A Landscape of Conflict and Voices for Peace
Hebron, Sderot and the Jerusalem Envelope
April 3-5, 2008
Hebron, A Divided City
April 3, 2008
Hebron is a bustling Palestinian city south of Jerusalem, part of the West Bank. In past years, it has been the scene of pitched battles between the Israelis and the Palestinians, as well as a virtual siege of the city by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) in an attempt to root out radical PLO factions. It was quiet when we visited, but one cannot miss the many signs of tension.
Unusual among the places we have visited thus far, Hebron has many conservative Muslims, as well as a much smaller group of ultra-orthodox Jews. Helping to keep these disparate groups separate is a large contingent of Israeli soldiers. The reason for this unusual combination is mostly historical, as Hebron is sacred to Jews, Christians, and Muslims. The memorial tombs of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their wives are all in Hebron; they lie close by the dividing line between the Muslim and the Jewish sectors, and they are heavily guarded with metal detectors and armed guards, as there had been significant violence there previously.
We walked through the bustling streets and shopping area of Muslim Hebron, passed through a security checkpoint, complete with metal detectors, passport checks, and unsmiling security people, to find ourselves in the Jewish sector. The Jewish sector, about 20% of the land area, contains several hundred Jewish faithful, heavily guarded by IDF watchtowers. The rest of the sector, originally a Palestinian neighborhood, is barren, with rusty doors, buildings with broken windows, and shuttered storefronts. It reminded me of nothing so much as parts of East Berlin after the Berlin Wall was erected. Several blocks later, we were escorted into a small but impressive synagogue and met Simcha, a spokesman for the Jewish residents in Hebron. He spoke with great passion and knowledge of the scriptures about the importance of this area to people of the Jewish faith. He spoke of the targeted sniper killing of a young Jewish girl by a Palestinian sniper several years ago, and its effect on the small community. In response to our questions, he said that the community fervently wanted peace, but that it was up to the Palestinians.
What was missing in his emotional presentation was that, in response to the killing of the young girl, the IDF raked the surrounding hillside (where Palestinians lived and where the sniper was) with gunfire for days. Later that night, I saw a number of Palestinian homes on the hillside that had pockmarks from the shootings, some plastered over and some still festering wounds, testaments to the continued “eye-for-an-eye” cycle of continual retribution that seems to permeate the recent history here. Where is the leadership to bring peace to this region? Where are the leaders? Does anyone care?
-- Frank Williams
Letter from Sderot, Israel
April 4, 2008
Seventy percent of Israelis want their government to negotiate with Hamas. This is a two percent increase over the same poll taken a month ago. In spite of the 4,000 residents who have already fled Sderot, a poor Israeli immigrant town that borders the Gaza Strip, the remaining 20,000 expect the idea of negotiating to steadily increase with every Qassam rocket the Gazan militants continue to send their way.
The Sderot residents I met with today are tired of hearing their government portray them as poor immigrants under constant siege, particularly since that same government refuses to do anything to stop the attacks. Instead, they are taking responsibility for their own lives and seeking peaceful resolutions to the conflict. “We no longer have any trust in our leaders,” said Eric, a Sderot resident. “It is up to us to make things work if we want to live in peace with our Palestinian neighbors. To date our government has spent billions of dollars on shields to protect our homes. What about building shields of hope instead of constantly reinforcing a shield of fear around our lives?”
Eric remembers the times he and his friends from Gaza swam together in the sea, when they played soccer and carried on as best friends. When asked whether he wanted a one or two state solution he said he didn’t care. All he wants is live in peace with his neighbors.
-- Cathy Sultan
Seeking Justice, Not Revenge
April 5, 2008
Bassam Aramin, co-founder of Combatants for Peace, is father of slain ten year old Abir, who died instantly when an Israeli soldier fired a rubber bullet into the back of her head. She was a block away from her home, laughing and talking with her sister and two friends. Her hand was inside her book bag about to retrieve some candy to share with her friends when she fell to the ground.
Bassam made the decision to seek justice rather than revenge. With his co-founder in Combatants for Peace, a former Israeli Air Force pilot, he initiated an investigation but after a scant two months the case was closed. Bassam is determined to take the case to the International Court of Justice if necessary to see the murderers of his child brought to justice.
In the meantime, Bassam and his colleagues continue their important work. Combatants for Peace began with four former Palestinian combatants and seven Israeli soldiers. Today they are 400 members and growing. As Bassam said, “One Israeli soldier killed Abir. One hundred Israeli soldiers planted a garden in her name.”
-- Cathy Sultan
The Trees Don’t Lie
The camera scans across the horizon, across the paved road. A field. A road. The road is paved with large flat stones. And then the camera zooms in and there are words in Hebrew etched in the road. Gravestones dug up and laid down.
This is the only scene from Shindler’s List that I remember. When I realized that the road was paved with gravestones from the Jewish cemetery, I was disgusted, horrified. I could not believe the total humiliation inflicted on the Jewish people. The attempt at complete annihilation of a people; complete removal of their story. This was just the lowest, most awful, degrading, disrespectful act on top of everything else that already sickened me. Words do not explain my anger and disgust.
I feel this same horror, anger, and disgust here in Palestine. I do not have words to explain what I see each day: the thorough removal of another people, their history, and future.
The land of Palestine, Israel, Philistine, Judea, or Samaria–whatever you want to call it–has been cultivated for centuries. People have lived here and grown olive trees since before Roman times. Each day we get in our bus and drive through olive tree groves. I have not seen an area of these hills that has not been terraced to create flat steps for olive trees. Some of the trees planted are hundreds of years old, some are just 30.
Pine trees are not indigenous to this Mediterranean climate, but everyday we drive by pine forests, planted by the Israeli government as nature preserves. Today, I looked into the trees and found terraces created centuries ago for olive trees. Palestinian history and existence buried under imported pine forests. Buried. Removed. Obliterated.
At the entrance to Ma’ale Adumin, an Israeli settlement outside of Jerusalem, we were greeted by an 800-year-old olive tree, “Welcome to our ancient city. We have been here forever.” Dug up and replanted. Creating new history. Creating a new story. Ma’ale Adumin is only 30 years old.
-- Rachel Baker
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