bad.
As I sit writing this on Monday night I can hear the grenades and gunfire (hopefully of rubber bullets) of the riots in one direction and the music and drunken singing of Purim in the other. And all I can do is sit in the middle, listen, and pray. With so many big problems it is easy to feel like there is nothing I can do, but this weekend also gave me some of the most tangible examples of why my work here is not in vain.
Yesterday (Sunday) morning another CPTer and I were out buying groceries in the morning. We noticed three soldiers on a rooftop with guns at the ready. Some Palestinian men said that the soldiers had been stopping boys at random, taking them into the building, and interrogate them about the stone throwing the night before. We decided to wait around for a while and see what happened. Sure enough a few minutes later, as some Palestinian boys (around 12 year old) walked by two soldiers came out of the door. The soldiers grabbed them and led them toward the door. I, of course, took out my iPod camera and started filming. Soon the soldier on the roof barked some orders down to the two taking the Palestinian boys, and soldiers below released them. I can’t be sure that it was because of the camera, but this is about as close as we can get to a definite victory. Either way I know that it is not huge in the grand scheme of things, but two boys got to go to school instead of be interrogated, and that’s something. (The video I took can be viewed here)
That afternoon I walked through a checkpoint and saw three Palestinian young men sitting by the checkpoint. I recognized them as students who pass the checkpoint every morning (CPT monitors checkpoints while kids are walking to school). I assumed they were being held and went over to talk with them. With their broken English, and my broken Arabic I understood that they had been held for an hour while the soldiers checked their IDs. Now an ID check takes about five minutes to complete, and there are specific regulations that soldiers cannot hold people for more then 20 minutes. If someone is held for longer CPT has the phone numbers of organizations with the authority to see people be released. I called one such organization, and very loudly (so the soldiers could hear) explained the situation. Within a minute the Palestinians were released. They were thankful, and we all walked together for a while chatting back and forth. This morning I saw one of the guys walking to school. He stopped to say hi, and it was clear that I had made a new friend.
With so much bad around I know these two stories seem insignificant, but I have to enjoy every ‘victory’ no matter how small. And like the old cliche about the child saving starfish on the beach: “It matters to that one.”
Pray for the family of Arafat Jaradat.
Pray for the hunger strikers, and all those unjustly held in prison
Pray that CPT continues to find ways to support non-violence
Pray that I do not become blind to the worth of doing this work
Pray for peace