The reaction of many people in the US to my stated plan to visit Palestine has been a breathless, “Be Careful!”, as though I were about to enter an active combat zone. In a sense, it is, in that Israel Defense Soldiers (more appropriately, Israel Offense Soldiers) are a constant presence in and threat to Palestinian life.
This is a shot I took the yesterday in the old city of Hebron. I was chatting was a shop owner when this little squad came stomping by. The street was quiet and there was nothing particular going on, but they constantly make their presence known. They are there for the sole purpose of protecting the 700 or so extremist, squatting Israelis who have decided to make their home in the middle of Hebron – a major Palestinian area for at least the past 800 years. And by most accounts, the IDF soldiers here outnumber the settlers. The visceral reaction is a quiet, angry tension, biting one’s tongue until the big guns have moved on by.
The irony is that this grossly disproportionate military presence in Hebron all started after an extremist Jewish settler entered the Ibrahimi Mosque and started spraying the Muslim worshippers with machine gun fire, killing 29 of them and wounding many more. Instead of taking actions to protect the Palestinians, Israel sent in the IDF to harass them by imposing severe limitations on their movement and the use of their own property. Even though the indigenous residents of Hebron were victimized by this brutal attack, Israel provided its protection to the perpetrators of the violence. It is worth noting that the attacker, Baruch Goldstein is venerated by the radical settlers as a great hero of their cause of reclaiming Hebron, even though it was never theirs in the first place. This is the epitaph engraved on his grave stone:
“The revered Dr. Baruch Kapel Goldstein… Son of Israel. He gave his soul for the sake of the people of Israel, The Torah, and the Land. His hands are clean and his heart good… He was assassinated for the Sanctity of God” – See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/2013/07/murderer-baruch-goldstein#sthash.tNywWy2R.dpuf
A little of the settler’s narrative is worth noting. The radical settlers hope to reclaim all of Hebron as it is the locale of the Tomb of the Patriarchs where Abraham and some of his progeny are buried, as well as Rachel’s tomb. Their claim, of course, goes back several thousand years in time. No only that, these patriarchs are sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. They provide the roots for all three religions. Until the Balfour Declaration announcing the creation of a state of Israel, people from all three groups lived quite peacably together. It was only when the indigenous population started to feel threatened by the influx of European Jews and their creeping confiscation of land that widespread violence between Palestinians and Jews erupted.
In the early 1900s, there was a small community of Jews living in Hebron which was primarily Muslim. Because of the perceived threat from the influx of European Jews, there were riots in Hebron and 67 Jewish Hebronites were killed . In response, the British government exiled the remaining Jews from Hebron who numbered around 400. This is the event that the modern, Jewish settlers, many of whom herald from the Bronx, New York, use as their justification to retake the city, even though they comprised only a tiny minority for many hundreds of years, while simultaneously giving a hearty nod of approval to the much more recent brutal mosque massacre by one of their own.
These signs are from the settler-only portion of the old city of Hebron and tell a very 1984-esque version of events – a narrative embraced by many Zionists of both Jewish and fundamentalist Christian persuasions. Well financed American foundations bring in busloads of people to which to spoon feed this propaganda and seek ever more funding for the purpose of pushing out the Palestinians. In addition to the small Jewish presence in the city of Hebron, there are two large settlements outside of the city with around 7,000 settlers. As mentioned in an earlier post, these tour groups also arrogantly traipse through the Muslim section of the old city flanked by IDF soldiers. It is a continuous reminder to the inhabitants that their presence in their ancient homeland is under constant threat.
Just a few years ago, this banner hung prominently in the the section of Hebron taken over by the settlers. Apparently the powers that be thought that was just a tad too inflammatory and perhaps didn’t play well to the media and had it taken down.
This picture is taken from the point where the old city street leading to my office begins. To the right are concrete blocks delineating the section of the old city taken over by the settlers. The large building to the right was a Palestinian school. When it was turned over to the settlers, they built on top it, destroying the historical integrity of the building. You can see a solider standing watch on top. Straight ahead is an ancient building not yet confiscated by Israel but left in a state of dangerous disrepair because Israel will not allow its rehabilitation. Not only is this yet another piece of Palestinian cultural heritage left to waste (HRC was ready and willing to do the rehab), it is also a hazard as whole sections of buildings like this often collapse during extreme weather events.
So, about the question of my own personal safety that I keep countering, here is the scariest thing that has happened to me during all of my time in the West Bank. The other day, I took a walk in the fields and up the hill behind my apartment building. I wanted to get a closer look at the Har Hona settlement which is one of the several settlements which are slowly and with planned deliberation, separating East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank.
Here it is, complete with its ugly separation wall and watch towers.
As I approached the top of the hill, I noticed the hulks of about a half dozen sleeping, feral dogs. I have heard stories of packs of dogs viciously attacking people, so I quickly and quietly backed away, hoping to avoid arousing their attention. Just as I thought I was in the clear, one started barking and charging toward me. With an adrenalin rush, I instinctively reached down and grabbed a couple of large stones. The dog took notice and backed away. Of course the dog didn’t know that I can’t throw worth beans, but the gesture was enough to signal danger to the dog. To me, it was a visceral experience of the power that one can feel in wielding a stone. If only the stones thrown by young Palestinian boys evoked a similar response from the occupiers.
For anyone interested, you can read more about how the settlements in and around Hebron are making Palestinian life extremely difficult. http://electronicintifada.net/content/hebron-settlements-make-palestinian-life-nearly-impossible/7138