Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Report from Palestine 7

by: Michael Berg

July 17

Today children spat on me.

I left Jerusalem and headed south to Hebron. When I got there I was looking for a hotel and a woman name Leila with a small store invited me to stay with her family for 50 shekels, so I decided to do that.

She lives in the old souk their store is kind of like a grotto in the Souk. The souk is an amazing place, but it is also sad, due to the occupation.

I went through the souk until I got to the checkpoint to get into the Ibrahim Mosque. The situation seemed familiar - I did this before 12 years ago. Leaving the souk there is a revolving door into the mosque area. Israeli soldiers control when the door does and doesn't move. At the gate they ask your for ID and then ask what your religion is. I remembered from before - the correct answer is Christian if you want to enter both parts of the mosque where Abraham and other biblical people are supposedly buried.

Israeli soldiers frisk all who enter the Muslim side of the mosque. When you go to the Jewish side they just look to make sure that you are the right type of person. The Jewish side consists of well over 3/4 of the mosque.

The mosque was divided after radical settler Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 people and injured around 100 more with a machine gun in 1994. (The Palestinian man who ended the massacre by hitting Goldstein over the head with a fire extinguisher was put in prison for years for murder). An almost equal number of Palestinians were killed in the subsequent Israeli quelling of the popular anger that came of it. Goldstein's grave is now a revered shrine for settlers in the area.

For settlers, however, the most important massacre in Hebron's history occurred 65 years earlier in 1929. In this year Muslim Palestinians killed 69 Jews. They were responding to a false rumor that Jews were planning to destroy the al-Aqsa mosque and Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. This attack devastated the already dwindling Jewish community in Hebron. It abandoned the town completely, then some people briefly returned, then they left again.

The Hebron settlement movement began in 1969 when a rabbi checked into the Park Hotel in Hebron and refused to leave. The Israeli government convinced the man to move into a military outpost near Hebron instead. From there he attracted followers and bit by bit they expanded the outpost into the settlement named Kiryat Arba. From this place on the edge of town settlers took over 5 other locations in the middle of town.

In other West Bank cities the Palestinian Authority has jurisdiction over the central urban zones, but in Hebron a large section of the city is completely controlled by the Israeli military.

The settlers say that they are reclaiming the Jewish property taken in 1929. This is a bit of a stretch as a legal claim given that the settlers are not the decedents of the displaced Hebron Jewish community. But the principal is a just one - the hundreds of members of the Hebron Jewish community pushed out in 1929 and their decedents should be allowed to return. Of course, if this principal is applied fairly, the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians pushed out from their homes and farms in 1948 and their millions of decendents should be allowed to return to what is now called Israel.

In reality settlers have no real concern with the concept of fairness. I think that all the rhetoric about the 1929 massacre that I saw in the Gutnick museum and on plaques on their streets is there only because it gives a veneer of sanity to their lunatic ideas. They will not be content to control all the previously Jewish owned buildings. They want to control the entire city and kick all of the Palestinians out. To them God gave them this land - the people who are there right now are just in the way.

The settlers refer to Palestinians as rats and cockroaches. They call "Nazi" all who support the Palestinian right to, say, walk without having acid or urine or stones thrown at them. They are extreme - maybe the most extreme - but that are part of the same Zionist narrative that unfortunately shapes this land from Eilat to the Golan Heights: the colonizer sees himself as the native and sees the native as a colonizer.

I went on one patrol mission with the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH). In 1994 after the massacre Arafat threatened to pull out of the Oslo process unless the UN came into Hebron to protect Palestinians from settlers. Israel would not allow the UN, but they did allow the multinational TIPH.

TIPH monitors the situation. They take photographs and make reports. They never touch anyone. Their people come from various European countries, mostly Turkey, Switzerland and Norway. A good friend of my family knows a member of the TIPH team from Switzerland. I had dinner with he and his wife in Bethlehem, they are very nice people, and they invited me and his sister and brother-in-law to see what TIPH does.

We started the patrol by walking down Al-Shuwadeh Street. This is next to the souk. It used to be the main street of Hebron, until the Israelis blocked it off from Palestinian use after the 1994 massacre. 350 people closed their shops as a result. Now it is a settler street - it looks like a militarized ghost town.

As we walked down the street Jewish settler children and teenagers surrounded us with bicycles. They screamed at us in Hebrew and English that we were whores and sons of whores. Then they spat on us.

It is a strange and not pleasant feeling to be surrounded by angry hateful children and soldiers and know that the soldiers are there to protect the children.

The daughter of the lady I am staying with has also been spat on by settlers, both times with no provocation. Once a week, accompanied by soldiers, the settlers lead a tour through the main souk. They sometimes spit on the Palestinian store owners. The second time a settler spat on this lady he also then shoved a photo of Baruch Goldstein in her face.

The settlers can do anything they want. They are never punished for their actions. A member of TIPH described a time when a settler child badly beat a Palestinian child. The Palestinian child was thrown in prison for 6 months.

Settlers have taken the homes overlooking the souk. The Palestinians have set up mesh wire above their stores to trap all the garbage and stones that settlers routinely throw at them. They also throw bottles of urine and acid. They have even thrown Molotov cocktails into the souk.

The thousands of Israeli soldiers and police in Hebron let them do this. So as crazy as the settlers are they are not an aberration, but instead an extreme case of standard Israeli policy.

One of the Turkish members of TIPH whom I went with told me his experience as a UN peacemaker soldier in Africa. He said he has been all over, in the poorest countries in the world, and Hebron is the most unfair situation he's ever see.

At night I spent time drinking tea with Leila and her family in her house. If you want to say "sweet tea" really really badly in Arabic call is Shy Hello. That's what I did.

The family hasn't had any water for two weeks because all the wells in Hebron are controlled by Israel and the settlements get most of the water.

She told me about a time when her son was getting bread and there were stones thrown in the area. They blamed her son, whom she said was innocent. They kept him for three months and beat him. She went to get him and became too angry and hit a soldier, and another soldier put a gun to her head and said he was going to kill her. She told him, go ahead, if you keep my son I don't want to live.

Her daughter married a man from Nazareth. The two met in Jerusalem. Because Nazareth is in Israel, on the other side of the green line and the other side of the wall, they can no longer be together. They can't get the permits. The man hardly ever gets a chance to see his children and wife, and the woman and children almost never see their husband and father.

I also talked to Paulette, a nun with the Christian Peacemaker Teams. They get between Palestinians and soldiers and settlers. They do what they can to non-violently protect people. She told me how last night soldiers entered a home and put everybody in a room at gunpoint. They then strip searched the family. This happened because settlers complained that their TV was too loud.

She said that the soldiers are constantly harassing people in the souk. 20 years ago the souk was so crowded that you could barely walk through it. Now it is almost empty.

I got a chance to walk around the rest of Hebron also. It is bustling and hilly. There are a lot of perfume shops and spice shops, and excellent fresh fruit. But from everywhere you see the military outposts and settlements.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Michael for picturing life in Hebron.