With a flick of his wrist, as if he were tossing a tennis ball, an IDF soldier threw a stun grenade into a small group of Palestinian protesters who had gathered in Hebron on Thursday afternoon in hopes of marching to the Cave of the Patriarchs.
The soldier stood slightly down the street from the protesters, next to an IDF jeep, and watched the fray.
The stun grenade exploded with a flash and a loud bang. Smoke filled the air. People ran, some onto the muddy grass of the nearby Muslim cemetery. Tear gas canisters screeched overhead.
It was the tail end of the fourth consecutive day of violence between Arabs and the IDF in the West Bank city of Hebron.
Palestinians have been protesting Sunday’s cabinet decision to add the Cave of the Patriarchs to the list of national heritage sites, because they believe Hebron will be part of a future Palestinian state.
On Thursday, they also held a nonviolent march to commemorate the 16th anniversary of the Baruch Goldstein massacre in the city. In 1994, the Israeli American physician killed 29 Muslim worshipers in the mosque that is of the part of the Cave of the Patriarchs complex.
Sporadic violence broke out throughout Hebron on Thursday, and the IDF significantly increased its presence in the city. Soldiers stood guard at many points in the Israeli-controlled part of the city. A number of soldiers were posted on the roof of the building opposite the Cave of the Patriarchs.
In the Palestinian Authority side of the city, boys wrapped keffiyehs
around their heads. They threw stones at soldiers, burned tires and, in one case, trampled an Israeli flag in the mud.
A border policeman was lightly wounded by a stone and taken to Hadassah-University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem neighborhood.
Around 3 p.m., under a gray sky, Palestinians and Israeli protesters tried to march in the direction of the cave, down a single-lane road by the Avraham Avinu neighborhood and the Palestinian cemetery.
MK Muhammad Barakei (Hadash) and Palestinian Legislative Council member Mustafa Barghouthi joined the protesters.
Some protesters waved flags. Others linked arms. As a light rain fell, they chanted, “One, two, three, four... the occupation will be no more!” and “Free Palestine!”
IDF soldiers stood almost face to face with the demonstrators. They held up their guns and blocked the protesters’ path. At times, they pushed the protesters slightly up the street, and there were occasional scuffles.
“Four rioters were arrested and transferred to Israel Police custody,” the IDF said.
Palestinians yelled out that theirs was a nonviolent protest and that they had a right to walk to the cave.
After watching soldiers fire tear-gas canisters, Israeli activist Assaf Cohen yelled out, “Why are you shooting at them? No one is shooting at you.”
After an hour, the IDF declared the area a closed military zone and distanced all the journalists, and the soldiers readied for another standoff with protesters.
Earlier in the day, to mark the Fast of Esther and to demonstrate the Jewish connection to the Cave of the Patriarchs, close to 100 Jews gathered on the edge of the Avraham Avinu neighborhood to pray.
They stood under the awning by the homes in the market stalls that the IDF had destroyed several years ago.
“The heritage of the Jewish people started here with Abraham in Hebron, with the purchase of the cave,” said Jewish community spokesman David Wilder. “It’s the first Jewish possession in the Land of Israel. Jews have lived in Hebron almost continuously ever since. It is the second-holiest site of the Jewish people.”
He added that the cave had a tremendous spiritual attraction and received half a million visitors annually.
The IDF closed the cave to Jewish worshipers on Thursday, to allow Muslims access to the adjacent mosque. But a number of Jews braved the rain, stood outside the complex’s Herodian wall and prayed.
An army source told The Jerusalem Post
that Thursday’s events in Hebron had been “hyped” by the media, describing the disturbances as “not much more than a few teenagers who threw rocks at soldiers.”
“A number of violent and illegal disturbances broke out in several spots in Hebron. Rioters burned tires, threw Molotov cocktails, and threw rocks at security personnel, who responded with riot dispersal means,” the army spokesman said.
He told the Post
that a Palestinian man wounded during the disturbances had been struck by a rock thrown by other Palestinians.
An IDF source added that “despite the media hype, the disturbances in Hebron do not even match up with the weekly demonstrations in Bil’in [against the West Bank security barrier]. This was mainly put on as a show for the media.”
In the coming days, the source said, the rioting in Hebron was likely to cease, although the army would continue to be prepared, at above normal personnel levels, “both to deal with potential disturbances and to act as a deterrent.”
“These are sensitive times. Purim is here, and there will be
demonstrations. But I believe this will trickle out soon,” the source
The stormy weather “will also have an effect, and will serve to dampen the scope of the disturbances,” the source said.