‘It was a Palm Sunday like no other in the Holy City. The streets that are usually thronged with pilgrims on the day marking the eve of Holy Week were empty.’ So reported my friend, a Jewish peace activist based in Jerusalem, when I talked to her in Holy Week.
No palm-waving Christians, no donkey. All was still. No pilgrims in the holy places. No city has escaped the Covid-19 pandemic. It was an Easter like no other as the threats and rumblings of annexation following Netanyahu’s announcement continued, and the inhabitants of the West Bank in occupied Palestine braced themselves for the possibility of further displacement.
Since March almost all internationals have left the West Bank in occupied Palestine, repatriated by order of their governments. People around the world are vulnerable to the virus, but the Israeli occupation has made access to healthcare in Palestine very difficult. The current lack of international human rights monitors also means that there is no longer a protective presence in the region and fewer people reporting on the situation from the ground, meaning even less accountability for settler violence.
A few weeks ago in South Hebron Hills two sheep, belonging to the Palestinian shepherds in the village of Um al Khair, were intentionally killed by a settler. When the locals asked the settler why he had killed the sheep, the response was unapologetic: ‘He started laughing and left’.
Suleiman, a community leader at Um al Khair, attempted to report the crime but was foiled as the police office in Hebron was closed due to the virus restrictions. This lack of access to justice is common in everyday life not just in this time of pandemic. The Israeli legal organisation Yesh Din reports that;
Um al Khair faces difficulties on a regular basis because of the adjacent settlement of Carmel. In late 2017, night-time stone throwing by settlers interrupted the sleep of the adults and children of the community for more than 100 nights.
The women and children of Um al Khair decided to demonstrate their requests for quiet nights to their neighbours by peaceful means. They made their requests on placards and on the side of the community tent nearest the settlement. They wrote their requests in English so that their neighbours could read the modest appeals: ‘love your neighbours, let us sleep, stop the stones’. Whether by coincidence relating to Suleiman’s ever-resilient attempts at reporting to the authorities or by the effect of the peaceful protest, the stone throwing stopped and the ability to sleep was restored to all. Not all settlers are stone-throwers or violent but being good neighbours requires building good relationships and the climate of occupation is not conducive to that possibility.
Suleiman denied access to reporting settler violence
Graffiti on a tent at Um Al Khair as part of the peaceful protest