“Breaking the Silence lies,” stated a large sign plastered on the route which several dozen Eurovision visitors took Thursday, as they walked through Hebron with the Israeli left-wing group Breaking the Silence.
Breaking the Silence offered special tours this week to Eurovision visitors to better help them understand the situation in Hebron. The NGO of former IDF officers wanted to give the visitors a first-hand look at the “occupation,” so they could understand the plight of the Palestinians living in the section of the West Bank city that is under Israeli military control.
The signs were placed at critical points along the walking route by the Hebron Jewish community and the right-wing NGO Im Tirtzu.
One stated: “Warning: Palestinian snipers! The windows in this Jewish neighborhood were sandbagged during the intifada to protect Jews from shooting by jihad snipers.”
Others referred to the cities historic Biblical status: “Hebron, the first capital of Israel.” One sign posted by the Tomb of the Patriarchs stated, “The founding fathers and mothers of Israel are buried here.”
Yishai Fleisher, spokesman for the Hebron Jewish community, said that Breaking the Silence had no support locally, and had therefore turned to people from abroad who easily “believed the lies they are being fed.”
The guide from Breaking the Silence, Achiya Schatz, told the Eurovision tourists that his group was made of soldiers who had served in Hebron and knew about the city from their first-hand experience.
Schatz referred to the Hebron Jewish community’s signs as the settler narrative, explaining that his group was providing them with a different one.
The group walked along Shuhada Street, where the Jewish apartment complexes of Avraham Avinu and Beit Hadassah are located. The street has been mostly closed to Palestinians since the start of the Second Intifada in 2000. The closed shop shutters along the route, give it an empty and abandoned feeling.
Schatz, who is in charge of communication for Breaking the Silence, held up a photo of the area as it looked before the closure, showing it clogged with cars.
At the corner of one block that once linked Shuhada Street with the old Hebron market, Schatz said that the street was once called the “rainfalls street,” because “a rainfall of people used to walk here.”
The Eurovision guests were told that Hebron, now a city of more than 220,000 Palestinians, was divided in 1997, with 80% of the city placed under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority. The other 20% of the city, where the small Jewish community of some 1,000 people live, is under Israeli military control.
One sign that hung off Beit Hadassah said that Jews could only move in 3% of the city.
“Is that true?” asked one Eurovision guest.
Schatz acknowledged that while Israelis can only walk in a small portion of the city, their presence has an impact on a very large area.
During The Jerusalem Post’s participation in the tour, the event passed peacefully, save for a moment when the IDF blocked the group’s access to the Tel Rumeida area, explaining that it had been declared a closed military area and that they could not pass.
But Breaking the Silence spokesman Dean Issacharoff, said that the group had been verbally accosted by settlers at the start of the tour.
Palestinian Izzat Karki spoke of the difficulty of living in a divided city, particularly for those in the Israeli section who have to pass through the IDF checkpoints.
“Our daily life, as you see, is very complicated and difficult,” said Karki, who is a member of the grass root Palestinian group, Youth Against Settlement. “As Palestinians, we are facing apartheid here.” Palestinians are guilty until proven innocent, but Israelis are innocent until proven guilty, he added.
Palestinians on the Israeli side all have numbers to pass through the checkpoint, but it is difficult for those on the Palestinian side to pass through.
“My name here is Izzat, but at the checkpoint my name is 101,” Karki said. “So they change our names, like from a human being, to a number.”
He spoke about the violence between the Hebron Jewish residents and the Palestinians. Youth Against Settlements is dedicated to nonviolence, he said, and it is particularly important to explain the situation and to solicit support from abroad.
Karki said he had hoped the group could visit his home, he said, but the IDF would not permit it.
“They don’t want you to listen to us,” he said. “Why? We are human, everyone should listen. I haven’t said anything illegal.”
Karki said he understood how compelling the music and festivities of the Eurovision was.
“But you have to think about something else,” Karki said. “Next year we hope we will receive you when Palestine is free and without occupation.”
Laufey Helga Guomundsdottir of Iceland said that her country has already recognized “the independence of a free Palestine. I wanted to learn more and to see Palestine.”
“This is the first time I have come to Israel,” she said. “I have learned that the people of Israel are very open about exchanging views. That was a nice surprise.”