From Khalid Amayreh in Hebron
Thousands of Palestinian orphans on Tuesday took to the streets in this southern West Bank town to protest recent raids by the Israeli occupation army of their orphanages and boarding schools.
Hundreds of Israeli troops, backed up by armored carriers, raided the Islamic Charitable Society in downtown Hebron earlier this week , vandalizing property and looting hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of food materials, clothes, shoes and furniture donated by local and foreign donors for the benefit of the orphans.
The charitable society, the largest in Palestine, runs two orphanages and several boarding schools, which cater for as many as 7000 children who have lost either or both parents.
“Israel is treating us the way Nazi Germany treated the Jews,’ read one of the placards carried by the protesters. “Israel represents the Nazis of our time,” read another sign. A third placard read “We shall triumph.”
Demonstrators marched nearly one kilometer through the Ein Sara street, one of the Hebron’s main thoroughfares, as Palestinian police escorted them.
One of the protesters, Ahmed Natshe, accused Israel of wanting to “annihilate Muslims”
“Israel seeks to justify these criminal onslaughts on Palestinian orphans by citing alleged links with Hamas. However, Israel has utterly failed to present any credible evidence to corroborate these baseless allegations. Israel is acting as judge and plaintiff and policeman combined.”
Natshe said he was sure “a thousand per cent” that the charitable society has “totally and absolutely” no connections with Hamas or any other Palestinian political party.
“They are not stupid. They knew from the very beginning that connections with Hamas would get them in trouble. Hence, they meticulously made sure that no such connections existed.”
Asked why the charity wouldn’t challenge the Israeli army in court, Natshe said “are you serious? It is pointless to appeal to a Zionist court if one is not Jewish.”
“Non-Jews cannot receive justice at a Zionist court. Besides, the entire Israeli justice system is subservient to the Israeli military establishment, which means that Palestinians are guilty even if proven innocent.”
On 6 March, Israeli army troops stormed buildings containing food and clothes inventories, looting large amounts of frozen food, dairy products, clothes and shoes as well as refrigerators and kitchen appliances, local officials and eyewitnesses said.
The looted material were to be used to feed and cloth the orphans.
Ahmed Farrah, a charity official, denied vehemently Israeli insinuations that the charity was run by Hamas.
“We are a charitable society. We have nothing to do with politics. We have been functioning since 1964, before the Israeli occupation, and the Israeli army and intelligence services investigated us numerous times and they never found any evidence suggesting any illegal activities.
“So, the real reason for this hateful campaign is that they want to torment us and weaken the Palestinian society. I think it is an expression of hatred toward Islam and Muslims. Israel today spearheads an ugly war against our religion.”
Last month, the Israeli army stormed and took over several buildings and businesses and other premises owned by the Islamic Charitable Society in the Hebron region.
The army confiscated property, including an orphanage, two schools, a supermarket and several multi-story buildings as well as four buses.
The army brought in huge trucks for moving the looted materials, including computers, cabinets, chairs, kitchen appliances and teaching aids to a nearby army base.
One female student taking part in the demonstration on Tuesday, who speaks English fluently, accused the state of Israel of “conducting itself in a barbarian manner.”
“Who but barbarians would storm orphanages and steal donated food for the orphans? This is a question I put to Jews who have conscience and morality.”
Hejazi al Jabari, a civic leader in Hebron, told protesters he hoped that “your ordeal will be resolved very soon.”
“We are making contacts with government and organizations inside and outside Palestine. We hope to be able to exert sufficient pressure on the Israeli government to cancel these barbaric measures.”
Al-Jabari described Israeli charges that the charitable society was linked to the Hamas organizations as “sheer lies from A to Z.”
“We challenge the Israeli government to produce an iota of evidence proving their charges.”
One local writer and poet accused the Palestinian Authority of Ramallah of “conniving and coordinating with Israel to close the orphanages and boarding schools.”
“I have no doubt that (PA interior minister) Abdul Razzak al Yahya is behind all of this,” said the man who asked for anonymity.
“They are acting like quislings for Israel. Otherwise why are they silent while 7000 orphans are being dumped onto the streets?”