About Sabrina Tucci

I am a human rights professional with expertise on the death penalty and refugees and migrants’ rights. With years’ experience in national and international organizations, Amnesty International (AI) among others, I recently returned from Hebron, Palestine, where I spent three months working as a human rights monitor and advocate with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). As part of my work, I provided protection to Palestinian civilians, monitored and reported on violations of international law, supported Israeli and Palestinian peace activists, and advocated for an end to the Israeli occupation. Previous to that, I worked in refugee camps in Algeria and in immigration removal centres in England. My name is Sabrina Tucci, I am Italian and I live in London. Professionista dei diritti umani presso Amnesty International (AI) dove contribuisco ad attività di ricerca, campagne e comunicazione. Ho scritto articoli per diverse pubblicazioni e piattaforme online. Ho anche esperienza di lavoro in Palestina, nei campi profughi in Algeria e nei centri di detenzione e rimozione per immigrati e richiedenti asilo in Inghilterra. Sono Italiana e vivo a Londra.

No Basic Rights for Palestinians in Hebron

In March 2016, the Israeli army renewed an order designating Al-Shuhada Street and parts of the archaeological site of Tel Rumeida in Hebron city a closed military zone; this order will be in place until at least mid-April. This was done to protect Israeli settlers, who are illegally living in the area, from possible assaults by Palestinians, or so the Israeli army told the media.

The military order was initially established at the end of October 2015, following a new wave of confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli forces and settlers, which began in mid-September 2015 in East Jerusalem and spread to Hebron in early October.

Under the military order, all entry is prohibited to Shuhada Street and Tel Rumeida, with exceptions for Israeli settlers and Palestinian residents. Notably, the latter must prove their residency and undergo rigorous security inspections every time they pass through a checkpoint. Palestinian men are routinely asked by armed soldiers to remove their belts and shoes, lift their shirts and trousers legs, and remove their jackets. The bags of both men and women are regularly examined.

Describing the military order’s impact on Palestinians, one resident of Tel Rumeida told me, “I don’t feel safe. I don’t understand why they do this to us. We have been controlled even in the past, but now I feel that I am not treated as a human.” “Closing the area is preventing me from having international friends in my house. In the military zone you do not see an emergency ambulance, you become asocial, so you don’t think about visitors or birthday parties,” the man added.

 

Picture 1: “White line” checkpoint between Shuhada Street and the road to the Ibrahimi Mosque [Photo: EAPPI/Sabrina Tucci]

“White line” checkpoint between Shuhada Street and the road to the Ibrahimi Mosque (credit: EAPPI/Sabrina Tucci).

Proving Residency

Before the military order, Palestinians were still prohibited from driving on any part of Shuhada Street and Tel Rumeida, were routinely subjected to strict security checks, and often had to enter their homes through back entrances or from rooftops, because settlers or Israeli soldiers had blocked their main entrances. Nevertheless, anyone could enter the area, and the situation was relatively easier.

Now, international visitors and Palestinians residing in other areas are routinely turned away. Residents of Shuhada Street and Tel Rumeida must register at checkpoints or with the Israeli Civil Administration for a number proving their residency. Those Palestinians who forget their residency number, or whose names are erroneously left off the registry list through no fault of their own, are denied access and forced to enter their homes through fields and alleyways.

Whatever the reason, it is both demeaning and outright dangerous to force Palestinians to access their homes this way. “Once I was turned back because the soldiers said I was not registered. They did not let me in but I tried again after a while and succeeded. This is very humiliating,” a resident of Shuhada Street told me. Others have had to endure hostile encounters with Israeli military personnel, including being shouted at or held for questioning.

Some Palestinian residents have chosen not to register with the new identification system, as a means of protesting the requirement.

Picture 3: Palestinians and Internationals protesting against the military zone in Shuhada Street and Tel Rumeida [Photo: EAPPI/Sabrina Tucci]

Palestinians and Internationals protesting against the military zone in Shuhada Street and Tel Rumeida (credit: EAPPI/Sabrina Tucci).

A City Under Siege

Before October, only some of the nineteen checkpoints between the Old City and the Ibrahimi Mosque were staffed. Following confrontations between Palestinians and the Israeli army and settlers, more of these checkpoints have become operational.

At the end of December 2015, the Israeli military installed a new inspection machine at checkpoint 56, which forces Palestinian residents to go through two turnstiles and a room where they are searched and questioned. The machine also makes security checks lengthier.

Checkpoint 56 is in a key location in Hebron. It controls access to Shuhada Street, which leads to Ibrahimi Mosque, and separates the Israeli controlled side of Hebron (known as “H2”), from the Palestinian Authority controlled part of the city (known as “H1”).

Picture 2: New inspection machine at checkpoint 56 controlling access to Shuhada Street [Photo: EAPPI/Sabrina Tucci]

New inspection machine at checkpoint 56 controlling access to Shuhada Street (credit: EAPPI/Sabrina Tucci).

For Palestinians, restrictions on movement in Shuhada Street are not new. The street was once one of the main commercial hubs in Hebron’s Old City. Access to the thoroughfare was restricted for the first time in 1994, after an American Jew, Baruch Goldstein, killed twenty-nine Palestinians and injured more than 100 additional worshippers at the Ibrahimi Mosque. In response, Israeli authorities banned Palestinian vehicles from accessing Shuhada Street, supposedly to prevent possible Palestinian retaliation. Israeli authorities also began limiting Palestinian access to the commercial district, which forced many shops to close down.

The 1997 Hebron Protocol, which divided the city into H1 and H2, reopened Shuhada Street to traffic, but not to commerce. During the Second Intifada, access to the area was completely closed off to Palestinians, leading to the permanent closure of Palestinian shops. Since the end of the Second Intifada, restrictions on Palestinian movement into and out of the area have only increased.

Resistance to Israeli Measures

According to Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem, during this latest round of violence, Israeli forces throughout the West Bank, Hebron included, have systematically engaged in the unlawful killing of Palestinians, who they view as a threat, regardless of whether the threat is real.

To protest this continuing oppression of the Palestinian community, the Hebron-based Palestinian human rights organization Youth Against Settlements (YAS) launched its seventh annual Open Shuhada Street Campaign on February 20. The campaign encourages people worldwide to pressure the Israeli government to open Shuhada Street and Tel Rumeida to everyone. As part of the campaign, from February 20-28, YAS hosted various events in Hebron, including press conferences, photo exhibitions, film screenings, and memorials. The week’s events culminated on Friday February 26 with a demonstration demanding the opening of Shuhada Street.

The Hebron Defense Committee, a non-violent movement working to resist the presence of Israeli settlements and closure practices in the Hebron area, also organized a sit in at the north entrance to Shuhada Street earlier in February, to protest the closures. As part of these efforts, the organization launched the Dismantle the Ghetto, take the settlers out of Hebron campaign on February 20, which called for the removal of all illegal Israeli settlements from Hebron and an immediate end to the ‘closed military zone’ order in Tel Rumeida and Shuhada Street.

Picture 4: Banner calling for an end to the closed military zone [Photo: EAPPI/Sabrina Tucci]

A banner calling for an end to the closed military zone (credit: EAPPI/Sabrina Tucci).

A Pathway to Settlements

The restrictions imposed on Palestinian residents of Shuhada Street and Tel Rumeida have had devastating ramifications on their lives, careers, and health. According to the Ramallah-based human rights organization Al Haq, Israel’s closure of businesses, as well as main commercial and residential streets, has created harsh and restrictive living conditions for Palestinians living in H2. For these Palestinians, going to school, work, or even the hospital is an extremely arduous process.

Palestinians attempting to enter Shuhada Street held outside checkpoint 59 [Photo: EAPPI/Sabrina Tucci]

Palestinians attempting to enter Shuhada Street held outside checkpoint 59 (credit:  EAPPI/Sabrina Tucci).

With Palestinian ambulances prohibited from accessing the area, those in need of medical care must travel on foot from H2 to the Palestinian side of the city. This can be a fatal journey for some. In October 2015, Hashem Azzeh, a well-known non-violent Palestinian activist and resident of Tel Rumeida, died of a heart attack because he could not receive urgent medical care in H2.

As confirmed by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, movement restrictions, along with on-gong settler violence, reduced income, and restricted access to services and resources, has led to a reduction in the area’s Palestinian population. “This is a way to complete the settlement project and push people out and take over more houses. They want people to leave voluntarily. If this continues, they will succeed,” a man from Shuhada Street explained to me. “People cannot even renovate their houses so eventually they will feel [that] ‘Ok, Khalas’, this is enough. They will leave, if not today, maybe tomorrow,” he said.

Graffiti on door in Tel Rumedia [Photo: EAPPI/Sabrina Tucci]

Graffiti on door in Tel Rumedia (credit: EAPPI/Sabrina Tucci).

No Basic Rights for Residents

Israel’s restrictions on Palestinians in Shuhada Street and Tel Rumeida violate various principles of international law. These include the right to freedom without discrimination (Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), the right to freedom of movement (Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) and the right to an adequate standard of living and the continuous improvement of their living conditions (Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights). The restrictions, based on the false premise that all Palestinians are inherently dangerous, also violate the prohibition against collective punishment (Article 33 of theFourth Geneva Convention).

Israel’s practices in Shuhada Street and Tel Rumeida represent some of its most appalling human rights violations. As many human rights organizations have been asking and as Palestinians themselves are demanding, it is imperative that Israeli authorities fulfill their responsibilities under international law and lift the closed military zone, without further delay.

This article was originally published on Muftah.

Having a settler for neighbor in Hebron

The Jabari family lives in the Hebron neighborhood of Wadi Al Hussein, between the illegal Israeli settlements of Kiryat Arba and the Giva Ha’avot. Since 2001, the family has been fighting a legal battle to regain control of their land after settlers illegally built a “Synagogue Tent” on it. “Problems started very early but increased after the second intifada. Settlers tried to convince my father to sell the house. My father said no, they threatened him. They said this is Israeli land, not Palestinian. But this is my father’s land, for many generations”, Ayat, one of the Jabari daughters says.

On four occasions since 2008, Israeli courts have ordered the tent to be removed, but after each time the settlers have rebuilt it. The family’s case is still going through the court system.

“When we first came here they [the settlers] stabbed my little brother in the stomach, then hit another of my brothers on his eyes. Another time they pushed my father from the hill and he broke his shoulder. Every day, every night they throw stones at us”, Ayat says. She explains the settlers want the land so they can connect up the different settlements in the city center with those on the outskirts.

The story of the Jabari’s family, sadly, is representative of that of many vulnerable Palestinian families in Hebron living close to Israeli settlements, civilian communities established on Palestinian land occupied by Israel since the 1967 Six-Day War. Settlements are illegal in international law, as set in Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits an occupying power from deporting or transferring parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.

Hebron is the only Palestinian city in the West Bank, besides East Jerusalem, that has settlements in its city center. Between 500 and 800 settlers live in Hebron 2 (H2), the Israeli controlled center of Hebron, in a number of separate settlements and outposts. Kiryat Arba, the largest of the settlements on the outskirts of Hebron, has a population of approximately 8,000 settlers. It was established in 1968, and was the first Israeli settlement in the West Bank. Several hundred Israeli soldiers are posted in Hebron, allegedly to protect Israeli settlers living there against possible attacks by Palestinians.

Kiryat Arba buildings overlooking Palestinian houses in Wadi Al Hussein (Photo: EAPPI/Sabrina Tucci)

Kiryat Arba buildings overlooking Palestinian houses in Wadi Al Hussein (Photo: EAPPI/Sabrina Tucci)

Palestinians living close to settlers face serious challenges in accessing basic health, water and sanitation services as well as in accessing work, education and worship. Many streets are closed to Palestinian motorists and are accessible only by pedestrians, forcing residents to carry provisions such as food, water and cooking-gas canisters by hand and pushcart. Ambulances are often unable to reach households due to street closures, and some schools can be reached only on foot. Children and teachers are required to go through daily searches at checkpoints. Whilst these measures are justified by the Israeli authorities as necessary to protect the settlers residing in the city, they hinder not only the urban development of Hebron, but also the ability of Palestinian residents to live a normal life.

“Nobody can drive on Prayers’ Road (the main road going through Ayat’s neighbourhood and connecting Kiryat Arba with the old city of Hebron) or in any other part of Wadi Al Hussein”, explains Ayat. “From 2002 to 2005 people could not even walk here. This street is closed, we people cannot walk freely or drive. Every day children go to school walking up the hill, but this is dangerous in winter because of the snow and the rain. There is no pavement there. But walking on the main street is even more dangerous. Here we have four checkpoints and people need to go through them every day. We are surrounded by three settlements”.

In addition to access and movement restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities, Palestinians in H2 also face harassment at the hands of Israeli settlers, including property damage and confiscation, physical attacks, verbal abuse, and the intimidation of children on their way to school.

“Today people do not walk here because they are afraid of the settlers,” admits Ayat. “Sometimes when settlers see women with hijabs they try to take these away. People from other parts of Hebron are afraid to come here. Internationals are afraid too. We do not have any visitors, and friends coming here. Before the checkpoints they used to visit us. We live in a jail, I am sad for my family, the children cannot walk on the street, my family does not know what is outside. I imagine Palestine in a jail. Life here in H2 is different from that in the rest of Hebron but in reality we are all in jail. Put me in your suitcase when you leave?”.

Asphalted pathway leading to Kiryat Arba next to an unpaved pathway leading to Palestinian houses in Wadi Al Hussein (Photo: EAPPI/Sabrina Tucci)

Asphalted pathway leading to Kiryat Arba next to an unpaved pathway leading to Palestinian houses in Wadi Al Hussein (Photo: EAPPI/Sabrina Tucci)

In 2014 the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights in Palestine, Richard Falk, stressed that settlements in H2 have led to severe restrictions and an atmosphere of tension that negatively affects all Palestinians. The lack of resources to carry out comprehensive investigations and the obligation for Palestinians to file complaints and testify at police stations inside Israeli settlements, also deter victims of violence from lodging complains against settlers. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the large majority of complaints about settler violence filed in recent years have been closed by the Israeli authorities without indictment. The United Nations calls on Israel to respect and implement the humanitarian needs and human rights of Palestinians in Hebron, including their right to freedom of movement and their right to be free from discrimination. It also calls on the authorities to ensure that those responsible for violence and intimidation are held accountable under Israeli law.

“Why nobody does anything to help here?”, asks Ayat. “We are human beings, this is why I stay. What else can I do? I hope to do something, to give life back to this area but it is not easy… it is so quiet here, can you hear?”. I nod, as I hear the silence in the neighborhood from her house.

 

This article was originally published on Mondoweiss.

 

When you are under administrative detention

This article was originally published on Mondoweiss and the EAPPI UK & Ireland website.

Palestinians in Hebron demand Israel return bodies of family members killed by the IDF

On the evening of January 1st Israeli authorities returned the bodies of 14 Palestinians from Hebron city who were killed while suspected of carrying out attacks on Israelis during the wave of tension which had started in October 2015. These 14 bodies were buried the following day, but others are yet to be returned to their families. “They have no right to keep our children, we want them back now”, the father of one of the young men killed tells me.

Since October 2015, Israel’s security cabinet policy established that the bodies of Palestinians shot dead by Israeli forces who were considered to be carrying out attacks on Israeli civilians and military personnel would not be returned to their families. Put forward by Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan to minimize the risk of politicized mass funerals and incitement to murder, as well as to deter attacks against Israelis, this policy has been described by the Palestinian public and by human rights organizations such as Addameer and The Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Centre as collective punishment for innocent family and community members.

These family and community members who are already suffering the loss of their loved ones, cannot have a funeral,  mourn in dignity or process and accept the idea of loss. Some of these families retain the hope that they are alive. “I have a video of my son bleeding on the ground. He is moving. I do not know if he is dead”, a bereft man admits.

According to media information, the Israeli government is demanding that concerned families agree to the bodies of their relatives be returned after nightfall and buried immediately,only in the presence of a few family members, allegedly to minimize the risk of public and media attention during funerals.

Palestinians protesting against new policy approved by Israel’s security cabinet (Photo: EAPPI)

Palestinians protesting against new policy approved by Israel’s security cabinet (Photo: EAPPI)

Most of the these families have so far refused these conditions and called on Israel to allow them to carry out the burial of their loved ones on their own terms. Families say that the terms imposed by Israel are contrary to Islamic burial customs, which require bodies to be buried during daylight hours. Moreover, these terms deny families the time needed to request and carry out an autopsy, whilst also preventing extended family and community members from paying their last respects to the deceased. “We want to bury our children according to our religion and culture. We want all our families and friends to attend the funerals. We want them to be returned during the day and to be checked by Palestinian doctors. Not accepting the bodies at these conditions is our way of resisting occupation,” a local Palestinian explains.

Withholding the bodies of those killed, not allowing the deceased to be buried according to the requirements of the religion to which they belonged and not notifying families of the fate of their relatives or the location of their grave violate Rules 115, 116 and 117 of customary international humanitarian law, as well as Article 17 of the First Geneva Convention, Article 20 of the Second Geneva Convention, Article 120 of the Third Geneva Convention, Article 130 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and Article 32 of Additional Protocol 1. Collective punishment and any form of reprisal against somebody for an offense he or she has not personally committed also breaches Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Human rights organisations such as Addameer and the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Centre call on the Israeli authorities to enable the immediate and unconditional return of the bodies which are still withheld within Israel, in line with its obligations under international law, and state that failure to act in such a way constitutes collective punishment.

The unconditional, although delayed, handing over of 14 bodies on January 1st gave their families the opportunity to mourn in dignity. Many others continue to wait. It is time for their punishment to end.

This article was originally published on Mondoweiss.

Rifles and knives

On December 20, 2015 at 1.13 pm I received a text message notifying me of a stabbing incident at Checkpoint 56 in Hebron’s Old City near Shuhada Street. News would soon talk of a 35 year old woman shot with a rubber bullet as she allegedly attempted to stab a soldier, the latest episode of tension between Palestinians and Israelis. “The soldiers do not allow the ambulances to operate, our children are left bleeding until they die. You could be killed just for taking your ID out of your pocket,” a local Palestinian explained to us.

Only a few days before, on December 11, Israeli and Palestinian media also reported the killing of a Palestinian man for allegedly deliberately driving his car into Israeli military personnel near Halhul junction, north of Hebron, and the killing of Uday Irsheid, 24, shot dead during clashes between Palestinians and Israeli military in the Ras al Jora area in Hebron city.

A new wave of confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli forces and settlers began in mid-September in East Jerusalem, later spreading to other areas of occupied Palestine, including Hebron. I moved to Hebron, Al Khalil in Arabic, a few weeks ago. In this short time, in addition to the reports of the deaths of Palestinians and Israelis, I have witnessed grave incidents of violence and discrimination against Palestinians, including the arbitrary closure of streets, schools and businesses, the intimidation of children at checkpoints and the verbal and physical harassment of men accessing places of worship or work. I also heard of curfews, neighbourhood closures and the punitive demolition of homes belonging to relatives of alleged attackers.

Palestinian teachers entering Shuhada Street through checkpoint 56 [Photo: EAPPI]

Palestinian teachers entering Shuhada Street through Checkpoint 56 [Photo: EAPPI]

International human rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch, B’Tselem and Amnesty International are documenting how the Israeli military and police have resorted to lethal force against Palestinians perceived as posing a threat to life or serious injury, without ensuring that the threat posed was real. In some cases, lethal attacks on the assailants have not ceased even when they clearly could no longer pose a threat.

Israeli law only allows the use of lethal force as a measure of last resort and to counter a threat to life or serious injury. To act contrary to this and carry out extrajudicial killing is unlawful. International law also obliges all military personnel to use non-violent means to deal with a threat before resorting to force, to use restraint and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offense, to give a warning of their intent to use firearms, and give reasonable time for the warning to be observed. International human rights agencies call for the Israeli authorities to end the pattern of unlawful killings. They are also calling on the Israeli authorities to fulfil their obligations under national and international law and ensure that those suspected of carrying out attacks against the public are arrested and tried before a court.

04.01.2016. Hebron, checkpoint 56 guidelines. Photo EAPPI. S. Tucci

Guidelines posted outside Checkpoint 56 in Hebron (Photo: EAPPI)

The deliberate lethal attacks by Palestinians on Israeli civilians and military forces must also end. Nobody has the right to take somebody’s life away. A Palestinian human rights defender told me few days after my arrival to Hebron that “there is indeed a general spirit of lack of future prospects leading to a number of attacks. For some it is just khalas (enough), suicide”. This suggests that many of these attacks are carried out because of a lack of hope held for the future, rather than for political or nationalistic reasons.

As noted by the UN Deputy Secretary-General during his briefing to the UN Security Council on October 22, 2015, this crisis would have not taken place “if the Palestinian people had a perspective of hope towards a viable Palestinian state, if they had an economy that provides jobs and opportunities, if they had more control over their security and the legal and administrative processes that define their daily existence – in short, if the Palestinians did not still live under a stifling and humiliating occupation that has lasted almost half a century”. It is important to keep this in mind.

This article was originally published on Pambazuka News and the EAPPI UK & Ireland website.