After 2 months spent in Hebron / Al Khalil, while observing the every day life, speaking with both – Israelis and Palestinians, reading the news (from different sources..) and learning more and more about the „SITUATION„, one will have head full of thoughts and ideas, wildly swirling, and interwoven with each other, forming a strange mosaic which parts often don’t fit together… It’s important do not lose common sense and objectivity, and always stand somewhere in the middle, truthfully trying to understand parts of the conflict.
As EA’s – volunteers from EAPPI programme, we agreed do the impartiality principle, which means, as states EAPPI Code of Conduct, that: „We do not take sides in this conflict and we do not discriminate against anyone but we are not neutral in terms of principles of human rights and international humanitarian law. We stand faithfully with the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized. We want to serve all parties in this conflict in a fair and unbiased manner in word and action.”
That is how we are suppose to be – neutral, open, full of understanding. Are we?..
When walking on famous Shuhada Street in Hebron – partially closed for Palestinians, centre of the former old city (now called „Ghost City„, because of the abandoned houses and empty surroundings..), emotions are bustling inside me… Trying to realize, what really happened to this place, what provoced current situation, how people were dealing with that for ages, what’s the final effect. There’s no single answer, as well as there is not a one truth on history of Al Khalil.
City existed already thousands of years ago, and a lot of different peoples, cultures and religions were melting here together – Arabs, Christians and Jews marked their presence… There are proves on existance buildings and structures belonging to all those groups, with no doubt that the place was (and still is…) of great significance for them. With respect to the old city, it was built mainly in Mamluk and Ottoman times, during the muslim rule. However, small christian and jewish communities were also present and people lived together in rather harmless way.
I didn’t meant to start a historic discurse, but when talking about this conflict, sooner or later, these threads will suggest themselves… Both sides are seeking for justification in the past events, equally convinced that the right is on their side.
With the beginning of XX century, constantly bigger and more frequent waves of jewish immigrants from Europe were coming to the British Mandate on Palestine, provoking growing tension and clashes with the arab people. The land was only one, while it was more and more visible, that there are two compiting parties… No one could feel safely any more, and former neighbours would becoming enemies at any time.
That’s when the Hebron Massacre took place, on 1929, in which 67 Jews were killed and about 100 were injured by the Arabs, alerted by the gossips from Jerusalem, claiming the Al Aqsa mosque takeover by their jewish enemies… Nobody can (or tends to..) justify this tragedy and even at that time many muslim families were against it, hiding Jews in their houses and helping them to escape from the city. Those events and victims will be never forgotten, and this part of palestinian history should be unanimously condemned, as other such a events in the cruel history of mankind.
Actually, we don’t have to search for too long… Israelis „took revenge” in 1994, when a settler from Kiryat Arba (Hebron) killed 29 and wounded more than 120 Palestinians, while they were praying in Ibrahimi Mosque – holy place for both, Jews and Muslims. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth…
After the attack, the mosque was devided and Shuhada Street was closed for Palestinians, which got eviction orders and were pressed to leave their houses, shops and businesses, partly because of the military orders, partly due to unbearable situation…
Now the street hosts 3 israeli settlements, a jeshiva – jewish religious school, few check-points, a military base, many watch towers, countless cameras and omnipresents israeli flags… Also information boards and suggestive paintings can be found all around, explaining the story of the 1929 massacre, as well as few other attacks, mounted by Palestinians on israeli settlers living in the city.
In it biggest part, the street is frequented only by the israeli soldiers, police, settlers, and both, international and israeli tourists and activists. In general, there are divided in two parts – pro-israeli and pro-palestinians… Nobody can really escape this distinction. On one side – Israelis, on other side – international activists and tourists interested in conflict, aware of the current situation. How to talk about the impartiality principle, then?.. Relations between those two hostile groups are tense – distrustful glances, unpleasant, hateful words, sometimes swears, insults, and even fisticuffs... Of course, it’s understandable. Occupation.
Palestinians claim to be the only real owners of the territory, exactly as do the israeli settlers… Those first have been there for ages, the latter – have lived alongside their arab neighbours, and also, apparently received the land from God, as Tora says. Then, the soldiers and the police are there to protect israeli citizens, even if those are settlers on palestinian territories, illegal under the international law. So, representatives of international community, such as NGO’s, politicians, volunteers and visitors, are coming to blame the occupation. Finally, worldwide jewish Diaspora faithfully supporst their brothers in „Homeland„, by sponsoring settlements from overseas (particularly from US, UK and Canada) and visiting their estates. Obviously, this kind of description is too simplified and maybe unjust for many, but, in the end, so close to the reality…
Let’s take a deep breath now, let’s do step back, let’s try to catch the point of this paradox from a side.
1) Palestinians are on their land, they lived there for centuries (even if without proper „palestinian identity”, which emerged only in XX c.);
2) Israelis lived on this territory in the past, after they were evicted by Palestinians and now came back, founded the settlements, and are trying to take over the whole city;
3) Israelis and Palestinians in Hebron (as in the whole occupied territory) don’t have the same rights and living conditions, situation in which obviously jewish settlers are the dominating part, as a citizens of State of Israel;
4) israeli police and soldiers are in incredibly difficult position, put somewhere in the middle of this paranoia, with their minds already prepared for a war with the arab / palestinian / muslim enemy, with a whole burden of Holocaust, with memories of suffering of their nation, with large military preparation, awaiting the lurking everywhere danger…;
5) international activists and visitors are a large, varied group, mainly seeking for peace, using differents methods, fighting for the attention of the rest of the world, trying to do some good work, whatever it means, for the both sides;
First of all is important not to forget – mainly, what should be blamed, is the situation, and not the people. Of course they are good and bad, on every side of the conflict. There are Israelis who are taking adventage on the Arabs, which is so easy under the cruel occupation rules. There are Palestinians, who would never accept the very existance of the israeli State. There are soldiers who overuse their power, making life of many innocent people a nightmare. There are internationals, who lose their common sense and objectivity, becoming unfair and partial, which will never helps the peace process.
But, happily, after some time spent in Israel / Palestine I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. There are Israelis, who believe that the peace is possible (thanks to both sides..) and many of them, who are fighting for it. There are Palestinians, who longingly remember good old times when Jews lived with Muslims in harmony, and wish to make it possible again. There are soldiers, who even if this extremely confusing conditions keep their human face and intercede for the oppressed, in defense of their rights. There are internationals, who tend to built the bridges, and not to burn them down.
International community can not tolerate the development of israeli settlements in West Bank / Palestine, that’s sure. The efforts should be done to guarantee to the Palestinians both – political and economical sovereignty. No more human rights violations can be accepted. The dignity of palestinian people and a respect for their property should be an issue of a major concern.
In the same time, an impartial, deeply tolerant for both parts approach should be peeled. Isrealis must be safe on their territory and fully accepted by Palestinians. No longer Jaffa or Acco can be claimed… Any attempts of terrorist attacks aiming in Israel and its citizens should be derooted.
There’s a lot of people of good will on both sides. They believe that all current oppressions are unnecessary and prejudicial, causing a troubles to everybody and building a paralysing tension. Hopefully, those people can become influent enough, to change the current situation and truely encourage the peace process.
Me, I do believe in peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and, in spite of (or maybe thanks to..) all I’ve experienced during my stay in Hebron, living „under occupation”, I’ve never lost the faith in any of those people, considering both of them exceptional (each in their own way..) and keeping for them my full respect.
It’s just sad, that such a wonderful people haven’t yet managed to cooperate, which would be profitable for both sides. There’s a lot of things and thoughts that could be fruitfully exchanged between those two, so rich cultures. Maybe except the genes, since those are pretty the same…