Saturday, February 19, 2011
A Day of Solidarity with Hebron and Sheikh Jarrah
February 19, 2011
Yesterday, I took part in a day of solidarity with the Israeli/Palestinian activist group Solidariut Sheikh Jarrah, which included a educational tour of Hebron, followed by their weekly demonstration in Sheikh Jarrah, one of the Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem, which has been subjected to a systematic transfer of its Palestinian residents.
Travelling to Hebron was especially interesting and eye-opening. The last time I had been there I was a soldier serving during the first Intifada,just over twenty years ago. Our base was located at a half-way point between Bethlehem and Hebron. While we patrolled in Bethelem and surrounding villages, I use to cross Hebron to reach a different base of ours. However, just upon entry of the city, as was the case in Bethlehem, clashes with the local Palestinian population protesting the Israeli occupation was common, and we were met with rocks showering down on us.
Long gone are the days when rocks were hurled at Israelis entering the territories, with the main roads crossing major cities and along side refugee camps. The Israeli occupation/colonization of Palestinian lands has become more sophisticated: miles of walls, fences, checkpoints, and tunnels, now allow Jews to roam freely in certain parts of the West Bank. As we left Jerusalem, we passed the check point for Israelis and Jews, entering a tunnel, which bypasses Bethlehem. If this was a Israeli checkpoint for Palestinians this could have taken hours. The separation fence, which is actually a huge wall, blocked any vision of the Palestinian cities. Only visible were the few Palestinian homes remaining on the "Israeli" side, making it look as if we were passing through a beautiful territory decorated by the numerous grapevines. Virtually, a trip that once included seeing thousands of Palestinians now has been crafted so that during the same trip twenty years later one almost only see Jews.
Within a half an hour we were in the settlement of Kiryat Arba, waiting for the army to escort us into Hebron. Of course, if we were mere Israelis (or simply Jews) wanting to pray in Hebron, no escort would be needed; however, due to the fact that we were a group of leftists, it seemed best to have an escort to prevent any clashes with the right-wing radicals. Our guide, Avihai, a former soldier who served during the second Intifada, waited patiently and took the chance to explain about the organization whom he represented, Shoverim Shtika-Breaking the Silence. This organization’s mission is to educate Israelis about “what is happening” in our name. It was founded by a group of soldiers, who have taken the testimony of former soldiers (which you can see on their website) who have served in the occupied territories: the West Bank and Gaza, including the last war.
Once in Hebron, after passing numerous other small checkpoints and clarifying that there were no Palestinians with us (including Palestinians with Israeli citizenship), we passed into the city after a short trip to the grave, or shrine, of Baruch Goldstein who massacred Muslims while they were praying almost 12 years ago to this day. Yes, sadly, a doctor by profession and someone who ended his life killing Palestinians has become a hero for some Jews (he certainly is not supported by all settlers).
To explain here the reality of Hebron would be too much. I will suffice to say that it is holy both to Jews and Muslims since it is home to the Cave of the Patriarchs, where Abraham, Sarah, Issac and Rebekkah, and Jacob , Yakob, Rebecca and Leah (Rachel is buried in the vicinity of Bethlehem). It is the largest Palestinian city in the West Bank with 165,000 residents, and is home to 500 Israeli settlers, who following the Israeli 1967 victory over Jordan (who occupied the Palestinian land from 1948-1967), occupied the city to “reclaim” the Jewish land, property, and heritage, after the city’s Jews left in 1929, following a massacre of their community.
While it would be wrong to collectively tag every settler in Hebron as radical, as a whole it certainly is radical, dangerous, and has systematically succeeded in creating a presence in the heart of an Arab city with continued support from every Israeli government. With a no-negotiation policy with the Israeli establishment, it has managed to create a situation that is unbearable for Palestinians, and caused an absurd situation where Palestinians have been punished year after year for the settlers’ unruly actions, with the Israeli soldiers finding themselves in the middle of this mess. I suggest everyone read the pamphlet written by Betselem, which explains the ugly reality in a pamphlet entitled Ghost Town , and to have a look at their page on Hebron in general.
My trip to Hebron was sad to say the least. Hearing the former soldiers’ testimony verified what I already knew. An occupying force cannot remain innocent and protecting radical settlers only degrades the morale of the soldiers; Meaning, not much had changed from when I was a soldier. Finally, the Palestinians as a result have yet again fallen victim to population transfer and this is in the name of a group that in no way represents the Israeli population at large; yet, the Israeli population at large ultimately falls on the side of Jews regardless if they agree with them or not; or they simply remain indifferent.
To sum up, it truly was a bitter-sweet trip. Visiting the Tomb of Avraham Avinu (Abraham, Our Father), seeing his grave dressed in Islamic coverings and in a Tomb so typical of Ottoman tombs in Turkey, I was amazed how both Jews and Muslims for centuries both recognize this as the Tomb of Abraham. However, in religious terms, no one can legitimatize the forced Israeli hegemony. Yes, I believe that the Jews have a right to live in Hebron; however this city is a Palestinian city and not an Israeli one and if the Jews want to remain there they will have to adopt their ways to a Palestinian government, just as Palestinians with Israeli citizenship abide by Israeli law.
My next blog entry will continue with the demonstration at Sheikh Jarrah in Jerusalem. For more photos see my the following link of photos on my day of solidarity with Hebron and Sheikh Jarrah.