Photostory: Breaking the Silence’s tour disrupted

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On 27 June, I took part in one of the regular tours of the West Bank city of Hebron and its settlements organized by the organization Breaking the Silence. Breaking the Silence is a group of Israeli army soldiers and veterans who work to expose the injustice of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Once more, the tour was disrupted because of the settlers.

Before the start of the tour, organizer Yehuda Shaul — one of the founders of Breaking the Silence and a former Israeli soldier who served 14 months in Hebron — warned the group that it was uncertain if the tour would proceed as planned. During the previous tour of Hebron, on 17 June, Israeli settlers attacked the tour group and threw boiling liquid at them, injuring a Spanish photographer. Nevertheless, Yehuda asked that we not answer answer to the settlers’ provocations no matter what happened.

At the first stop in Kiryat Arba settlement next to Hebron, a group of settlers, including children, were already waiting for the bus to arrive. As soon as we exited the bus, they quickly surrounded us and started to shout and prevented Yehuda from moving and talking about the settlement. Israeli police intervened but let the settlers continue their disruption.

One of the settlers was speaking through a loudspeaker so loud that it made it impossible to hear Yehuda. The tour was also prevented from visiting the grave of Baruch Goldstein, an American-born Israeli settler who massacred 29 worshipping Palestinians and injured many more when he attacked Hebron’s Ibrahimi Mosque in 1994. He is seen by many settlers as a hero and his gravestone celebrating the massacre has become a site of pilgrimage.

After the group returned to the bus to leave for the Old City of Hebron, the settlers sat on the road and stood in front of the bus to prevent it from moving. They blatantly disrupted public order and the police who stood nearby had no intention to fine them or intervene to allow the tour to proceed. In Hebron, there seems to be no law enforcement to keep the settlers in order, despite the impressively large number of soldiers and police available in the streets, greatly outnumbering the settlers.

The Old City’s 700 Jewish settlers are known for their violent intimidation and harassment, not only towards the 150,000 Palestinians that live in Hebron — which as a result, parts of the city have become a ghost town with most Palestinian businesses forced to close and families forced to leave — but also towards visitors, both Israeli and international.

After around one hour of negotiation with the Israeli police, the bus finally passed through the gate of Kiryat Arba and to the Old City of Hebron. We reached the Cave of the Patriarchs, a holy place both for Jews and Muslims, where we found the same group of settlers waiting for us. They used some barriers to try to prevent us from getting off the bus, then they ran to the toilets to close them when they understood that some of the group wanted to use the restrooms. They verbally abused us, calling us “Nazis” and “traitors.”

People on the tour filming and photographing were harassed and it became impossible to document what was happening. The police made a rather timid attempt to remove the settlers from the road but they failed. The police then asked the tour to go back to the bus, and it drove away to the settlers’ dancing and cheering the end of the Breaking the Silence tour in Hebron.

Yehuda assured us that other tours are planned, and if the aim of the journey was to expose the public to the brutal reality of what is happening in Hebron, then the Breaking the Silence tour did just that. It was an eye-opener not only for the many foreign visitors but also for the few Israelis that went to see the other side of the story to understand the gravity of the situation in the city of Hebron.

For many, the most disturbing aspect was that the Palestinians of Hebron were barely seen throughout the tour. The Palestinian residents have become the ghosts of Hebron due to the few hundred Israeli settlers who have terrorized the local population for years and forced them to leave the once vibrant Palestinian city. The few Palestinians who remain in the Old City live in constant fear.

As Yehuda said in his introduction, “What you will see in Hebron is a laboratory.” If he means that the Hebron model in which the illegal colonizing of the land continues, it is at the expense of the Palestinians who have lived there for hundreds of years and will be forced out of their homeland. Let us hope that the future will prove him wrong because as long as the settlements continue to occupy Palestinian land and settlers are given free reign to terrorize the local population, then there can be no peace in Israel/Palestine, no solution, and no future for the Palestinians apart from becoming ghosts in their own country.

Anne Paq is a freelance photographer and member of the collective Activestills (

All images by Anne Paq.

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