Occupied Hebron — “Israel wants to steal our history. They want to focus only on one small part of the history and ignore all the rest,” Issa Amro told me in an interview for the “Miko Peled Podcast,” (also available at Mikoeled.com). Issa was talking about why Israeli settlers are so keen to take over Tel Rumeida, a hill overlooking the city of Hebron. It is a hill that contains an archaeological and historical gold mine. Not because it contains actual gold, but because along with the ancient olive trees that have been alive and have sustained people who lived in Hebron for thousands of years, it contains proof of an ancient civilization and continuous life that goes back thousands of years.
Violent extremist take over
The city of Hebron has the misfortune of having been invaded by extreme religious Zionist settlers. These are settlers who have a very particular reading of Biblical stories and are extremely violent and uncompromising. Their hate for Palestinians knows no bounds and like other Zionists, these settlers have no regard for the actual historical significance of the city of Hebron, but only see it in terms of their narrow, fanatic reading of the Old Testament.
Zionists in general, and the Zionist settlers in Hebron, in particular, feel that Old Testament stories represent history and completely disregard the fact that archaeological evidence points in a different direction. They interpret the archaeology in a way that satisfies their greed, their bigotry, and their desire to take the city away from its rightful inhabitants, the Palestinians of Hebron.
These fanatic settlers serve an important role within the larger Zionist takeover of Palestine. The method that Zionists have always used in order to take over land, even before the state of Israel was established, was to send young ideological zealots who are willing to use violence to forcibly take over Palestinian land. Then, they send in the military and claim that the area is a military base or is required for military use. Then the military leaves and invites settlers back to create a permanent settlement.
A portion of Tel Rumeida has already been taken over by settlers, but they will not be content until the entire Hill is in their hands. One man has made it his mission in life to make sure that this does not happen. This man, Issa Amro, was recently convicted by an Israeli military court of a list of charges that read like a textbook of civil disobedience. While he is yet to be sentenced, sentencing is expected to take place on February 8, 2021. There is reason to believe he will be serving time in an Israeli military prison. His only crime is that he dared to stand up to the vicious violence of fanatic Zionist settlers and the Israeli Army which is at their service using the tool of civil disobedience and non-violent resistance.
“I’m going to murder you Issa Amro!”
A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to take a few friends to visit Hebron. We met with Issa and he was kind enough to give us a tour of the city, the city in which he was born and now can only walk along roads in which he, as a non-Jew, is permitted to walk. It just so happens that the house in which he was born has been closed off by the Israeli army and Issa cannot access it.
As we reached a point in the city where non-jews (or rather Palestinians) are not permitted to walk, we saw a soldier standing and next to him a young settler who could not have been more than 14 years old. The boy looked at Issa and said to him in Hebrew, “Issa, I am going to come and murder you one of these days.” He repeated this statement and then turned to the soldier and they gave each other a high-five. That is the environment in which Issa and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have to live because of the Zionist occupation of Hebron.
Saving a house in Hebron
Anyone familiar with the Israeli occupation in Palestine and the violence of the settlers and the Israeli military would find the following story impossible and unthinkable, however, Issa Amro was able to pull it off.
One house that was strategically placed on Tel Rumeida, and from which one can see the entire Old City of Hebron, was about to be taken over by settlers. It had gone through the process of the military takeover and was then handed over to settlers. Issa managed to find the Palestinian owner of the house and rent it from him legally. It had cost Issa agony, arrest, detention, endless interrogations, and required the intervention of hundreds of activists from around the world, but in the end, Issa was able to salvage the house from the settlers and establish a center from which he runs one of the most effective grassroots operations in Palestine, Youth Against Settlements (YAS).
The work of Issa Amro and Youth Against Settlements includes documenting human rights violations by the army and settlers. Their work also includes organizing creative nonviolent actions, establishing and renovating community spaces such as a community center, kindergarten, woman empowerment center, and the beginnings of a cinema for which Issa may go to jail. Palestinians in Hebron are constantly at risk of forced displacement, and empowering this community in the most vulnerable areas through home repair, protective presence, and distributing charity is a crucial part of the local grassroots activism of Issa and the YAS.
Sentenced for civil disobedience
After a trial that has lasted several years and finally ended late in 2020, a military judge, Lt. Colonel Menahem Lieberman, himself is a religious Zionist settler who emigrated from the United States and has close ties to the settler community in Hebron, found Issa guilty of six out of the 18 counts of which he was charged. The indictment with 18 charges was presented in summer 2016, roughly three weeks after a campaign to establish a cinema in Hebron began.
THE CHARGES – CONVICTED:
- First count – assaulting a public servant
- Fifth count – participating in a rally without a permit
- Eight count – participating in a march without a permit
- Tenth count – obstructing a soldier
- Seventeenth count – participating in a march without a permit
- Eighteenth count – participating in a march without a permit
Between the time that this is published and February 8, at which time the judge will rule regarding sentencing, there is still time to act in order to help Issa Amro.
For information regarding the campaign please visit the Friends of Hebron where you can publish photos of yourself holding a sign in support of Issa, publish a video statement telling why you believe Issa Amro should go free. You can also call or email elected officials and reach out to your community centers, activist groups, local charities, religious organizations, and churches to request they release statements in support of Issa and contact your local elected and unelected officials.
Anyone wanting to help out is also encouraged to reach out to writers, journalists, celebrities, professors, and notable community members and ask them to make public statements or write editorials about the case. Friends of Hebron is also circulating a petition you can sign and send to others.
The risk of losing invaluable historical monuments and forgetting the rich history of Palestine is real. Doing what we can to prevent that is our responsibility as people of conscience for future generations. The first step is to stand with Palestinians like Issa Amro.
Feature photo | Palestinian activist Issa Amro, center, celebrates his release from detention, in the West Bank city of Hebron, Sept. 10, 2017. Nasser Shiyoukhi | AP
Miko Peled is an author and human rights activist born in Jerusalem. He is the author of “The General’s Son. Journey of an Israeli in Palestine,” and “Injustice, the Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five.”