HEBRON REFLECTION: Shuhada Street: Keeping the quiet (when there’s no peace to be kept)

16 August 2010
HEBRON REFLECTION: Shuhada Street: Keeping the quiet (when there’s no peace to be kept)

By Sarah MacDonald

“Excuse me!” the Israeli soldier called.  “You can’t walk down that street.”

Elizabeth and I turned toward him, questioning.  “We can’t?  But the German tourists here earlier walked this way,” Elizabeth recalled. 

“I walked down the street three days ago,” I added.  “No one stopped me then.”

The soldier shrugged.  “We can’t let CPTers walk on this street.  That’s the order we’ve been given.”

The street in question was Shuhada Street, once a thriving Palestinian marketplace in Hebron.  Since 1979, radical Israeli settlements have grown along the street.  Often the settlers have harassed and attacked their Palestinian neighbors. 

In November 1999, the Israeli military closed Shuhada Street to Palestinians.  They welded shut the doors of Palestinians shops.  Palestinian residents of Shuhada Street no longer use their front entrances but must take back exits and circuitous routes, sometimes up ladders or across rooftops, to enter and leave their homes.  Meanwhile, Israeli settlers freely walk and drive along the street.  This year Palestinians, supported by Israeli and international activists, launched a campaign to “Open Shuhada Street” to all.

Usually internationals may walk the street.  But CPTers, apparently, fall into a different category, with our recognizable red caps and known support of Palestinian nonviolent activism. 

Although Elizabeth and I didn’t need to walk Shuhada Street that day, we wanted to challenge even this small cog in the Israeli occupation of Hebron.  So we pressed the soldier to explain the rationale for the order.  “It’s to keep the peace,” he finally said.  “We don’t want any trouble with the settlers who live here.”

“I wouldn’t call that peace,” I objected.  “Your order seems more about keeping things quiet.”

To my surprise, the soldier agreed.  “Yes, it’s about keeping the quiet.”

“I know you’re only following orders,” I continued.  “Yet isn’t there something wrong in this order?  If you’re worried that we will make trouble, then it’s appropriate to keep us off the street—” 

The soldier shook his head, clearly unworried about trouble from CPTers.

“But if you’re concerned that settlers might give us trouble, then there’s something upside down in us being the ones barred from the street,” I concluded.

“Of course it’s upside down,” the soldier admitted.  “Everything here in Hebron is upside down.  The system is wrong—I know that, you know that—but what can we do?  We have to follow orders.  There’s nothing we can do, except keep the quiet as much as possible while we work toward a solution.”

Yet keeping quiet rarely moves us toward genuine peace.  As Martin Luther King, Jr. noted in his 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” the real obstacles in a liberation struggle are the moderate people who prefer “a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”

Someday, I believe, Palestinians will again walk down Shuhada Street.  In this and other ways, they will experience the equality and dignity rightfully theirs.  But the journey to reach that day of justice will not be quiet.