Life in the West Bank and Israel
Hebron and the Galilee
May 29 - June 1, 2008
A Visit to Hebron
May 29, 2008
On the Road to Hebron
Fifteen of us traveled in a tour bus down Route 60, a road that only Israelis are allowed to drive on, on our way to Hebron. The Apartheid Wall snaked along side, dividing the Jewish settlements from the Palestinian villages. The Wall and the buffer zones on both side of it, gobble up 10% of the West Bank land and break up Palestinian land into South African-style Bantustans, with no access to the grape vines and orchards where Palestinians have labored for centuries. No access to grazing lands for their livestock.
As we made our way, our guide Kasem related to us the history of the area.
One and a half million Palestinians live in the West Bank, while half a million Jews live in 170 Jewish-only “legal” settlements and 100 “colonial spots” or “outposts,” settlements that even the Israeli government admits are illegal. In the Hebron District, there are 32 Jewish settlements and 20 colonial spots that are home to 20,000 Jews. In the very heart of the Palestinian City of Hebron itself, there are four colonial spots.
The bizarre labyrinth of roads leads from one Jewish settlement to the other, dotted with military towers. Only vehicles with yellow license plates that identify Jewish travelers and commercial vehicles, like ours, are allowed on the roads. We spotted Palestinians walking or riding donkeys close to our path.
We passed gleaming settlement after settlement, all fortified with Israeli troops, private security guards, security towers every few miles, check points, and road blocks. We also passed a Palestinian refugee camp, a shanty town established in 1948 when Israel was founded. The shacks that house 20,000 Palestinians stand in sharp contrast to the new housing complexes of Jewish settlement that surround it.
After an hour, we reached the outskirts of our destination. After driving to two checkpoints that were inaccessible—one was for military only, the other was unstaffed—we reached the gate to Hebron. The guard at the gate, who, to my surprise, was black (probably an Ethiopian Jew), asked for all of our passports. He took them and after a few minutes, returned them to us and allowed us to enter Hebron.
Not far into Hebron, we came to another checkpoint that separated “H1,” the Palestinian-controlled sector of the city where 120,000 Palestinians live, from “H2,” the Israeli-controlled sector of the city, where 40,000 Palestinians and 400 Jews live under the watchful eye of 1,200 heavily armed Israeli soldiers.
The helmeted Israeli soldier in green fatigues approached the bus with his finger on the trigger of a submachine gun strapped across his shoulder. Again we produced our passports for him. He went to the guard booth, made a phone call and returned to the bus to tell us we were denied access and that we would have to go back to the police station to get a special permit. Our Palestinian guide and driver have Israeli government-issued green cards that allowed them in the West Bank but they also had to be subjected to an additional security check.
We turned around and made the short trip back to the police station where we received the permit. Finally, after over 30 minutes of navigating the checkpoints and security matrix, we were allowed to enter Hebron.
The Rabbi, the Peacemaker and the Palestinian Shopkeeper
Our first destination was Beit Hadassah, a Jewish settlement in the heart of Hebron. At a Jewish Center built on confiscated Palestinian land, we met with Rabbi Simcha Hochbaum, a rightwing settler from the lower eastside of Manhattan. He gave us a tour of the exhibits in the center and talked to us about being Jewish in the second holiest city for Jews and Muslims.
His message was that it is better to be a live Jew living in Israel that to be a dead Jew, the victim of a Holocaust. He justified the occupation by relating to us the story of what he described as a massacre of Jews by Palestinians in Hebron in 1929. Kasem later told us that the struggle in Hebron in 1929 was part of a larger struggle between Palestinians and Jews, when Jews attempted to seize the western wall of Old Jerusalem, the so-called Wailing Wall that is sacred to both Muslims and Jews. After a member of our delegation challenged the Rabbi’s views, he told us about how good Jews have been to Palestinians, giving them schools and education, and that they were better off under the Israeli government that they had been under the Ottoman Empire. He spewed hatred and paternalism towards Palestinians.
Our next visit in Hebron was with a group called Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT). David Jansen’s talk with us was in direct juxtaposition to the Rabbi’s. CPT is an ecumenical group that travels to conflict areas around the world and supports oppressed peoples. David told us about their work in getting in between Israelis and Palestinians at the point of conflict and trying to mediate. They also escort Palestinian children to school because they are often subjected to taunts by Israeli soldiers calling them terrorists and to attacks by Israeli children and adults. David said that the estimates of Palestinian unemployment in Hebron range from 40 percent to 60 percent. He also talked about CPT’s work with indigenous nations in Canada in supporting their sovereignty rights and the need to challenge white privilege, his own included. See a photo of the delegation with CPT in Hebron here.
Our discussion with a Palestinian shop owner gave us some insight into the impact of the occupation. He told us that before the Israeli setters came to Hebron, the market place was thriving. The Israeli government forced them to relocate the market and because of the restricted travel, many Palestinians no longer shop there and the shopkeepers barley survive. We saw the poverty around us. Young school children begged us for dollars. They carried what they called Ibrahimi buckets, containers filled with soup given to them by the workers at the Ibrahimi Mosque.
Palestinians, the shopkeeper also told us, are subject to daily humiliation by the setters who confiscated the apartments above the market place and rain down trash and urine on them from open windows. He was, nevertheless, defiant and vowed to resist the occupation.
The Ibrahimi Mosque
Now on foot, we navigated two more checkpoints to enter the Ibrahimi Mosque. The Israeli government divided the mosque into two sections—one for Jews and one for Muslims. The Mosque contains shrines to Abraham, his wife Sarah and their children and their wives. Underneath the mosque, where no one is allowed to go, their bodies are buried. Kasem showed us the spot in the mosque where, in 1994, an imam and 28 praying Muslims were gunned down by Baruch Goldstein, a radical Jewish settler from Brooklyn. Goldstein entered the mosque with a semiautomatic weapon, past armed Israeli guards. When his weapon jammed he was attacked by Muslims and beaten to death. During the evacuation of the mosque, 10 more Palestinians were killed by Israeli soldiers.
We left Hebron with better understanding of Palestinian and Jewish life in Occupied Palestine. We saw the good life of Jews who enjoy a superior standard of living, their privilege protected by hundreds of armed guards and soldiers, and the life of Palestinians who suffer the day-to-day poverty, humiliation and oppression of occupation.
Our First Real Time in Israel Proper—Galilee: Nazareth, Ein Hod, Haifa, Sakhnin
June 1, 2008
We had a pretty heavy weekend. It's Sunday night, and we are exhausted! We've done so much, its been hard to process - but at lunch and dinner we've been able to get into some really interesting conversations.
We took a trip up north to Galilee and stayed overnight in Nazareth. We also visited Ein Hod (a Palestinian town in Israel) and Haifa. Up until this point we were only in Jerusalem and the West Bank. We got a chance to talk to some folks who are Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. This was a huge discussion that got into the struggle of Palestinians with Israel citizenship in comparison to Palestinians living in Jerusalem or the West Bank. No, life as a Palestinian Israeli is not fair and equal.
Palestinians face a huge amounts of institutional racism. To get a look at how the other side lives, we went to Haifa, and got a small glimpse of how an average Israeli lives (it looked like the US) For the first time i saw Asian food. More to come. So tired, but we’ll put up some pictures.
As a side note, the amount of information that we are processing and questioning is amazing. We are getting into ideas and questioning things like Zionism, the state of Israel, connecting the struggles from Baltimore to Palestine, US/Mexico Border wall and the Israeli WALL, the holocaust, Palestinian resistance, Solidarity, and so much more.
See a photo of Palestinian Israeli survivors of the Nakba here.
This Is a Story About Land and Segregation
June 4, 2008
The story about Palestine is about Oppression and Land. Critical thinking is key here, and it is way over due, but folks must look beyond their subjective lenses and step into reality. We must look at the reality that Israel fears and the life that Palestinians must endure in the name of Israeli fear and livelihood. There are many contradictions, issues and concerns. Yet, there is one principle problem: Palestinian people are being occupied by Israelis.
The Wall: a physical barrier that has separated Palestinian neighborhoods from each other in the name of security. Yet, this very wall has extended beyond the designated green line border to grab more land for Israel and include land that settlers have confiscated. Why is this ugly wall okay?
See photos of the wall here.
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