<   Report Three:   Holy Sites in the Shadow of Settlements >

July 24, 2011
Jerusalem, Hebron, Deheisheh Refugee Camp


This delegation traveled concurrently with the
Today's Youth, Tomorrow's Leaders Delegation> > >

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Red Roofs

Red roofs, the color of blood, dot the stolen hillsides.
Walls are erected that scar the sacred land - 
Violating ancient vineyards, separating people from familial places,
Cutting off communities, culture and commerce.
A whole country, an entire people in Bantustan bondage
Exploited, evicted, expropriated, expelled, exterminated
In the shadow of the Wailing Wall, Al-Aqsa and Via Dolorosa.
In Hebron, Abraham and Sarah turn in the graves.
In Deheisheh, children grow up amid unholy terror.
Apartheid in the Holy Land.

- Gerald Lenoir
Written at the Deheisheh Refugee Camp in the occupied West Bank


Places of Prayer

Earlier in the delegation we had an opportunity to visit the area of the “Wailing Wall.” I should note that while Jews gather there to pray, next to that location is the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Harem Al-Sharif (Dome of the Rock) where Muslims gather as well.

On this day, while visiting the courtyard of the mosque, my heart was warmed by many different groups of men (young and older) in the shade of the trees studying and/or praying with great reverence.

To my left, I noticed a small group of settlers enter the courtyard escorted by armed Israeli military. One of the Muslims issued a call and the entire courtyard seemed to respond.

I asked one of our delegation participants, who knew some Arabic, what was being said. It was explained that they were acknowledging the greatness of God and His sovereign ability to ultimately right the wrongs of the world. They chanted back and forward with such fervor and conviction that the settlers decided to move on.

Oh, agents of light, that the shadows would decide to find another dwelling.”

- Avery Blakeley


Settlers and Segregation

We were all tense as we entered our bus this morning.

The night before, the African Heritage Delegation held a meeting to discuss how we would cope with our scheduled meeting in the morning with a group of Israeli settlers in Hebron.  My dad, Gerald, had met with one of their representatives on his visit three years ago. The settler then had been upfront about the fact that Jewish people would take over Hebron, even if it meant killing the Palestinians.  We were originally scheduled to meet with Wilder again, but he was going to be away, so we were planning on meeting with another spokesperson. 

Our decision, as an African American delegation to meet with a settler was not made lightly.  Several members of our delegation had direct confrontations with the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi, and in Birmingham, Alabama, among other places during the 1950s and 60s.  We felt that to meet with this settler society that is openly racist and proud of terrorizing Palestinians, throwing them out of their homes at gun point, and spitting on their children, would be akin to sitting down with the KKK to hear why they hate Black folks.  Needless to say, we did not decide to go to this meeting without a lot of consideration.  We concluded that we would be stronger advocates for Palestinian rights if we had heard directly from these settlers and could explain their ideological connection to groups like the KKK with greater vividness.

As it turns out, the spokesperson we met with made a concerted attempt to hide the message that my Dad received before — perhaps because we were an African American delegation and he knew from the jump that we would not like anything he said. He even tried to impress us by telling us that he has an Arab friend!

Even with the restraint he was showing, the speaker could not resist a few statements such as:  “the settlers are justified in taking Palestinian land because Palestinians choose not to be citizens.” 

After saying his piece he quickly cut off questions before I could get anything out and told us we could go to their museum where we would be met by a guide that could answer any further questions.  I was hoping that we would get a chance to grill this guide about the settlements—but the guide never showed up!

We then left to see the Palestinian side of the so-called H2 designated part of the city of Hebron. Every part of the West Bank has a different legal designation — Areas A, B, C, and H1 and H2 in Hebron (see map of Hebron).

When we got out of the van at the checkpoint, we were approached by a Palestinian kid, maybe four years old, who was selling bracelets.  The IDF soldiers did not want the kid around us and ran up to our delegation with their M-16 rifles and told the kid to get behind the barricade.  This kid put a smile on my face as he was obviously taunting the soldiers in Arabic and running in between our legs to avoid the clutches of the IDF. Finally, the soldier got a hold of his collar and dragged him behind the barrier.    

Next we went through the checkpoint to the Ibrahimi Mosque — the same mosque where in 1994, an Israeli settler came in and shot down scores of Palestinians. Later in the day we met a 19-year-old kid whose father was killed in the massacre and his family was left destitute, so he was on the street selling bracelets to tourists.

While inside the Mosque, dozens of M-16 toting soldiers came inside on a tour to see the tomb where Abraham is buried, not bothering to remove their shoes like everyone else does in a mosque out of respect for Islam.

Finally, we met up with Issa, our tour guide.  Issa is the leader of Youth Against Settlements.  His first words to us related the story of him getting there to see us that day by crossing the checkpoint. The Israeli soldiers asked for his papers, took them and without looking at them sat back down in their station. When he complained that they had left him standing there for no reason, they came and hit him in the stomach.  Issa then called the commanding officer and complained to him, but the commander said he was lying.  Finally, they let him pass after he recited the military law permitting him to enter that area and threatened to contact an Israeli lawyer he knows.

Issa began the tour by showing us the many Palestinians shops now closed in the H-2 area of Hebron (H-2 is the area where Israel maintains both security control and civil control of the municipal government).  The Israeli government wants to transfer all the Palestinians in the H-2 area, to H-1, where the Palestinians maintain the municipality and the social services.

The most incredible part of the tour came when we entered a section of the shopping district in the alley-way that had metal grates over the top of the corridor.  Issa explained that the settlement we had gone to earlier that day was directly above us, and that the Palestinians work and live down below, where we were standing. 

It was immediately apparent why they had constructed a grate over the entire corridor: the settlers had thrown all kinds of garbage, rocks, and knifes.  We saw one section of the grating that had been destroyed by acid they had thrown down and we found out that now they urinate out of their windows down on the Palestinian shops.  

As we were leaving Hebron I saw a concrete block that someone spray painted that read, “Zionism is Racism.”

- Jesse Hagopian

a version of this report appears here on Jesse Hagopian's blog

Without Flinching

Today we visited Hebron and the Ibrahimi Mosque. In the same building with a separate entrance is a synagogue where many of our delegation decided to visit. I and another friend decided to stay back and find a place in the shade. There were soldiers from the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) 10-15 meters away. From nowhere they began to harass a gentleman, who I would soon discover would serve as our guide: Issa from the Youth Against Settlements organization.

The soldier verbally and physically attacked this man. He never backed away; but continued to ask for the name of the soldiers (who hid their badges and their names). One soldier leveled a weapon in the face of our guide, who remained steadfast. Courageously looking down the barrel of a gun, he never flinched but pressed forward.

Help us to press forward, without flinching, as we face the night that tries to not give way to the breaking dawn. 

“Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings to greet the dawn while it is still dark…”

- Avery Blakeley

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This delegation is traveling concurrently with the "Today's Youth, Tomorrow's Leaders" Delegation > > >



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