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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Brief Tour of Hebron

Over the fall, I participated in the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel, living in the West Bank in the city of Hebron. While there, I worked with a team to help provide protective presence to vulnerable communities, monitor and report human rights abuses, and support Palestinians and Israelis working together for peace. Since returning to the US, I have realized the need to share more about the city and circumstances in which I was working.

I hope these pictures and brief descriptions can help illustrate some of the complexities and challenges in Hebron, and also demonstrate the need for continued international interest and attention in this area.

Hebron is the second largest city in the West Bank, following East Jerusalem. It is a beautiful and thriving city, known for its grapes, glass blowing, and textiles. It has been a center for trade and commerce and has been one of the primary economic centers in the West Bank.

It is also home to the Al-Abrahimi Mosque, which was built over the Cave of Machpelah, or the Cave of the Patriarchs. According to Genesis 20, this cave was purchased by Abraham to bury his wife Sarah. Subsequently, Abraham, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, and Leah were all buried in this cave as well.

Because of these graves of these important matriarchs and patriarchs, considered holy by Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike, Hebron has tragically become a focal point of conflict.

The old city, where the mosque and the old market are located, has seen several terrible massacres in the last 100 years.

In 1929, sixty-seven Jewish residents of the city were killed by a rioting mob. The remaining members of the Jewish community, many of whom were sheltered by their Arab neighbors, fled the area feeling that it was no longer safe.

In 1967, following Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Israeli Settlers returned to the area to live and worship near the Cave of the Patriarchs.

In 1994, one of the Israeli Settlers, Baruch Goldstein, carried an automatic weapon into the mosque during Friday prayers, opened fire and killed 29 Palestinian men in prayer and injured an additional 125.

Several weeks of violence ensued, with curfews put in place throughout Hebron. The mosque was closed during this time by the Israeli Army, and when it was reopened, there was a dividing wall within the mosque and a portion of it became a Jewish Synagogue.

Large portions of the old city were then permanently shut down and placed under the guard of the Israeli army. Since that time, portions of the old city have been completely blocked off for the exclusive use of Israelis Settlers.

Markets went from looking like this still active one:

To being shut down completely like this former thoroughfare:

Palestinians are not allowed to even walk on several main roads, including roads that used to house the meat and vegetable markets for the community. These roads now resemble ghost towns. Approximately 500 storefronts were closed by military order and another 700 closed due to economic hardship since the area was perceived as dangerous due to the presence of the military and harassment from the Israeli Settlers. None of the Palestinians who lost their businesses received any form of economic compensation. These storefronts were welded shut by military order, and then “claimed” by the Settlement community with the Star of David:

To access this area, where many Palestinians still have their homes, Palestinians must enter only on foot (they are no longer allowed to drive automobiles here) and must also pass through checkpoints and metal detectors.

Even young schoolchildren are subject to search. While many soldiers carry out their responsibilities in a professional manner, there is little accountability and there have been numerous and frequent reports of abuse and harassment even toward children.

Palestinian residents continue to face harassment, to the point that on streets remaining open near the Settlements they have had to secure fencing horizontally over the road to prevent debris and stones from being thrown down upon them from the Israeli Settlers who are occupying elevated apartments.

Palestinians also suffer from frequent searches of their homes and detentions along the street by groups of soldiers who can hold them for up to three hours without explanation. Young males are particularly susceptible to these routine checks, such as these men who were simply walking down the street but are now required to undergo a search while their ids are being checked.

Approximately 500 Israeli settlers live in this area of Hebron. They are supported by an entire army brigade, which consists of up to 2,000 soldiers. Everywhere there is a Settlement house, there are several guard towers placed on neighboring roofs. Many of these guard towers have been placed without consent on the rooftops of Palestinian homes.

Palestinians in the area also encounter frequent vandalism, including the cutting of their fruit trees, poisoning of their gardens, and assaults from rocks and even bullets.

Hamed, showing one of his grapevines that was cut during the night by a group of Settlers.

Settlers are permitted to drive, travel at will, and carry firearms in the streets at all times. Weekly, the Settler community hosts a “tour” of the remaining Arab areas of the Old City. They are supported by fully armed soldiers, and bring the whole market to a standstill during their tour.

As such, Hebron remains a place of deep tension and fear. Ecumenical Accompaniers strive to be visibly present to help reduce tension and conflict. We also listen to and hear the stories of those who otherwise have no voice. I hope that in sharing these photos and some of their stories, we can all take some small step toward being more peaceful and more just.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this post, Clark. I have posted a link on the blog of the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations.