While having a walk through Hebron, it’s difficult to remain indifferent to the stories connected with it’s inhabitants and places.
Today I’m starting my stroll just after our „school run”, on Shuhada Street. The street is closed for the palestinian vehicules in one section, when in another, any mouvement of Palestinians is forbidden. Means of control are formed by few check-points, watchtowers, cameras installed almost everywhere and frequent police and military patrols. Most of the houses are empty, since their locators were forced to leave them in 1994. Paradoxically it was due to a massacre, in which a Jewish settler from Kiryat Arba killed 29 Muslims in the Ibrahimi Mosque. Subsequently, the Yitzhak Rabin-led Government closed the Palestinian shops and prohibited Palestinian vehicular traffic in the nearby Shuhada Street, to protect the settlers (sic!). The army closed down 304 shops and warehouses along Shuhada Street, as well as Palestinian municipal and governmental offices. The central bus station was turned into an army base. The Ibrahimi Mosque was divided into separate sections for Jewish and Muslim worshippers. Only in few houses still live their inhabitants, sometimes forced to use the rooftops of neighboring buildings, to get to their homes. They live under constant surveillance, monitored both by soldiers and police, as well as Israeli settlers.
Historically, the street was teeming with life, and the ground floors of the building housed shops, cafes, restaurants and service establishments. All those were closed in the blink of an eye, not even giving their owners a chance to move goods and equipment. Street extincted, the buzz was replaced by the sullen silence and the doors of the shops were slammed shut. Ghost city.
Above the Shuhada Streer, there’s a hill towering over the city – Tel Rumeida. It is believed that this is the oldest inhabited
part of Hebron. As a result of conducted there excavations, were found the fragments of city walls of approx. 2-3 millennium BC. This area is one of the most attractive in Hebron, considering the splendid panorama of the Old City, the beautiful view of the Ibrahimi Mosque and impressive olive trees dating back to ancient times. But it’s also one of the most controversial places in Hebron.
The apple of discord in Tel Rumeida is the aforementioned area of archaeological research carried out on private lands belonging to Palestinians, as well as the alleged burial place of some jewish patriarchs (which in fact is a muslim tomb!) , located at the very top of the hill, next to the old mosque. Access to the mosque is closed to non-Jews, and Jewish legacy of presence discussed was the basis for the project „Biblical Park”, which is to be created on the hill Tel Rumeida. Implementation of this plan will lead to the further confiscation of Palestinian land, significant restrictions on the mobility of inhabitants of the hill and to the difficulties in their daily lives, under the guise of concern for „security reasons” …
Tel Rumeida is a dangerous place for walking, according to the locals. Settlers living by Shuhada Street are coming to visit the tomb of (…), to take a bath in so-called „Abraham Spring”, where patriarch was supposed to take a bath some thousands of years ago, or just to have a walk around and to manifest their presence. How do they manifest? Sometimes, through insults, threats, violations of private property (eg, removal of fences, breaking the branches of olive trees, stealing grapes, etc.), less often by violence, pushing, throwing stones, to the use of firearms. What Palestinians can do about it? .. In the best case nothing, more likely (and very common) they can get detained or arrested, when the police / soldiers finally come. Wherever the settlers appear, right and justice is on their side. Jewish words seem to weigh ten times more than their palestinians equivalents. And if the soldier would be eager to believe, that the truth is on palestinian side, he would never admit it. Why should he put in risk his reputation, position, or his own security?! But even when assuming that this soldier is a kamikaze and agrees with the Palestinian, the legal system will not allow to fell a hair of the head of Israelite, while it severely punish the other. Why so? Because in Palestine, or in the Palestinian Authonomy, or rather in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, there are two legal systems: civil (for jewish settlers) and military (for the Arab population). As a result of this situation, Palestinians and Israelis ARE NOT THE EQUAL BEFORE THE LAW. It’s hard to refrain of associations with apartheid in South Africa.
That’s why you have to be careful not to be attacked by the settlers on the hill Tel Rumeida … First, you can be beaten, and then might be arrested and sent to prison.
Now the excavations on the hill top continue, since there’s still a lot to do to unable creation of the Biblical Garden, where
the proud representatives of the Chosen People, will make they strolls. They will walk in the shadow of the millennial olive trees, whose owners won’t be allowed to even set foot on this land. There won’t be any more olive oil from Tel Rumeida… Through the Biblical Garden will be happily running jewish children, smiling and neatly dressed. The question is, where then will play little Palestinians? .. In Syria, Iraq or Egypt – will answer the Israelis – there are so many Arab countries! Indeed?.. But why would they leave their hill, houses, olives..?
The walk continue, I’m leaving behind me Tel Rumeida hill and climbing up another one – higher and offering a wonderful view of almost the entire city. Israeli soldiers also appreciate it, and they built there an impressive watchtower and military base. It allows them to control a huge area, like a Sauron’s Eye.
Little path going along the cliff leads me to the ruins of the house. The building doesn’t look old, but evidence of damage can be clearly seen. Suddenly a group of boys appears between jagged walls and comes towards me. Aged between 10 and 16, in their eyes curiosity is mixed with uncertainty. What kind of intruder might they encounter?.. In my mind, I’m searching for some arabic words that can help me explain my presence there, some way of communication. „International observer”, „soldiers„, „settlers„, „peace”, „end of occupation”… They seem understand it, are becoming more friendly.
The demolished house used by them for a shelter, is an effect of actions of Israel, just as a trace of a rubber bullet on the
leg of one of the boys. After this short „conversation”, I’m asking them for showing me the best way to the Old City. They make me company till the Check-Point 29. It’s better for them not to come any closer… Too many bad memories, a lot of clashes right there, the soldiers might even recognize them.
The Old City is an another whole story, so instead of approaching the Ibrahimi Mosque, which is as the axis of the city, I decide to continue the walk in direction to Kiryat Arba, the oldest, and one of the biggest settlements in Palestine. According to different sources, 6 – 8 thousands of Israelis live there. Founded in 1968, shortly after the Six Day War,
the settlement grew over the years and now is a large, independent resort, with its own shops, service providing units and infrastructure. Fenced on all sides, partly by a wall, partly by a wired fence with barbed wire, it’s not available for non-Israelis. Guarded by watchtowers, police, military and private security companies, it’s as like an impregnable stronghold. People who live there are convinced they are on the right side of the conflict, since they’re all Jews, back in the Promised Land, given them by God, thousands of years before.
They don’t realize that they’re illegaly occupying Palestine, forcing it’s citizens to emdure severe persecutions. In general, settlers seem not to see all the suffering around them, can’t see the human face of the Arab people and treat them as an inferior subspecie. Kiryat Arba is not the only settlement in Hebron – actually, they are seven, scattered in different parts of the city. In long-term perspective, the master plan envisages the permanent link them together and gradual annexation of key localizations. These settlements are like octopus tentacles that slowly entwine the heart of Al Khalil and strive to get rid of its Palestinian inhabitants.