Wednesday, October 15, 1997

The Shuhada Fiasco

The Shuhada Fiasco
October 15, 1997

Hebron’s main street, connecting its three Jewish neighborhoods, beginning at the Jewish Quarter-The Avraham Avinu neighborhood, passing Beit Romana, Beit Schneerson, and the Beit Hadassah complex, leading up to Tel Rumeida-Admot Ishai, is called in Hebrew Rechov David HaMelech - King David Street. The Arabs call it Shuhada - the Road of the Martyrs. We know which martyrs they refer to.

This road has been closed to Arab vehicular traffic for almost four years. It was closed as a security precaution. Intelligence reports narrowed out this road as a primary target for terrorist attacks. Even with the road closed children, walking back and forth, have been attacked. A teenage girl had an axe thrown at her. She narrowly escaped serious injury. Children have been beaten up by Arabs. Rocks were tossed at passing cars.

The Hebron Accords, implemented last January, demand the reopening of this street to all Arab traffic. American funding, to the tune of well over a million dollars, was allocated to ‘renovate and beautify’ the road. The budget was exceeded by over 100%. Work that began in March, and which was supposed to have been finished in May was completed just over two weeks ago. The street is now adorned with the narrowest sidewalks imaginable. Tropic-looking trees, a cross between palm and pineapple trees were planted in the middle of the street - in the middle of Hebron.

The steep hill leading to Tel Rumeida was supposed to have been partially leveled. It wasn’t. A very narrow stretch of street was supposed to have been widened. It wasn’t. And guess what the contractor also forgot: to install any sewers. When it rains - and in Hebron it does rain - this main street will be transformed into a canal. When this was pointed out to the contractor he said “Oh, you’re right - we forgot them - but it will be OK.”

Why does Hebron’s Jewish Community protest the planned reopening of the street? There are two basic reasons. This is the only street available to Hebron’s Jewish residents, connecting the neighborhoods. There is another street, parallel to this one, that was once available for our use. Today, in spite of the fact that it is located in the Israeli-controlled part of Hebron, Israeli Security Forces refuse to allow us to use it. Men, women and children walk back and forth on this road. Jewish buildings are located on the road. Possible car bombs, kidnappings and other forms of attack are tremendously heightened when the road is full of Arab traffic. This is aside from the massive confusion which will take place when Arab vehicles, including buses and trucks roll down the street.

It must also not be forgotten that Hebron was the scene of massive violence for over two months. Rock and firebomb attacks against Jewish civilians and soldiers continued during March-April and May-June. If this road is open territory to hundreds of Arabs the same attacks which took place 100-150 meters away from the Jewish neighborhoods could very possibly occur INSIDE THE JEWISH NEIGHBORHOODS THEMSELVES. If an Arab leader, such as Arafat or Jibril Rajoub should give the signal, hundreds of Arabs would be in a position to immediately attack. The results would be unthinkable.

What alternative is there? Hebron’s community leaders suggested a ‘bypass road’ - an alternative route which could be paved with little difficulty in an area presently unoccupied by any houses or other buildings. This would allow free Arab access from one side of the city to the other with minimum delay or bother. Israelis throughout Judea and Samaria have been forced to use numerous ‘bypass roads’ since the onset of Oslo. There is no reason why Arabs in Hebron cannot use an alternative route, allowing them the access they need, without endangering Jewish lives in Israeli-controlled Hebron.

Hebron community leaders have approached the Prime Minister, Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai and others concerning this problem. Netanyahu and Mordechai seem to be set on opening the road, for unknown reasons. It should be remembered that the Israeli cabinet decided, following the terrorist bombing on Ben Yehuda Street, to stop turning over any further land to the palestinian authority. There is no reason why this street should be transformed into a primarily Arab road, when all other transactions have been frozen. Also, according to the Hebron Accords, this road opening should be incumbent on a ‘normalization’ of relations in Hebron. This normalization is far from being a reality.

Next week, thousands of visitors to Hebron will be asked to send a postcard to the Prime Minister, demanding that he refrain from reopening King David Street to Arab traffic, thereby endangering the continued existence of the Jewish community of Hebron. Postcards and letters can be sent to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, The Prime Minister’s Office, Kiryat Ben Gurion, Jerusalem, Israel. The Jewish Community of Hebron requests that you assist us in preventing the Shuhada fiasco from becoming transformed into a catastrophe.