ISRAELIS HARASS US A.I.D. WORKERS
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Interview: ISRAELIS HARASS US A.I.D. WORKERS, INCREASE COSTS OF SHUHADA STREET PROJECT
by Kathy Kamphoefner
July 16, 1997
"The settlers from Beit Hadassah object to opening this street to Palestinians," said Mohandes David. "This used to be the main street of Hebron. It has been closed for five years, due to massacres at Shuhada Circle and at the Ibrahimi Mosque." In ninth hour negotiations over the Hebron Protocol, the US agreed to redo the street. The street's residents are 25% Jewish and 75% Palestinian, David said.
"The purpose of the project is to open the street for Palestinians," David said. The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) mans four different checkpoints along the route. The project includes all of Shuhada Street from the east, beginning at a checkpoint in front of the Hasbahe Market to the Israeli settlement of Beit Hadassah, through Duboyya Street and up the hill of Rahmy Street towards the Israeli settlement of Tel Romeida. The project is funded with US tax dollars.
"When we worked in front of Beit Hadassah, we had to work at a very high rate. The settlers held demonstrations every day. " They came up to the workers with machine guns and threatened us. The Israeli soldiers allow them to carry guns. They are here to protect the settlers only. They never prevent them from doing things."
"They shot out the windows on three different loaders with pellet guns. For the workers, it seems like the glass explodes in their face, and they think they're next. We have a very high turnover in workers on the project," David said. "We called the [Israeli] police, and they took reports of these incidents. They said they questioned the settlers, but no one knew anything." David also said settlers have often kicked the workers and spit on them. Last week a settler pushed one of the workers into an open trench and later assaulted David (see release of July 14).
Recently a security officer from the US Consulate spent the week with the project. "When he was riding in the dump truck, the settlers smashed out the window with rocks," David said.
"I have learned to use `preventive security', when we want to work in front of the settlements. We have to have the Israeli police come. The police are very interested in stopping settler harassment, because it can start the clashes," David said. "Also I carry the video camera and a still camera all the time, to document what happens. When settlers come up and harass the workers, I tape them. I write all these events in my reports to the State Department."
"We continue working during the clashes, as long as it doesn't spill into our work area. We have to finish this project by the end of July. We have finished sandblasting all the doors and walls and windows to get rid of the offensive graffiti," David said. The shop doors frequently are painted with Stars of David and slogans such as, "Death to the Arabs," "Hebron is a Jewish City," and "Arabs Get Out of Hebron." The primer coat is finished on all the doors, but these slogans reappeared immediately, even written across the project's sign. The sign lies just behind the soldiers' watchtower.
Another setback occurred earlier this Spring. "We had just completed digging a 100 foot trench for the new sewers up Rahmy Street. The Israeli Army decided that the trench might be a security risk during Land Day demonstrations. They brought in their `Midnight Bulldozer" and filled in the entire trench. Then when they backed up and turned the bulldozer around, they knocked over the retaining wall on the other side of the street. We had to rebuild the sewers and the wall, and we lost a couple of days. This cost the project another $20,000," David said.
Another factor complicating the work has been that the width of one lane had to always be kept open for the IDF jeeps. On narrow Duboyya Street, this meant that "we had to dig closer to the buildings, and dig down four meters to maintain the slope. This required smaller excavators than normal. So this also took a bit longer, " David said.
"We've been here 4 1/2 months," David explained. "We have to finish the road by the end of this month. We have finished everything we needed to do undergrounds, so now we are installing lampposts. We'll begin putting in the curbstones in the next three days and then the shoulders. Then we'll finished the sidewalks and pave the whole street."
After the road is completed, an Israeli contractor will build a security wall down its center as stipulated in the Hebron Protocol.
CPT Hebron has maintained a violence reduction presence in Hebron since June of 1995 at the invitation of the Hebron Municipality.
Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) is an initiative among Mennonite and Brethren congregations, and Friends meetings who support violence reduction Teams around the world. Contact CPT at P.O. Box 6508 Chicago, IL 60680 USA; Tel: 312-455-1199; Fax: 312-666-2677; e-mail: CPT@igc.org To join CPTNET send an e-mail to admin@MennoLink.org and the message: Group: menno.org.cpt.news Visit us on the WEB: http://www.prairienet.org/cpt
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