After arriving in Tel Aviv we took a dolmush (my name not theirs) to Jerusalem with several folks from New York and England. I struck up a conversation with the English fellow about what Israel means to him, which is quite a lot. He spoke of the mystic quality of finding his place here in the “countless” times he’s been back, as well as what he calls the the opposite pull within Israeli society to “earthly excess.” I didn’t really probe the meaning of that a whole lot but was very interested to learn he would be headed to Kiryat Arba, the oldest and one of the largest Israeli settlements near Hebron. The man from New York was headed to one of the settlements right inside the city. We ourselves were headed toward Hebron but to see a very different side of it.
The office here is right inside the Old City of Hebron. The old city here, like the old city in Jerusalem, is a tight warren of multi-family living complexes set on very narrow, intentionally twisted streets. On our tour of the city by a rehabilitation committee representative, he spoke of how these houses, all built with a continuous outside facade with little more than differing windows to set them apart, were originally designed to defend again marauding nomads. Defense is an interesting concept now as settlers and Palestinian families occupy building literally walls apart from each other. Soldiers strut above, through and around it all. The tension is palpable as one house that is accessible from one street by one type of person is only accessible on the other side by another type of person. My chances of seeing the fellow I sat next to on the taxi just days before were rendered almost impossible except through razor wire and steel gates.
And this was a big weekend for settlers. A large building complex just outside the old city that has been inhabited by the settlers for a little while was just given eviction orders last weekend that expired on Wednesday. Reports were coming in that some 20,000 folks sympathetic with the settlers came in this weekend to show solidarity. I heard their celebration and saw some parties from the roof of the office, but mostly experienced the affect the long-term presence of the several hundred of them that stay year round has on the Palestinian folks here.
I am not sure how to accurately portray the anguish of the Palestinian residents of Hebron we’ve been meeting with so far. Representatives from various organizations have come to us and we’ve gone to them and all of them tell a very similar story of the hardships of occupation. When one man’s house was occupied, he very luckily won the rights to return to it in an Israeli court but was never given the key to open its military-installed gate. One woman took us on a tour of the mosque where Abraham and Sarah are buried. She showed us spackled bullet holes in the walls of the inner sanctum where Baruch Goldstein gunned down worshippers during prayers in 1994 while she was in a back room. As a result of this action the once complete mosque is now one half mosque and one half temple seperated right in the middle by a steel door.
On an even more basic and tourtously slow level, as you walk through the market every other shop is closed voluntary from lack of business and spotty fencing overhead keeps trash and filth thrown by settlers from hitting passers by.
The pace is very fast and I’m taking a lot in. I’ll have to give you all more details as I can find the words to process them. Tomorrow we leave for Al-Tuwani, the village outside the city in the South Hebron Hills.