I had promised earlier to talk a little more about the work I was doing at HRC. Several months ago, I had answered an online ad seeking an intern to do legal research. After a Skype interview with Nicole, a lawyer from the legal department, I committed to work for them for a month. My initial assignment was to research venues within Europe and possibly the U.S. to bring claims on behalf of Palestinians in Hebron whose human rights were violated. Prior to my arrival, Nicole let me know that the focus of my work would change a bit a to bringing claims in the U.S. There were two primary areas I was asked to research: challenging the tax exempt status of organizations which fund the settlers on the basis that the settlers are committing so many illegal acts against the Palestinian residents.
I’ve talked in previous posts about the horrendous situation in Hebron in which the main street for commerce, Shuhada Street, has been shut down to accommodate just 500 or so illegal Jewish settlers who are trying to reclaim the old city of Hebron. I’ve posted some pictures of the Palestinians shops with doors welded shut by the Israeli authorities. I’ve talked about the devastation to the economy of Hebron and the displacement of 100s of Palestinian families. This was all a result of the terrorist attack by Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish extremist at the Ibrahimi Mosque in 1994, in which he sprayed machine gun fire in the mosque, killing 29 Muslim worshippers. Israel’s response? Rather than protecting the residents of Hebron, they cut off Shuhada Street, the main commercial area of the old city to create a sanctuary for the radical Israeli settlers, and if that was not enough, they divided the Mosque so that one half is now a Jewish synagogue. Mind you, this mosque has been there as an Islamic Mosque, in a city that has been predominantly Muslim for more than 800 years. But, such is justice under Israeli occupation.
HRC is one of the organizations that has tried to make a difference in this imbalanced equation, fighting for the rights of the Palestinians citizens in the face of a brutal, US-financed occupation. Their primary objective has been restoring buildings in the old city for the use of Palestinians and by doing so, helping to restore the economy which has been so devastated by Israel’s sequestration of the area. They are funded by many sources, the government of Norway being a major donor. They have done a remarkable job at restoring many buildings in this amazing old city, by many accounts, the oldest city in the world. So they are doing the double duty of preserving antiquities and preserving living and working space for the indigenous population.
On Sunday, I came into Hebron to drop off my work: two memos on the two different areas of research. Nothing was really scheduled to this end, so I was expecting no more than to just print them out and hand them to someone in the main office who would pass it on to the general director, Emad Hamdan. As it turned out, Emad was there and was eager to hear about my work. We had a brief meeting, and he expressed great appreciation. The general vibe I had gotten throughout my month there was general incredulity that I, a professional with an office in the US, would take time off to come and do volunteer work in Palestine. I met this with my own incredulity that this could be perceived as such a sacrifice. I felt and feel so very honored to have been able to work in this beautiful place amongst these dedicated, resilient people who are working every day, years on end against such incredible odds. By comparison, what I had done is such a tiny drop in the bucket.
Emad presented me with a beautiful book that HRC had commissioned called “Old Hebron: the Charm of a Historical City and Architecture” which will preserve my memories of this charmed and beleaguered place and grace my coffee table for years to come.
I also want to express my warm wishes to some of my HRC cohorts. Unfortunately I did not get a picture of Tawfiq Jashan, the permanent, local staff attorney.
However, here is his secretary Lama who graciously brought me wonderful Turkish coffee on many cold mornings.
I had previously mentioned Sami, (Zbnek Wojowski), the general coordinator guy. Sami is from the Czech Republic and and has been there for seven, going on eight years. He has made himself rather indispensable. He is one of the few fluently English-Arabic, bilingual staff at HRC, in addition to knowing all of the inner workings of the organization. He translated for my initial meeting with Tawfiq during which Tawfiq praised Sami effusively, noting that he was sure that Sami would someday be the president of the Czech Republic. When I mentioned this later to s0me of the others, they laughed about how Tawfiq likes to butter people up, but the message regarding Sami’s value to the organization was clear.
So, here is a picture of Sami, with my office mate Samantha. Samantha is from Canada and is in the legal department doing a volunteer stint helping out on some reports about the local conditions. She provided some good laughs and respite from some heady work.
And finally, Nicole Trudeau is the lawyer from the US who hired me via a Skype interview. I didn’t see a lot of Nicole during my month, as she is out in the field and doesn’t usually work at the HRC buildings.
This is a pic of our initial meeting at one of her favorite hangout places, Q Candy (along with Samantha – they are roommates, btw) which is a kilo or so from the Old City and serves great coffee in any style imaginable for a fraction of what Starbucks charges. Nicole is another attorney who had a left behind a lucrative career as a litigation attorney in Rhode Island to work for a fraction of the pay at HRC. There is something about Palestine that really captivates the soul of many of us internationals.
And then another picture of our final meeting on Sunday for farewells. The young gent is Stephen, also a lawyer doing volunteer work. He is from Bulgaria.
So, in closing, I just want to share some more pictures highlighting the beauty of the old city of Hebron which HRC is so diligently working on to preserve for its indigenous, Palestinian residents. (Keep in mind that you can click on pictures to enlarge them for better viewing.)
Some artifacts in a cubby in the main HRC office.