Why is Hebron such a particular city in the West Bank? What makes it so different from other large Palestinian towns, such as Bethlehem, Ramallah or Nablus? Why do people I ask about it often radically answer they hate it, they hate everything about it, sometimes even especially the people there?
Let’s take Nablus for example. Here is what a friend told me happened there a couple of nights ago: “now all of Nablus is full of soldiers and there’s like a small war, a lot of soldiers entered the city”. I asked why, as if there needs to be a reason. No official reason anyway. He said: “A lot of guys there, in Nablus, are defenders for Palestine, so Israel wants these guys who are fighting or thinking about doing something to soldiers. So the spies who working with Israel, and these spies are Palestinians, they tell the soldiers, so they enter the city center and people throw stones and rocks at them, and tear gas bombs, everything.” Every day life in a Palestinian city. It’s occupation, even if the city is classified Zone A, which means under full Palestinian control, the Israeli army, who by the why circles the whole city with military camps all around, goes in at night, sometimes to arrest people, sometimes not. It’s a night patrol, sometimes they have operations, sometimes it’s practice. Even if just practice means entering a home in the middle of the night, messing it up and leaving for no reason. No peace, no rules.
A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY
Let’s get back to Hebron. Why is it so different? In Hebron, Jewish settlers are actually living in the center of town. And I’m not talking about the regular, secular settlers who move to the West Bank because it’s cheaper to live there. Hebron, where lies Abraham, is a very important place to Judaism. I’m talking about very radical and extremist Jews, some people don’t even call them Jews, they only call them Zionists.
– Abraham’s Tomb on the right, bullet proof glass on the left. The picture is taken from the side of the Mosque, opposite is the synagogue –
For many years, Jews and Muslims lived peacefully side by side in Hebron, praying in the same building, besides Abraham’s Tomb, Abraham being as important to Judaism as he is to Islam. How come there is today bullet proof glass just beside Abraham’s tomb? On February 25th, 1994, American-born Israeli Baruch Goldstein, member of the right Israeli Kach movement walked in the Mosque of Abraham at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron carrying an IMI Galil assault rifle and opened fire. The massacre ended when he run out of ammunition, then was overcome and beaten to death by survivors. That morning, he killed 29 Muslim worshipers and wounded 125 others.
– A mark in the wall from the shooting in Abraham’s Mosque in 1994 –
In reaction, Arabs started riots all over Palestine, which led to the death of more than 26 Palestinians and 9 Israelis. Two suicide bombings took place at the end of the forty day mourning period for the victims, resulting in the death of 15 Israeli civilians.
Thousands of Israelis traveled to Goldstein’s grave to celebrate his actions. Until 1999, when a law against monuments to terrorists was passed in Israel, Goldstein’s shrine subsisted and the grave’s epitaph said that Goldstein “gave his life for the people of Israel, its Torah and land.” A poll found that 78.8% of Israeli adults condemned the Hebron massacre. It seems like a very small number to me. Prime minister Yitzhak Rabin addressed Goldstein, his legacy and other settlers he considered militants, saying “you are a shame on Zionism and an embarrassment to Judaism.”
CONSEQUENCES TODAY AND EVERYDAY LIFE IN HEBRON
Now just a year before this massacre, the Oslo accords where launched, so when the Israeli military , every one thought it would be to take the settlers out of Hebron, which is a part of the West Bank. Twenty years later, they still live there.
This series of events was a turning point for Hebron. Israeli soldiers where sent to occupy the city center in order to protect “the entire population” of the city. This is how they explain it to the international public. In practice, they protect the Israeli settlers.
First of all, the old Souk is one of the most famous places in Hebron. It’s basically like any other Souk. Unless you look up at the fencing, on which has been throne garbage; coming from the houses above de Souk where settlers live.
From beneath, when you’re walking in the Souk, you see the Israeli flags of the settlers above. Whether this image represents someone in a cage looking up at an oppressive symbol, or whether it’s the violent image of someone putting the Israeli flag behind bars, I guess it’s up to each person to make up there own idea about this image.
This is a map of Hebron, representing in red the road for Israelis, in blue roads for Palestinians. It’s a little more complicated than that, but nonetheless the red line is where you will find checkpoints and soldiers, all along.
To go to the Mosque of Abraham, Palestinians must go through three checkpoints, where they are always asked if they are carrying a knife, if they do I think they will be arrested. As you’ll see later, some people are aloud to carry around other forms of weapons…
Until a couple of years ago, a wall would separate the street in two, one where Israelis could walk and one where Palestinians would walk. Things have gotten a little “calmer” since, so the wall has been taken away, but it has left a mark in the road.
This is the only Palestinian store we found open close the Jewish houses.
This is the Israeli side of Hebron:
This is a along the famous red street you saw on the map earlier. It used to be the busy Arab market but since the second Intifada, they have not been allowed to open. Arab people living above where also not allowed to used their front door to go in and out of their homes. They use windows or ladders. Many of them have left.
This is how an Israeli sign explains the closing of the stores.
As it was Shabbat when I was their, the streets where not very busy but we did see a few local people passing by.
We were able to stop and talk to this guy, on the left. On the right is our Palestinian guide (who speaks Hebrew). Now this chap doesn’t come from Hebron. He is just studying there. It was good and even necessary to have a Jewish point of view on Hebron, and he told us: “No one wants to live with soldiers every meter, but we will do it if we have to, to be able to live here.”
He also said something like “all Palestinians here want us gone and want us thrown in the see.” To which our guide answered: “no, that’s not true, I don’t want you thrown in the sea!” The guy looked a little surprised, a little bewildered and he shook hands with our guide and smiled at him before moving on.
Those guys carrying machine guns, we didn’t even try to talk to them. Just another nonchalant walk through Hebron for them, I guess. THESE ARE NOT SOLDIERS, they a civilians. Jewish civilians in Hebron are allowed and sometimes even ADVISED to carry a gun with them every time they go out in the street.
We then started walking to the home where we were expected for lunch. There were two possibilities: a five minute walk, or a twenty-five minute walk with big hills. As our guide is Palestinian, he isn’t allowed to go the short way round, so we had to go the more difficult way, up the hills and down again. We walked through the Muslim cemetery where amongst others, are buried the 29 victims of the 1994 massacre.
We had a good view on the military camp on the hill overlooking Hebron, that is easily noticed by this large Menorah.
We walked by some Israeli buildings, where some of the history is written down for naive visitors.
On a same wall, you’ll find “Shalom Arab!” and “Gas the Arabs.” No wonder some Palestinians, even a large number of Palestinians feel like they are paying the price of the Shoah.
We walked by a Jewish home where we saw a couple of kids handling a gun. It could have been a toy, it could have been a real one. In Hebron, it is well known that the tensions can be felt even between kids. When Palestinian kids walk through a Jewish neighborhood to go to school, it is not uncommon that they will be yelled at and thrown stones at by the Israeli children.
“Free Israel”. Quite ironic, when you know that it’s Israel that is occupying Palestinian territories. When you know the Oslo accords declared Hebron a Palestinian city, where Palestinian law should be applied, like it is in Bethlehem, Nablus or Ramallah.
This wall was built here during the second intifada to protect Israelis walking by from the aim of Palestinian riffle coming from a close hill top. Today, this street leads to Palestinian homes. Palestinians CANNOT drive along this road, they can only walk through. Why could they be more threatening driving a car than walking by? No real answer. Our guide told me simply that such restrictions put pressure on the people so that they leave. And the law of absentees is quite clear here, if you leave, your house isn’t yours anymore.
We had lunch at the home of Hashem Azzeh.
THE PRESIDENT OF THE JEWISH DEFENSE LEAGUE (world wide president) LIVES IN HEBRON, AND HAS INSTALLED HIS CARAVAN JUST ABOVE HASHEM’S HOUSE. We can see it from Hashem’s house. We can see they throw garbage into his garden.
Hashem is now surrounded by Jewish homes. Once, when a new neighbour arrived, Hashem too a bag of grapes from his garden and knocked on the door. The new neighbour looked surprised, wondering why he was offered grapes. Hashem just said he wanted to welcome him, he wanted to live in peace, to live side by side, saying “the land belongs to God, let us share it.” I have met some Jews who actually believe the exact same thing. But this one responded to Hashem in a different way: “You want peace? Leave here, go the Egypt, or Jordan, or Iraq. This land is a promise from God to us, you have no right here.”
After talking about himself and his story, Hashem invited us into his home and showed true Palestinian hospitality by offering a great meal.
After lunch, we went to explore the other side of Hebron, that is exclusively Palestinian. You go through a checkpoint, and then see these signs: