HEBRON: Law and order Israeli style in Old Shalala Street

January 1, 2003
HEBRON: Law and order Israeli style in Old Shalala Street

By Jerry Levin

Old Shalala Street was once one of the busiest shopping areas in Hebron.
Although only a quarter of a mile long, old timers say that it would often
take fifteen minutes to make one's way from one end to the other But that
was before the multi-storied Israeli settlement of Beit Hadassah was
established over and along the west side of the street.

Then Old Shalala Street began to die.

For years, Israeli security forces allowed Israeli settlers to rampage up
and down it attacking Palestinian shoppers, shopkeepers, and
residents--trashing, looting, and destroying merchandise as they went.
Soldiers, Border Police, and local police would usually let the disturbances
run their course before making a move to restore order.

Then, about a year ago, the Israeli Army closed the street to any commercial
activity, killing off what little business had persisted. Early in December
all restrictions were suddenly removed, except where the street intersects
with the Beit Romano settlement at the northern entrance to the Old City
souk. There the way has been blocked by a high metal gate.

However, just as soon as shopkeepers returned and began trying to rebuild
their businesses, Beit Hadassah settlers started pelting with a variety of
dangerously heavy objects and odious
slop anyone daring to be
in the street below. In order to inhibit these renewed attacks from above,
the Israeli army quickly erected a horizontal metal screen one floor above
the street to catch the potentially injurious trash and junk.

But settlers, undeterred, simply bombarded the screen with even heavier
missiles: large chunks of concrete and metal, which have opened gaps that
are discouraging would-be shoppers from trying to enter the area.

A few days ago some internationals, including CPT, along with local
Palestinian human rights activists staged a quiet protest at the western end
of Old Shalala Street. Signs were displayed and a small tent was quickly
erected about twenty feet inside the high metal gate blocking access
to Beit Romano.

Just as quickly a squad of Israeli soldiers came rushing up and ordered
thetent torn down and the signs removed. The demonstrators pointed out that
their protest was necessary because of the gate and the continued settler
attacks from above.

"I know. I know," the squad leader answered. "But if you don't stop, the
Jews will see what you are doing. Then they will come and start smashing
things. And we won't be able to protect you." He allowed his logic to be
challenged for a time. But after the local Palestinian press arrived and
took pictures, he indicated that his patience was at an end. So, the
demonstrators--in order to forestall retaliation against the shopkeepers if
the squad leader wasn't obeyed-- dismantled the tent and left.

By the end of the day there were more holes in the protective screen. Since
then, no worse incidents have been reported; but business, CPT has learned,
remains terrible.