Peace Now buses turned back from Hebron again after settlers protest

Left-wing group considers legal action against IDF.

peace now 298 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
peace now 298 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Hebron settlers successfully thwarted Peace Now's attempt to bring five busloads of visitors to their city on Friday. The tour was meant to highlight the plight of Hebron's 166,000 Arabs and illustrate how their lives have become increasingly difficult as a result of the town's 600 Jewish residents. Instead of a tour, a confrontation ensued between settlers, police and individuals from the tour outside the city, where police and soldiers were waiting to turn the buses around. Peace Now insists it had all the proper permits to enter Hebron, having been in touch with the relevant ministries. They had also coordinated the entire trip with the police and even had undercover police officers on the buses and in unmarked vehicles driving alongside. However, upon reaching the police roadblock, Peace Now was given a number of reasons as to why the buses could not enter. These ranged from the fact that another group had encountered extreme hostility from settlers earlier in the day, there was a military operation in the Palestinian section of the town, the group arrived too late, and the permit was the wrong kind. In the end, the army declared the area a "closed military area," cancelling Peace Now's permit. The group said that what took place was part of relatively new pattern of growing threats and violence used by Hebron's settlers against organizations such as Peace Now, and that over the past six months the settlers had grown increasingly hostile and had used that to their advantage, intimidating the military and police to deny groups like theirs entry. "Those settlers control everyone that lives there," said Noa Galil, one of Peace Now's tour leaders. "And it's like the army doesn't know how to handle them." She said that in the past year it had gotten harder and harder to get into Hebron, and in the last few months, "it is not possible." Peace Now head Yariv Oppenheimer said he was disappointed that the IDF had been taking the easy way out by not confronting the settlers. "They surrender to the settler threat, and we condemn it," he said. Oppenheimer said that when settlers brought in groups, which could number more than 100 people, the army placed the town's Palestinian residents under curfew to allow the visitors to enter with ease. Hebron resident Noam Federman, who came to meet the buses, said the settlers were justified on Friday. "Ninety percent of the Arabs in Hebron are Hamas and groups like Peace Now encourage them to kill Jews," he said. Federman also said Hebron's Arabs got a dangerous message when they saw large numbers of Israelis and foreigners, guarded by the army, coming to see their struggle against the settlers. "They get the impression that everyone is against us and that they can kill us without being condemned," he said. During Friday's confrontation between the groups, Peace Now representatives tried not to engage the settlers. However many on the buses felt the urge to speak with them. A back and forth slinging of accusations ensued. The Peace Now tour members chastised the settlers for denying their right to travel to Hebron, and for the control they exert in the area. Settlers said the visitors should go and keep celebrating last week's return of terrorist murderer Samir Kuntar to Lebanon and continue looking up to traitors like the late Yitzhak Rabin. One settler said their cause would not lose "because we are families of 100 children and you are families with just one child." Peace Now is now considering its options, one of which is legal action against the IDF. The group is going to send an official complaint to Defense Minister Ehud Barak. They also plan on organizing another tour. "We're not just going to give up," Oppenheimer said.