We went to a very interesting city called Hebron which is located in the West Bank. The situation there is very complicated and confusing. From what I understand, the city of Hebron is divided into two sections, H1 and H2. We walked through H1 and saw a very typical, busy Palestinian city. Arabs and Muslims walking down busy streets along market sides. Because we are here during Ramedan, most people were fasting so the few people were purchasing the locally grown vegitables, the grapes that are famous to the city, or the fresh baked breads and sweets that lined the streets. Out of respect to the community, we were careful not to walk around with a sandwich in our hand, or guzzling a cold drink. We reached a point in Hebron in which the city had been abruptly stopped. The Jewish settlement of Gush Etzion ran right into it. The wall dividing the Arab part of the city and the Jewish part was covered with barbed wire and dirt. It was clear that due to this and the IDF control of the city, the economy had been vitually wiped out. We bought items from the Arab market stands largely out of charity as most people there have no other means of income. The shop keepers told us about their plight as we searched their shops for something worth purchasing, feeling guilty about bartering with them over the price, as is common place in the region. As we over paid for cheap, items, we justified it as charity. In the narrow market streets we looked up to see fencing above us, separating the battered shops from the modern, well-kept looking apartments above. When we inquired about this, our Arab guide told us that the apartments belonged to the Jews in the city and that this fence was put in by the Arabs bc the Jewish residents above would throw trash, glass, dirty water and bleach down onto their Arab neighbors. You could see the waste, and pieces of glass that had caught in the net-like fence, weighing it down in a pile. Beyond the fence you could see an Israeli IDF solider keeping watch on the residence below. The Arabs said that these soldiers simply laughed when these things happened even when they asked for help. Just then two foreigners came up to us in uniforms and inquired about our being in this area that is rarely visited by tourists these days. They were from a Belgium NGO, called TIPH, that was there to simply observe the situation there and report their observations to high officials in Israel and Palestinian government. We asked what they saw and they admitted to seeing harassment from one side in the mornings and evenings. They were hesitant to elaborate but said they were sure we knew what they meant.
When crossing over to H2 we were stopped at metal detectors and the IDF soldiers with their machine guns watched us walk through. Just past this gate was a mosque that contained Abraham’s Tomb, which is an extremely holy spot to both Jews and Muslims. The IDF had taken over the Masque after there was a massacre there in which a radical Jew shot many Arabs praying in the masque. For the Muslims to pray at the there, they had to walk through additional metal detectors and give their IDs to the soldiers. It seemed unfair to make them do this but one student brought up the point that maybe the security was there to protect the Muslim worshipers. Who know? We continued further into H2 to meet with Noam a Rep. for the Jewish community of Hebron. He took us to the Jewish quarter which was pretty small and empty. The shops on this side had all been closed down by the IDF bc of terrorist attacks on the Jews there. I heard that the soldiers stationed there resented the settlers bc according to law their being there was illegal and the soldiers had to protect them even though they broke the law. Noam talked of the massacre there many generations ago in which they Jews there were raped and murdered. It was horrible to see the graphic photos of the victims. The Jews of Hebron left after the massacre and cam back recently to start the settlement. This is why they believed they had a right to be there. I keep thinking that if they keep playing this game of who did what to whom and who was here first, this conflict will never be solved.
For lunch we met with Rabbi Menachem Froman a really interesting rabbi who lived in a settlement in the settlement Tekoa, in the West Bank. He also felt he had a right to be there but he felt it necessary to make peace with the Palestinians. He even talked with Hamas often and believed in working with them for peace which many Zionists strongly disagree with bc they say Hamas’ doesn’t recognize Israel’s right to exists. He also mentioned that he prayed that Obama wins the election. He talked about Obama’s visit to the Wailing Wall. He put a prayer in the wall as tradition, and someone grabbed it and leaked it to the press. Obama had written that he hoped he forget his pride long enough to make an impact in solving this conflict. Oh how my love affair with Obama continues!