We ask Palestine’s friends in the U.S. to work to defund Jewish settler groups that push us out of our homes

Frightened Palestinian school children are detained at a checkpoint in Hebron-Al-Khalil (screenshot)

Badia Dwaik

Mondoweiss  /  March 2, 2022

Liberation leaders and protestors from all corners of Historic Palestine marched on the streets of occupied Hebron/Al-Khalil to commemorate the lives taken during the Ibrahimi Mosque massacre. On February 25, 1994, the extremist Jewish settler Baruch Goldstein entered the sacred Ibrahimi Mosque armed with an assault rifle and murdered 29 Palestinian worshipers, injuring another 125 before he was eventually subdued by the crowd. As we gathered with their memories in hand in the last week, we were confronted by Israeli soldiers hurling stun grenades into the crowd, but our cries for freedom and justice could not be drowned out: Defund Racism. 

The whole world is now preoccupied with protecting the Ukrainians, whom we wish safety for, but who is protecting our children, youth, and women in Palestine?! Where is this free world for Palestine that they are talking about?

In these videos, you can see routine abuses that took place in Hebron yesterday: the Israeli occupation soldiers harassing a journalist and detaining about 15 Palestinian children, most of them girls between 6 and 12 years old, inside the military checkpoint at the entrance to Shuhada Street.

The entrance and exit of the checkpoint were closed, turning the children into hostages. The children were crying and frightened.

I screamed into the face of the soldiers who detained the children and asked them to let the children out. Some of the soldiers ignored me, while others laughed, and others replied that the checkpoint could not be opened.

After some time, the occupation soldiers allowed the children to enter. after opening the iron gate, which the soldiers controlled to close.

After that, the extremist settler Ofer Hanna–who regularly intimidates Palestinian demonstrators– followed me and I asked the soldiers to stop Hanna from harassing him, but the occupation soldiers pushed me outside the checkpoint.

February 25 not only marks a dark day in the lives of so many Palestinians, but it also represents another watershed moment of the unchallenged power of the Israeli squatter movement. At the time of the massacre in 1994, I had been captured and held in the Israeli military prison system. During that time, I remember my mother coming to me crying, having to pass through all the dangerous checkpoints to visit me. She told me the horrors of the killings and told me she was happy I wasn’t there that day. She explained that the days that followed were marked by Israeli soldiers and settlers carrying out more violence. Rather than meting out justice to Goldstein’s accomplices, Israeli forces shut down entire Palestinian neighborhoods and streets – all while giving the settler community free rein. 

After my release from prison and the years that followed, the Israeli colonial movement in Hebron leveraged its power within the Israeli military and government, successfully shutting down over 60% of the shops in the Old City. On Shuhada Street alone, Israel forcefully closed some 304 shops and issued another 21 military orders to close homes – displacing some 6,000 Indigenous Palestinians. 

Those of us living in Hebron know the foundational history of the settler movement. We have watched them build their infrastructure independent of the state by exploiting registered charities worldwide. We have watched the Kahanist movement in Hebron thrive, supported in part by the funding of US charities. 

Today, people can readily identify Kahanist Itamar Ben Gvir and his specific brand of racism as a result of his incitement of violence in Sheik Jarrah. He is just the latest in a long line of settlers who have exploited US charities to build a breeding ground for violence in Hebron. Hebron is also home to Baruch Marzel, an extremist who has bragged about killing unarmed Syrians, who has attacked human rights personnel and Palestinian activists in Hebron.

Marzel also has coordinated hate marches with Im Tirzu, a far-right fascist organization that is funded by US-registered charities, which ultimately drove several human rights observer groups out of Hebron. Fellow Kahanist before him, Menachem Livni, and one of the founders of the Jewish Underground – a terrorist organization – is responsible for killing three Palestinian students and injuring two prominent Palestinian political figures. Livni, along with two others, threw grenades and ambushed Palestinians at the Islamic College in Hebron in the summer of 1983. They killed three students and wounded another 33 during the operation. After a short stint  of incarceration, he was released and paid hundreds of thousands of shekels by the Hebron Fund. 

Backed by Zionist organizations masquerading as charities, the settler movement has amassed power through welfare initiatives, settlement funding, and ideological projects. It has gained significant influence within Israeli politics, and its ability to channel hundreds of millions of dollars through international charities has turned settler groups into juggernauts in Israeli electoral politics. After all, when settler organizations give you $34,000 to help you kick a Palestinian family out of their home like they are trying with the al Bakri family, who are you going to vote for — with whom are your allegiances? 

From the Naqab and East Jerusalem to Khan al-Ahmar and the South Hebron Hills, these settler organizations have represented the financial nexus of our displacement and subjugation. Palestinians from these communities have raised the call to stop these charities.

The Campaign to Defund Racism, a broad coalition of Palestinian organizations and international allies, has called for our international supporters to challenge and change the laws that allow charities to underwrite our dispossession and erasure. Rather than adopting another liberal Zionist style ‘educational campaign’, the campaign aims for structural, material change. In partnership with the Palestinian Youth Movement, Jewish Voice for Peace, American Muslims for Palestine and others, a movement is growing in the United States to challenge the charitable status of these organizations. 

As Palestinians here stand on the front lines of colonial violence, risking arrests, beatings, and death, we are calling on allies to step into this call and leverage their resources for this critical call to Defund Racism. 

Badia Dwaik is the Coordinator of Human Rights Defenders Group in Palestine and an activist in Hebron/Al-Khalil