Organizations in the Faith Forum on Middle East Policy send out action alerts monthly, focusing on different issues so that members of Congress hear consistently that their constituents support a just and lasting resolution to the Palestinian and Israeli conflict.
Join the Open Shuhada Street Campaign, February 21-25, 2014!
The Open Shuhada Street Campaign, now in its fifth year, is a Palestinian initiative of Youth Against Settlements, with support from others, aimed at focusing attention on the plight of Hebron residents. More broadly, the campaign hopes to raise awareness about the Israeli occupation. As the organizers state, “We are focusing on Shuhada Street as a symbol of the settlement issue, the policy of separation in Hebron/al Khaleel and the entire West Bank, the lack of freedom of movement, and the occupation at large.”
This is an opportunity for U.S. Christians to tell our elected officials we want U.S. policy that respects the rights and promotes the welfare of all in the region, Palestinians and Israelis alike.
Shuhada Street, once the main commercial artery in the Old City of Hebron, is now an empty landscape of shuttered shops and ivy-covered buildings. Israeli forces closed a section of Shuhada Street to Palestinian vehicle traffic in 1994 following the massacre of 29 Palestinian worshipers at the Ibrahimi mosque by Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein. The street was briefly opened to Palestinian vehicles in 1997, but following the start of the second intifada in 2000, more of the street was closed to Palestinian vehicles, and restrictions on Palestinian pedestrian traffic were added.
In the Old City area of Hebron, a town located in the south of the West Bank, several hundred Israeli settlers live in the midst of thousands of Palestinians. The settlers, protected by the Israeli Defense Forces, enjoy freedom of movement while restrictions on Palestinians including curfews, checkpoints, road blocks, and closures strangle the economy and make normal life for Palestinians impossible.
A 2007 report by the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel called “Ghost Town” (and subtitled “Israel’s Separation Policy and Forced Eviction of Palestinians from the Center of Hebron”) details the negative repercussions, including extensive human rights violations, faced by Palestinians as a result of Israeli policies in the city center of Hebron. With regard to Shuhada Street, the report explains:
In 2001, the army gradually began to close all the entrances to the houses of residents along a-Shuhada Street… The residents had two options: either use alternate paths, which entailed harsh and dangerous ascents, sometimes crossing the roofs of neighboring houses, or move out of the area.
The report notes that “in 2007, the army allowed the four remaining families on a-Shuhada Street to use the main entrance to their homes.” Sarah, a member of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) posted in Hebron describes Shuhada Street: “Palestinians have access to approximately 100m of the street. Israelis have access to the entire street. Palestinians that still live on Shuhada Street are forbidden to use their front doors. Instead, they are forced to find alternative routes to their homes through the back of the buildings and over roofs.” Read Sarah’s three-part series about Shuhada Street here.
An Agreed Minute negotiated by the U.S. and signed by the PLO and Israel in 1997, states, “The leaders agreed that the process of reopening Shuhada Road will begin immediately, and will be fully completed within four months…” Yet 17 years later, Shuhada Street is still closed off to Palestinians who are not allowed to resume their lives and livelihoods there.
Take action: Ask your senators and representative to contact the State Department to convey urgent concern for the situation in Hebron and to insist that the agreement to open Shuhada Street finally be implemented. Use this link to contact Congress.
The situation of Shuhada Street is an example of the many restrictions faced by Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. Illegal Israeli settlements are protected and settlers are privileged, while Palestinian freedom is restricted.
Christian leaders, writing in an October 5, 2012 letter to members of Congress, expressed their “grave concern about the deteriorating conditions in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories which threaten to lead the region further away from the realization of a just peace,” and they went on to say, “Unfortunately, unconditional U.S. military assistance to Israel has contributed to this deterioration, sustaining the conflict and undermining the long-term security interests of both Israelis and Palestinians.” They noted “a troubling and consistent pattern of disregard by the government of Israel for U.S. policies that support a just and lasting peace,” adding, “Specifically, repeated demands by the U.S. government that Israel halt all settlement activity have been ignored.” The leaders asked members of Congress to make “the disbursement of U.S. military assistance to Israel contingent on the Israeli government’s compliance with applicable U.S. laws and policies.”
Shuhada Street in Hebron vividly illustrates the impact of settlements on the daily lives of Palestinians and underscores the urgency of the call to examine and condition military aid to Israel.
Contact your members of Congress to tell them you want the U.S. to hold Israel accountable for its actions, including its crippling closure of Shuhada Street and, more broadly, its continued expansion of settlements and restrictions on Palestinians’ freedom. Tell them that, as a person of faith and a citizen of the U.S., you care about how our tax dollars are spent, and that aid to our ally Israel must be conditioned on compliance with U.S. law and policy.
Support a just peace for Israelis and Palestinians by contacting your elected officials today.