A Showcase of Extremes: Shuhada Street and the Logic of Occupation

Hebron, the largest Palestinian urban center in the West Bank, is increasingly known as a contested and embattled space. It is unique in the occupied Palestinian territories because Israeli settlements have been established inside the city. Mundane violence and segregation are evident here, most starkly culminating in Shuhada Street, once a bustling Palestinian thoroughfare, now off-limits to Palestinians. Numerous international organizations have set up shop here to document daily human rights abuses, though they’ve had little success in holding settlers and Israel accountable to their policies. There are many tours one can take while visiting Hebron, which is almost always recommended to visiting internationals itching to get a feel for “the situation,” at odds with all liberal sentiments. These kinds of tours often use Hebron as an example of a particularly dire situation, where Israeli settlers have taken things to the extreme. And extreme examples abound, such as when the Israeli military recently detained a 5-year old Palestinian. But is Hebron an exception to the rule?

02-IMG_7131Views of Hebron. Spot the military lookout.04-IMG_7134

Like so many other Israeli settlements throughout the West Bank, settlements in Hebron’s city center were established with assistance from the Israeli army, in the 1970s. Currently there are about 500 settlers in Hebron, with about 2,500 to 4,000 Israeli soldiers stationed around the area to protect them. In 1994, New York-born Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 praying Palestinians at the Tomb of the Patriarchs. This is when Israel began limiting the movement of Palestinians in Hebron, supposedly to increase security (ha, ha). With the Oslo Accords, Hebron was divided into zones indicating various degrees of Israeli and Palestinian control, mirroring the division of the entire West Bank into Areas A, B, and C. Shuhada Street was completely closed off to Palestinians (except for residents of the street, but even they are limited in their access) with the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000.

According to B’Tselem, 304 Palestinian-owned shops and warehouses along the street were shut down, and Israel even turned the central bus station into an army base. This has completely stifled the Palestinian economy in this area, which is now known by many as a ghost town.

I have visited Hebron on three occasions. These photos are mainly from my second visit, in December of 2012, when I visited with two Americans, a Canadian, and a Palestinian. We arrived in the afternoon as the sun was setting.

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Palestinian children play near their home on a route frequented by settlers descending toward Shuhada Street. A bit further down the hill, out of view, is an Israeli soldier stationed at a lookout to ensure the safe passage of settlers.

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An abandoned car. I haven’t been able to verify this, but my guess is the painted signs on the post demarcate the safe route for settlers.

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Walking down Shuhada street. Since Palestinians who do not have residency here are not allowed to walk down this street, our Palestinian friend had to leave us and loop around to meet us on the other side. We passed store after store that was empty and boarded up. The street is eerily quiet besides the occasional passersby, though we felt utterly exposed and watched.
Continue reading “A Showcase of Extremes: Shuhada Street and the Logic of Occupation”

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HSBC is Too Profitable to Prosecute

I fear the most recent grotesque example of US hypocrisy is getting swept under the rug, so I want to take a moment to try and grasp what it all means.

It was revealed last week that HSBC, one of the world’s largest banks, has been involved in a number of criminal acts over recent years. These crimes have mainly involved laundering billions of dollars for Mexican drug cartels and groups linked to Al Qaeda. There was even evidence that senior bank officials were in on the whole thing.

What was the outcome of this unveiling of such blatant crimes? HSBC was asked to pay a fine (of minimal proportions in comparison to its profits), and received NO CRIMINAL PENALTY.

I won’t go into the disastrous effects of the international drug trade, and I’m probably not the right person to do such a thing, but it’s safe to say that the drug trade fuels violence, poverty, gang activity, and a multitude of other detrimental phenomena in many countries. Yet it seems the US’ main approach to dealing with drug crime is to throw average American citizens in jail for possession of drugs like marijuana, an approach that disproportionately targets minorities and the poor. And when HSBC is found to be guilty of crimes that surely play a much bigger role in fueling the international drug trade than my neighbor smoking a joint that one time, not a single person is prosecuted.

Even moreso than the drug trade, the US government repeatedly presents terrorism as one of the greatest threats to the United States. Accordingly, the US regularly detains people all over the world, illegally, with no charge, where they may be held for undefined periods of time and subject to cruel and inhumane treatment. This even applies to US citizens, though the chances of this happening to you are substantially higher if you are brown or Muslim. Yet when one of the largest financial institutions in the world is found to be moving money for potential terrorist groups, to the tune of billions of dollars, it gets away with barely a slap on the wrist.

Not a single person at HSBC was jailed or penalized for their actions. The reasoning? HSBC is too big, and too important, to be prosecuted. (A nice extension of 2008’s tagline, “too big to fail.”) Meaningfully prosecuting HSBC, it is argued, could undermine the entire banking system!

I think it’s quite clear who is really in power here. The US government, or should I say the corporate interests that essentially run it, do not care about the rights of US citizens or the human rights of internationals. The ruling elite is interested in protecting one right only, and that is the right of that elite to continue pursuing profit at whatever cost.

 

Obviously, Glenn Greenwald explains it better than I do: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/dec/12/hsbc-prosecution-fine-money-laundering

Matt Taibbi with further thoughts: http://www.democracynow.org/2012/12/13/matt_taibbi_after_laundering_800_million

Little Boxes

According to Israeli human rights group B’Tselem,* there are about 124 Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. In addition to this are around 100 informal “outposts.” All settlements are deemed illegal under international law, including all outposts, though unlike settlements, most outposts are not officially sanctioned by the Israeli government (key word: “officially”). There are many incentives for Israelis to move to settlements: though some move because they feel they are fulfilling a religious or nationalistic destiny, others are given financial incentives either directly by government bodies or because they simply cannot afford to live in cities like Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.

You can see settlements peppered throughout the West Bank (which is presumed to be under control of the Palestinian Authority, though you can see this is clearly not the case) on this map. The following pictures were all taken in the mid and northern West Bank, near Ramallah and up toward the Palestinian town of Nablus.

The settlement of Ofra, not too far north of Ramallah. Not all settlement houses look like carbon copies of each other, but these are particularly neat and uniform.

A nearby lookout point with views of the area. This sign is supposed to roughly show the location of nearby settlements. The text at the bottom asks, “Can you see the holy temple?” referring to the third and final temple that should theoretically, under Judaism, be built on the present-day Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Just behind the sign, you can see the informal caravans and structures that form the outpost called Amona.

Inside Ofra. The neat carbon-copy houses up close.  I felt I could be in any number of suburban neighborhoods in the US. The streets were eerily quiet but for the occasional car or child on a bicycle.

A sign for the settlement of Kfar Tapuach (literally, “Appleville”), just south of Nablus. Fruit seems to be a recurring symbol on this day, as in one settlement, an over-sized grape statue graced a small roundabout near the entrance gate.

Kabir (“big” in arabic) Mountain

Palestinian village on the outskirts of Nablus.

*www.btselem.org