Shuhada Street was one of the main commercial streets of Hebron, in the West Bank. It was a vibrant market street where was situated the central vegetable market, a variety of shops, an ancient Turkish bath, the oldest schools of Hebron and the traditional glass market and the gold market, both of which have existed since 300BC. This street, in one of the three oldest cities in the world, has seen many invasions throughout its history and its shops and markets have survived each of them. However since the start of the Israeli occupation in 1967, the street has been transformed into the silent symbol of Israeli-enforced apartheid.
Today, nearly 450 settlers and 250 ultra-Zionist yeshiva students live in the six settlement enclaves that are located along the sides of Shuhada Street. They carry out frequent attacks on the residents of Hebron, such as stoning houses and pedestrians, blocking entrance to streets and houses, verbally abusing Palestinians and their religion, cutting trees and wrecking private property. The Israeli soldiers and police do nothing to prevent these violations of human rights. Nearly 13000 Palestinians have been driven out from the heart of their city. Those who have chosen to stay suffer from daily discrimination and humiliation. The economy of the city has been radically damaged and the lively ambience of this ancient city has disappeared.
Israeli settlers started moving into the city in 1969. A few years later, the government allowed the establishment of Kiryat Arba settlement on the Eastern Hebron hills. By 1977, the settlers had moved from the hills to the city-centre, where they took over Palestinian houses by forcing families out of their homes with arms. In the ’80s, the Israeli army demolished 12 buildings near Shuhada Street, leading to the complete displacement of the shop owners. It also closed the central bus and taxi station on this street and turned it into a military base. For the past two years, the settlers have been allowed to live inside this “base”, thus enabling civilians and the army to live side by side.
After the 1994 Ibrahimi Mosque Massacre, when 29 Palestinians were shot during morning prayers by a fanatical settler, Israel cracked-down on the city, divided it into two parts and imposed collective punishment on the Palestinian population (ironically the victims of the massacre). Shuhada Street was closed to Palestinians and its markets and shops were forced to close down. The street connected the northern part of the city centre to its southern neighbourhoods. Now, Palestinians must take a round-about route of around 30 minutes instead of walking up the street.
The Israeli-Palestinian agreement under the Oslo Accords of 1995 contains a specific article about the situation in Hebron, promising “a. the opening of the wholesale market, Hasbahe as a retail market” and “b. the removal of the barrier on the road leading from Abu-Sneineh to Shuhada Road in order to facilitate the movement on these roads.” Israel has still not complied with the agreement.
In November 2006 the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) demanded to the Israeli Army’s Attorney General that the military reopen Shuhada Street. The Attorney General’s office replied, stating that “The Palestinians had actually been prevented from moving in the street by mistake, and new orders that would allow them freedom of movement would be given on the condition that there would be security measures.” Yet the street remains closed despite this statement.
The activist group Youth Against Settlement started a global campaign in cooperation with international and Israeli solidarity groups, to re-open Shuhada Street. They have proclaimed the 25th February, the anniversary of the Ibrahimi Mosque Massacre, as a global day of struggle for ending of Hebron apartheid. Actions of non-violent resistance have taken place frequently, and in February 2012, a major protest took place in Hebron with around 8000 participants, Palestinians, Israelis and internationals.