On June 19th 2012, activists from the We are all Hana Shalabi network spoke with Issa Amro, coordinator of the Youth Against Settlements (YAS) group in Hebron.
YAS is a national Palestinian non-partisan activist group which, through non-violent popular struggle and civil disobedience, seeks to end Israeli colonization activities in Palestine. They are based in the city of Hebron, where approximately 500 religious extremists have established a settlement right in the heart of the city centre. The Palestinian residents of the city are subject to Israeli military rule. Supposedly so as to protect these extremist settlers the military has imposed a regime of forced evictions, curfews, market closures, street closures, military checkpoints, frequent random searches and detention without charge. Approximately 13,000 Palestinian civilian have fled their homes in the city centre as a result.
We are all Hana Shalabi met with Issa shortly after his release from Ofer prison, an Israeli prison close to Ramallah. Following a successful action co-ordinated by YAS on Shuhada Street the previous Wednesday, Issa had been arrested at the Jordanian border as he made his way to Italy for a speaker tour organized by the Italian Peace Association. We spoke to Issa just before he left to pick up on the second half of his tour where he would meet with members of the Italian Parliament and Senate, and municipality representatives from different Italian cities.
We are all Hana Shalabi: What is the specific nature of the occupation in Hebron?
Issa Amro: Something very important to realise is that the situation is much much more than occupation here. You can find so much more than occupation in Hebron – ethnic cleansing, Human Rights abuse, apartheid, a quiet transfer policy for Palestinians who are living in the occupied part of the town… The situation in Hebron is rare. They are trying to de-palestinianize and judaize a very important part of the city. It is an attempt to change or steal the Palestinian identity of Hebron.
But you can also see the more normal sides to the occupation in Hebron. Shops are closing both under military order and due to the poor economic conditions enduced by the military occupation, there are checkpoints, and so on. I encourage you to read the Ghost Town report produced by B’Tselem.
The settlements and house confiscation projects are carried out by the introduction of false documents claiming that these Palestinian homes have been bought. Yet at the same time there is much settler violence and intimidation in the area. All of this is working to expel the Palestinians from their own homes so as to achieve Israel’s big goal of making Hebron Jewish and stealing Hebron’s history.
W.a.a.H.S.: How did you experience the hunger strikes of the past few months in the context of your struggle here in Hebron?
I.A.: The Palestinians have been using non-violent tactics for a long time. In 1936 the Palestinians went on general strike for 6 months. Now that they are in prison, prisoners have no other means to gain the rights that they are denied. The hunger strike is one of the most important non-violent tools for gaining one’s rights. Israel is breaking international law in detaining Palestinians with neither charge nor judgement. We must realise that Israel is using the military to gain political achievements, and not towards security or military aims. They are arresting political leaders from Fatah and Hamas into administrative detention.
In Hebron, Youth Against Settlements organised to increase awareness about the hunger strikers. The prisoners’ club in Hebron organised many activities alongside too. There was a solidarity sit-in tent in the city 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, from Khader Adnan’s struggle up to the big victory of the other prisoners.
W.a.a.H.S.: What do you think is, or will be, the significance of the hunger strikes?
I.A.: It is very important in raising awareness of the Palestinians’ struggle, as it shows that we are resisting. It has reminded people that Israel is still occupying Palestine, and that this is not a situation of a war between two states. The hunger strikes resist the occupation and teach the Palestinian children about the ugly face of the Israeli occupation, and the importance of non-violent action to end the occupation.
At the same time, the prisoners also got a lot of achievements from this strike. They won back some of their basic rights.
W.a.a.H.S.: What is your analysis of the Palestinian resistance at the moment, and in particular the non-violent popular resistance?
I.A.: Until now, there is no massive non-violent revolution, but the weekly demonstrations are indicators that some day we will reach out to the Palestinian community in a large way. The non-violent popular resistance is about convincing our community about non-violence, and trying to change the image of Palestinians as terrorists. It is about overcoming the image that Palestinians like and want to die.
Over time it is growing. People are joining the non-violent resistance movement, but it’s slow. It is not a rush – we will not overthrow the occupation over night. But reaching a massive non-violent participation in the new generation is very important.
W.a.a.H.S.: What is the position of yourself and YAS on the one-state/two-state solution question?
I.A.: It is very important that we talk about ending the occupation before we talk about the solution. I am with both possibilities. If my people choose the two-state solution, I will support it so long as everyone can go back to their own land, so long as everyone is treated equally and according to international law. It there are two separate states, the right to return for Palestinian refugees must be upheld, all settlements must be removed and dismantled, and we must not lose one centimetre from the 1967 borders.
First we must have the end of the occupation before we can discuss solutions. We cannot have peace with our occupiers – the normal relation between the occupied and their occupiers is resistance.