The Israeli army has blocked activists from the anti-occupation army veterans' group Breaking the Silence from entering the Jewish settlement in the West Bank city of Hebron to conduct tours. On Thursday, soldiers prevented a group from visiting the Tomb of the Patriarchs in the city. The army said restrictions on the tours were only temporary.
There is no barrier at the entrance to the city’s Jewish settlement in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood. Soldiers approached members of the organization in the street and ordered them to leave the city. The soldiers said the order prohibiting entry to the city’s Jewish community was issued by Judea Brigade commander Col. Itzik Cohen, who did not specify a time limit for the order.
The order is presumably a recent one, since in early February Breaking the Silence conducted a tour of Hebron’s Jewish settlement. On more recent tours, guides asked the soldiers to show them the order prohibiting them from taking groups into the community. In response, the soldiers called in policemen, who asked the activists if they had interfered with the soldiers and took their personal details. Members of Breaking the Silence have been conducting weekly tours of Hebron for about a decade. During the tours, they talk about their military service and describe the nature of the Israeli occupation in the city.
Settlers in Hebron say that in the wake of their pressure, Cohen promised them that Breaking the Silence would no longer be permitted in the settlement. An army source denied that the order was the result of such pressure.
A video filmed this month shows Chaya Ra’anan, a settler, shouting at soldiers and police officers accompanying a tour. “It’s illegal for them to stand here; the brigade commander said they wouldn’t. They can pass through, but not stand. This is the last time they come here. If I see them here again, everyone that backs them and the soldiers will be punished because the brigade commander promised they wouldn’t stand here.” The military source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, accused Breaking the Silence of creating a provocation and said the tour guides intentionally stopped outside the homes of prominent settler figures.
In response, the army said it permits Breaking the Silence tours of Hebron and cooperates with the organization to make them possible. “In light of a situation assessment and in order to protect public order, a temporary order restricting traffic only in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood was issued. Within a few days the brigade commander will meet with representatives of the organization to discuss ways to continue its activities while maintaining the fabric of life and public order,” the army statement added.
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According to Breaking the Silence, no such meeting has been scheduled. Representatives meet with the army twice a year to coordinate the tours and other activities, but despite their requests, Col. Cohen has refused to meet with them. The NGO’s representatives added that they were not told about the closure and that the officer in the field noted that the commander’s order was not temporary.
After Haaretz approached the army, it informed Breaking the Silence that the order would be updated soon in order to allow the tours of Hebron to continue. A source said a meeting was scheduled between the organization and the army's Central Command toward that end.
“The violence of the settlers continues to dictate the routine of the occupation,” said Breaking the Silence in a statement. “It’s another example of the system’s surrender to the interests of Baruch Marzel,” continued the statement, referring to the extreme right-wing activist who lives in Tel Rumeida. “In the face of the concealment efforts, we shall continue to expose the public to this reality, in the streets of Hebron and anywhere we choose.” The organization’s spokesman, Dean Issacharoff, added that the army prevented its tours in the city on a few occasions in the past but never before prohibited it from entering Hebron.
“The purpose of the tours is provocation,” Noam Arnon, the spokesman for the Jewish community of Hebron, said in a statement. “They knew that at the specific point where they stopped lives a terror widow, Chaya Ra’anan. When they didn’t go to that point, no one interfered in the tours. There was no need to reach that particular point for their explanations; it was clear that it was harassment of the lowest kind of a bereaved family and a widow whose husband was murdered before her eyes. For that reason, we praise the decision of the brigade commander, and for the fact that the true face of this movement has been exposed. Its goal is not to repair faults but rather to create provocations,” Arnon said.