The Martyrdom of Innocence

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The stories of firebombs, bullets, rocks and injuries fill the newspapers. Live ammunition is replacing rubber-coated bullets. Officials and civilians alike are quick to say that things have rarely gotten this bad. But there are stories that continue to go unheard.

Stories of regular people who don’t want to go out and join the violent struggle, but who get caught in the cross-fire nonetheless. They have not been walking in the streets and chosen the wrong alleyways. They have not even left their homes. In fact, they cannot leave their homes. Unlike in Palestinian-controlled cities such as Bethlehem and Ramallah, where clashes happen on the borders and people who wish to remain uninvolved in the violence can usually make that choice, for many in Hebron the story is different.

Because of the Jewish settlers in the heart of the Old City, and the 1,500 Israeli soldiers who are stationed here to protect them, the scene looks very different. The 35,000 residents of the Israeli-occupied part of Hebron, H2, are under full, 24-hour-a-day curfew. For some families living in H2, only blocks away from our CPT apartment, their lives literally are under siege.

On Wednesday, with Palestinian journalist Kawther Salam and fellow CPTer Andrew Getman, I visited two families whose rooftops have become strategic military outposts.

Approaching the first, I felt as if I were coming upon an old deserted home. The windows were boarded up with wood and tin. Broken bottles and rocks littered the walkway. Black evidence of fires streaked up the walls. But there were some differences. A face peered out from inside an enclosed bunker and a deep voice shouted, “Go away! Get out of here!”

It was a soldier. We ignored his warnings and knocked on the door. The door opened and a young father stood inside holding a four-month-old girl. Four other children, all boys under the age of 12, gathered around him. We were invited in. There was the faint smell of gas in the dimly lit rooms, from which all light and ventilation were extinguished due to the boarded-up windows. One of the boys opened the door to their nicely furnished sitting room. Rocks littered the floor, and a burned-out bottle lay shattered upon the charred carpet. The four-year-old held the curtains away from the windows and pointed. The glass was shattered and sharp shards covered the floor.

The father, Jihad Sede Ahmad, told his story.

The previous afternoon, a clash started in their area. Because of the soldiers stationed on their roof, their home became the target for stone- and molotov cocktail-throwing Palestinians. Jewish settlers threw the same from the other side. The soldiers shot back. And inside, the children screamed, the baby cried, and they all ran to hide inside the bathroom. That night, the children wanted to sleep under their parents’ bed.

Next door stands the beautiful home of a doctor. The previous night, Dr. Taisir Zahdeh’s home was invaded by soldiers who wanted to use his roof for another shooting post. The doctor and his wife shared their story. Three days earlier, some soldiers came knocking at the door. They wanted in, but the doctor refused. The soldiers smashed the window of the door and started yelling, demanding that they be given entry. The doctor still refused. The next night, he awoke to the noise of hammering on his metal door. He went to investigate, only to find that the soldiers had returned and were battering at the door, trying to break it down. Some settlers from Beit Haddasseh settlement were helping.

Dr. Zahdeh, remembering how his resistance to soldier’s requests in 1998 resulted in his being beaten into a coma, told the soldiers that he would let them in. But when he tried his key, the lock was already too damaged. The soldiers and settlers continued beating and prying at the door. An hour later, they succeeded in opening it. Once on his roof, they proceeded to drill holes in the wall of the roof so that they could be hidden while watching and shooting through the holes. Day and night, there are soldiers going up and down the stairs, disturbing the family’s sleep and frightening his four children, who scream in fear.

Dr. Zahdeh recalls the horrors of having soldiers on his roof several years ago. They urinated and threw bags full of their feces over the edge of the roof onto the heads of people coming to visit. They made lots of noise and carried dirt through the house. They went to the bathroom down the pipes that carried water down from the roof for the family to use. He and his wife fear that these things will start up again, now that the soldiers are back on their roof.

These are the civilian casualties that do not get recorded. These are the bodies that don’t have visible scars. These are the lives which carry the cost of military occupation in memories and nightmares of degradation and horror. There is no glory in the martyrdom of innocence for these children. And in the words of Dr. Zahdeh, “There is no end to the stories that could be told.”

Anita Fast is a member of the Christian Peacemaker Team in Hebron, where it has maintained a violence reduction presence since June 1995 at the invitation of the Hebron municipality.

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