Hebron non-violent activist dies in tear-gas

Dr. Hashem al-Azzeh, who died on Oct. 21 after suffering excessive tear-gas inhalation in Hebron's Old City, was the latest victim of the Israeli settlement policies he spent most of his life struggling against. The 54-year-old activist and medical doctor was one of a few Palestinians who chose to remain with his family in Tel Rumeida, a neighborhood in central Hebron that over the course of decades has seen most of its Palestinian residents pushed out by aggressive Israeli settlers. After experiencing chest pains in his home, he found himself trapped. His family called an ambulance, but it was unable to reach him due to a series of Israeli army checkpoints along the nearby Shuhada Street, his niece Sundus al-Azzeh told Ma’an News Agency. Hashem began to walk toward the checkpoint at Bab al-Zawiya, where fierce clashes were underway as Palestinians protested the shooting of a Palestinian teen-ager [near Nablus]  the night before. Once there, however, Sundus said that Israeli soldiers stopped him from moving on, and he soon found himself engulfed by tear gas. Unable to breath, he collapsed. He was rushed to Hebron's governmental hospital, but doctors were unable to save him. A doctor told Ma'an that Hashem had a history of cardiovascular disease, but it was tear-gas inhalation that killed him. Sundus said she was at his side when he passed away—it was the first time she had seen someone die.

Palestinians' freedom of movement in Tel Rumeida was severely restricted in 1994, after an American-born Israeli settler, Baruch Goldstein, massacred 29 Palestinians in the Old City's Ibrahimi Mosque. While most Palestinians chose to leave the neighborhood, Hashem chose to remain, even refusing an Israeli offer to buy his home. "He wanted to face the settlers," said Jawad Abu Aisheh, who works in the nearby Youth Against Settlements activist group. 

It was Hashem's belief that if every Palestinian were to leave, nothing would stop the settlers from taking all their land. He began to guide foreigners through the divided city, showing them Hebron's illegal settlements, the military checkpoints, and the streets entirely closed to Palestinians. Abu Aisheh said that Hashem viewed these tours as "non-violent means to defend himself."

However, life in the neighborhood was a constant struggle. "You could say that the attacks were daily," said Abu Aisheh, adding that when the settlers did not physically assault Hashem and his family, they would swear at them, demanding that they leave for Jordan. Sometimes, the soldiers refused him entry through the Shuhada Street checkpoint, and he would have to take a dangerous back-route through olive trees and fences, where he risked arrest by Israeli forces.

In footage filmed before his death, Hashem said that his wife had suffered two miscarriages after settler attacks, while a stone was used to break the teeth of his nine-year-old nephew. "Later on, they came and attacked us inside our houses," Hashem said, describing how they destroyed the furniture, and smashed his head and teeth with the butts of their guns.

The settlers that have taken over Hebron's Old City are widely known to be among the most aggressive in the occupied West Bank. They began arriving in the late 1970s, using armed force to evict Palestinians from their homes. There are now some 500 of them living among nearly 200,000 Palestinians and protected by the Israeli army. Israeli rights group B'Tselem has reported that Israel's "legal and physical segregation between the Israeli settlers and the Palestinian majority" has led to more than 1,000 Palestinian homes being vacated in Hebron's center, and the closure of up to 1,829 Palestinian businesses. While settlers "routinely" use violence again Hebron's Palestinian residents, B'Tselem reported that "the increased presence of soldiers and police…brings with it violence, excessive and unjustified use of force, and abuse of the powers granted by law."

Hashem's niece, Sundus, said that her uncle had always remained hopeful, despite the extreme changes he witnessed throughout his life. She said that while their family was "less strong now," Hashem's death would ultimately leave them stronger.

She could not be sure whether Hashem's wife and four children, the eldest 17 years old, the youngest only five, would choose to remain in Tel Rumeida following his death. While Hashem's wife has relatives in Jordan, Sundus said that her family would take care of them if they stayed. "We have to be here—it's our home, it's our land," she said. "We have to be patient. We have to be strong."

Abu Aisheh agreed: "Anyone who lives in that area must be very patient."

From Ma'an News Agency, Oct. 2

  1. Israeli forces storm homes, activist center in Hebron

    Israeli soldiers stormed a number of Palestinian properties, including the headquarters of a local activist group, in Hebron on Nov. 7, while settlers carried out a range of violent attacks across the southern West Bank city. Jawad Abu Aisheh of the Youth Against Settlements activist group, told Ma'an that Israeli forces stormed a number of homes in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood before dawn, and had been holding their residents inside the buildings ever since. Abu Aisheh said that soldiers also stormed the Youth Against Settlements' headquarters, known as Beit Sumoud, or House of Steadfastness, and were holding the group's head, Issa Amro, inside, together with an Italian journalist. (Ma'an)

  2. Palestinians shot as Qalandiya funeral erupts into clashes

    Israeli forces shot and injured eight Palestinians in clashes that broke out across Ramallah district Nov. 16 following the joint funeral of two Palestinians who were killed in Qalandia refugee camp the night before. The two young men were shot dead when hundreds of Israeli soldiers stormed the refugee camp to demolish the home of an alleged Palestinian attacker. During the raid, the Israeli army said locals opened fire on the soldiers, who returned fire, killing the two men and critically wounding a third. (Ma'an)

  3. UN rights expert for Occupied Palestinian Territory resigns

    UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, Makarim Wibisono, resigned from his position Jan. 4, saying that Israel has not granted him access to the Occupied Palestinian Territory after repeated requests. In his resignation letter, Wibisono stated he regrets having to resign, but he does not believe Israel will grant him direct access to Palestinian victims and he remains concerned about human rights violations in the territory. He further said: "It is my sincere hope that whoever succeeds me will manage to resolve the current impasse, and so reassure the Palestinian people that after nearly half a century of occupation the world has not forgotten their plight and that universal human rights are indeed universal." In contrast, Wisibono states that Palestine has cooperated fully with his requests. Wibisono's resignation is effective March 31 after presenting a final report to the UN Human Rights Council. (Jurist

  4. Israeli settlers threaten Palestinian who filmed ‘execution’

    Israeli settlers on March 25 gathered outside the home of a human rights worker in Hebron to hurl abuse at him, a day after he captured on video an Israeli soldier's killing of a wounded Palestinian that has sparked international outcry. Imad Abu Shamsiya, a staff member with Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, told Ma'an News Agency after settlers threatened him: "I now fear for my life and the life of my family. I’m afraid they might attack my house and do me harm."

    Two Palestinian residents of Hebron, both 21 years old, were shot down after allegedly stabbing and wounding an Israeli soldier near a military checkpoint in Hebron's Old City. Shamsiya recorded footage of a soldier shooting one in the head at point-blank range in plain view of the medical team after he had already been shot at least once and left motionless on the ground.

    The incident has brought a barrage of condemnations from the Israeli leadership and led Israel's army to detain the soldier responsible and launch an investigation.

    Release of the graphic video has called attention to what rights groups and Palestinian officials call a policy of "extrajudicial executions" by Israel against Palestinians, since a wave of unrest swept the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel last October.

    UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov said Friday he strongly condemned the apparent "extrajudicial execution" of the youth, Abed al-Fattah Yusri al-Sharif. (Ma'an)

  5. Palestinian woman, child shot dead after alleged stab attempt

    Israeli forces on April 27 shot and killed a Palestinian woman and child after an alleged stab attempt at Qalandiya military checkpoint near Ramallah. Israeli police said two suspects, a young man and a young woman, approached the vehicular path leading through the checkpoint and walked quickly towards border police officers, the woman carrying a knife in a her hand. Israeli forces reportedly fired more than 15 rounds into the woman’s body. Witnesses are heard in video footage following the incident claiming that a Palestinian boy approached the woman after she was killed before, to be shot by Israeli forces as well. Israeli media reports confirmed the child died shortly after. (Ma’an)

  6. Avigdor Liberman and the ‘shoot-first’ policy

    Foreign Policy notes that Avigdor Liberman's replacement of Moshe Yaalon as defense minister is directly related to the March "execution" incident in Hebron. Yaalon had sharply criticized the solider involved, saying that anyone who supported what he did "is damaging the values of the Israel Defense Forces." In the midst of the controversy, Yaalon resigned, ad also stepped down from the Knesset, saying that he was "taking time out from political life" due to his "lack of faith" in Netanyahu and that he was "fearful for Israel's future" under the current leadership. Right-wing politicians, meanwhile, have demanded a shoot-to-kill policy in every incident. That includes Liberman, who said after the shooting: "Better a soldier who was wrong and remains alive than one who hesitated and got himself killed." He even made a point of appearing in the military court last month to show his support to the accused solider's family.