JVP protests Hebron Fund as part of Open Shuhada Street Campaign
Last month, Jewish Voice for Peace Columbia/Barnard held a protest outside the office of the Hebron Fund, a Brooklyn based organization that provides financial assistance to Jewish settlers in the Palestinian city of Hebron.
A group of about 30 protesters demanded that the government revoke the Hebron Fund’s status as a tax-exempt non-for-profit because the group supports the expansion of the settler presence in the West Bank, according to activists. It is official U.S. policy to not support Israeli settlement expansion.
The demonstration against the Hebron Fund was organized as part of JVP’s involvement in the Open Shuhada Street campaign. Youth Against Settlements, a Hebron-based Palestinian organization, started the campaign to bring attention to the occupation of Hebron and the closure of Shuhada Street. Shuhada was once the town’s main street, but has been almost completely closed to Palestinians since the Ibrahimi Mosque massacre in 1994.
According to Ilana Rossoff, JVP’s Midwest organizer, JVP participated in a briefing with Youth Against Settlement’s founder Issa Amro to learn more about the situation in Hebron. Youth Against Settlements then reached out to JVP and asked them if they could take part in the campaign.
“We felt it was really important to respond directly to that request and be active allies and really be there for people who have done work to educate us and inform us, and kind of be in relationship with us” Rossoff said.
Besides the protest against the Hebron Fund, JVP also took part in Open Shuhada Street with an online campaign calling on the Obama Administration to pressure the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to investigate the tax status of organizations that support Israeli settlements. About 10,000 emails were sent to the White House during the campaign last week. JVP also wrote op-eds about these tax-exempt organizations and reached out to congress people asking them to take action on social media.
According to Rossof, JVP chose the Hebron Fund as the target for their in-person action because of its direct link to the Israeli settlements in Hebron.
“We really saw it as sort of quintessential sort of archetype of the ways that American communities are really reinforcing the further entrenchment of the occupation in Hebron and beyond, but given that we were really putting the spotlight on Shuhada Street, we wanted to also specifically target an organization whose financing in settlements and settler ideology really specifically impacted Hebron,” Rossoff said.
During the protest, students read testimonies from Palestinians in Hebron and held up photos of settlement homes and closed storefronts on Shuhada Street. They also held up a banner that read “Open Shuhada Street – Hebron Fund is #NotExempt.” Rossoff explained that because the Hebron Fund’s office is really small, the organizers decided that rather than completely shutting the building down, they should instead focus on highlighting the impact that the organization has on the town of Hebron.
“We took it as the opportunity to kind of directly contrast Hebron Fund’s office with the reality of what they’re funding…and really just created a very visual experience for people to contrast, this is the Hebron Fund, seemingly innocuous organization here in Brooklyn, with this is actually what they’re doing, this is actually the impact,” she said.
Overall, Rossoff believes that the protest against the Hebron Fund is part of a larger strategy to send a message about U.S. support for Israeli settlement expansion.
“I think that this isn’t meant to be a total isolated high impact thing, I think this was really meant to be part of a series of way that different organizations in the movement are really looking at how the U.S. is totally enabling the occupation to continue and particularly with settlement funding,” Rossoff said.
According to its website, the Hebron Fund supports Jewish settlers in Hebron by providing funding for a variety of humanitarian, cultural, and educational causes.
”A primary goal of the organization is the raising of capital for the improvement of daily life for the residents of Hebron, Israel,” its website says. “This includes funding for all parks, playgrounds, recreation centers, after-school programs, libraries, and summer youth activities; as well as sponsorship of public cultural and educational events in Hebron.”